Secrets of Raetikon is a beautifully serene game from developer Broken Rules and is available now in alpha through Steam Early Access. The game starts as the player-controlled bird drops from the sky, crashes through the branches of a tree and gently floats to the ground. There is no helpful, wise creature to give a rundown on the back story, no tutorial beyond a few simple hints that must be found, and no immediate goal. The player is literally dropped into the game and must figure out the point. The control hints found along the way do help move things along with no hand holding.
Flying…or Falling with Style?
A gamepad is strongly recommended in place of a keyboard for maximum control, however the movement hints are geared toward either control scenario. Flapping, diving and grabbing are all dedicated to separate buttons, while the D-pad causes the bird to soar. The keyboard controls feel awkward but can be mastered with a little patience and dexterity.
Once mastered, flying becomes fun as the bird avatar fluidly responds to the commands. Learning to time the wing flaps is crucial for carrying heavy objects or going against strong wind currents.
The world starts to come alive as the player swoops, dives and explores every nook and cranny. The first animals encountered include a few rabbits and smaller birds. Doing helpful tasks such as uniting male and female rabbits or carrying a young bird back up to the nest will yield small, blue triangles that can be collected to unlock extra lives. The first few minutes seem so peaceful.
What Lies Beneath?
Underneath the charming world however, lie sinister hints of death and violence. Innocently rolling a boulder out of the way may result in an accidental rabbit squishing. Further along, the tiny crumpled bodies of birds litter the ground under a nest of baby birds while a rabbit frolics merrily. Other animals will appear and start attacking the player’s avatar. The first incident might be a bigger bird that will give chase. An encounter with a hawk will result in being grabbed with viselike talons and flung into spiky bushes.
Learning how to defend oneself and fight back can take some imagination. The player has limited abilities with no real special powers beyond being able to grab and fly with objects that look much, much heavier than those tiny bird wings should be capable of lifting. Sneaking past predators might seem like the safest method, but dropping rocks, devising traps or sacrificing smaller birds as a distraction are all available options.
Bird-on-bird violence isn’t the main goal of Secrets of Raetikon. There are also statues to rebuild and ruins to decipher. Glowing yellow triangles called “slivers” can be collected and deposited into certain giant statues to unlock an orb that then must be carried to an even bigger statue. There are seven orbs in all and bringing all of them to the central statue is key to unlocking the Big Secret. The developers are keeping said secret under wraps, for now. It will be revealed once the full game is released.
Secrets of Raetikon is only the first chapter of a planned trilogy and it is still under development, which likely accounts for the somewhat empty feel of the world. The developers at Broken Rules do plan on making the current chapter more involved, adding more animals and areas to explore. There is a full level editor for players to customize the game as they please.
It is that very emptiness that drives players to keep exploring the world. Players will want to be absolutely sure that there is not one more thing to find before moving on. Those cute, tiny birds are probably important in some way, but that might not be known until the full game is launched. They are the only animals to glow, for one. A few will follow players after unlocking the first orb and try to either carry it away or help. While playing, a group of the tiny birds is found in the middle of rebuilding a giant bird statue. It makes one wonder if the statue is a symbol for a their religious icon.
What to Expect
The lack of direction is refreshing, though it can be frustrating at times. After unlocking the first orb, there is not any further directions, so players will wind up carrying the orb around until wandering into the right area. The developers mainly leave the players to figure things out on their own as much as possible.
As the game stands now, it’s beautiful, entertaining and somewhat difficult in its simplicity. It’s worth picking up and has the ability to satisfy whether one has hours to play or only minutes.