It didn’t know how it came to be here. Suddenly freefalling, its wings immobile, hurtling to the canopy below. It didn’t think (it never did); instead its heart thrummed wildly against its breast as it smashed through branch and leaf, dropping to the forest floor – stunned but largely unscathed. If it could understand chance and gravity, it would appreciate how remarkable its survival was. Instead, after a shake and ruffle of its feathers, it took off once again, following the line of the sky… and a chime on the wind it was to which it was instinctively drawn.
Secrets of Rætikon is a vector-based, 2D exploration game where you play as a bird that — for reasons beyond my ken – is driven to seek out the ruins of a long-forgotten civilisation, activating shrines and collecting shards for some greater purpose. From mysterious markers that dot the landscape to the animal totems standing proud amongst the overgrowth, Rætikon – despite being set in the very real Alps — is a mysterious world , and it’s refreshing in its willingness to leave things unexplained.
Gameplay consists primarily of collecting “slivers” which are used to activate shrines and other contraptions throughout the world — allowing you access to new areas — while solving various environmental puzzles, collecting runes to translate markers and dealing with the other denizens of the world. Rætikon has a flourishing ecosystem, one with many creatures and more to come if the developer’s claims hold true. Some of these are benign, while others are predators: eagles dash you against thorns, and lynxes spring gracefully through trees to pounce on you from above.
All of this works to immerse you in your role. Playing a bird of extremely questionable heritage (in that it crosses a kingfisher’s movement, cuckoo’s appearance and mutant’s arms) could be an exercise in frustration, but here Secrets of Rætikon reveals its charm. Your bird is a joy to control, responsive, riding the various zephyrs that blow throughout Rætikon. You’re certainly the swiftest creature in Secrets of Rætikon, and traversing the world, particularly once you’ve got a hand on its controls, is a reflexive pleasure.
It’s clear that the developers designed around this core conceit, and the game is better for it. Everything speaks to your avian nature, from the way you carry objects to your fragility when facing predators to the ruins and shrines themselves, and your goals and activities are made more intriguing as a result as you explore Rætikon. Visually, Rætikon is abstract with stark contrasts, and while I’d hesitate to call it beautiful it’s certainly appealing. Secrets of Rætikon calls to mind the animistic art of Native Americans – symbols, capturing the nature rather than the outward reality of a thing.
All things said, I’m rather pleased with the game so far, but I must speak to some of its flaws in its current state. The game is in early alpha, available on Steam Early Access, and I ended up being forced to restart the game several times before I could complete it. In one instance, I ended up stuck between two objects’ geometry with no way to remove myself, and as the game auto-saves upon exit, was forced to restart. In another instance, clicking on a menu item with my mouse pointer ended up activating instead the one immediately next to it: New Game. As you can imagine, there was some creative cussing.
A controller is a non-negotiable aspect of the game. Having tried to play with the keyboard, I can say that it hampers and dampens the experience immensely — much of the fluidity of your bird is removed, leaving it less than lifelike and a real chore to navigate around the areas.
Nevertheless, the fact that I needed to restart no less than four times from scratch — and that I stuck with it despite this — speaks to its worth. Secrets of Rætikon is shaping up to be something special, and with more content, interactions and the finale on the way, the game could be a hidden gem. Combined with an in-game editor to make your own levels and content, there’s a lot of latent promise in Secrets of Rætikon, and I look forward to its final release.