As an individual with the tech savviness of a squirrel, I am easily fascinated by the concept of computer hacking. I like to imagine that a hacked computer screen looks just like it does in video games, with lots of pipe rearranging and matching games and trivia questions. Or in the case of Retool, a basic interface with arrows pointing to which device I would like to rewire. Armed with a heavy dose of computer hacking, Retool is a stealth-puzzle game with an understated emphasis on gunplay.
Levels are fairly small, consisting of a few rooms and up to five or six guards. To advance, players must hack computer terminals in order to rewire switches and pressure pads. One common occurrence involves changing a light switch so that it instead opens a locked door. More complexly, enemies can be fooled into engaging traps, so that when they flip a switch it triggers a nearby turret or turns on an electric floor panel.
The premise for Retool is great, and the potential exists for creating some truly mind-bending puzzles. There are moments when you get to fiendishly orchestrate the demise of two or three enemies from the comfort of another room, and other times when you can slickly lure an enemy away from your position in order to sneak past them. During these moments, Retool shows promise and offers a few moments of satisfaction before the game slumps back into mediocrity.
Issues begin with the interface that is used while attempting rewiring. Switches, alarms, lights, and hand scanners are all barely discernible from one another, while walls and doorways blend in with the ground. When you figure out what to do, it’s always one of a few things. Puzzles don’t really get harder or more complex as you advance further into the game, and when you do run into trouble, it often has a “trial and error” feel to it. This is compounded by weird level design that includes alarms that are too far from guards to be heard, motion scanners and trip lasers that don’t appear to do anything, and other oddball red herrings. It’s definitely possible that some of these devices do in fact affect something, but I couldn’t figure out what, and they had no impact on my game.
Some of the turrets in the game—apparently those that are bordered by walls—are incapable of hitting anything due to a bug. This is a real problem when there are puzzles designed around avoiding and rewiring these turrets. Several bugs cropped up during my time with Retool, many of which forced level-restarts, and all of which were obvious and fixable. These issues should have been found immediately while play testing the game, and hopefully will be addressed in the future.
Aside from rewiring switches and manipulating the environment, Retool also offers combat in the way of guns and a melee weapon called a bimace. Enemies can only be engaged when they don’t see you; they will kill you immediately if they do. The AI is as dumb as it comes, with poor line of sight, an inability to notice dead comrades, and no way to hear you, even if you’re running. They react to the sound of gunfire, but they do so inconsistently. Sometimes an enemy will come after you from halfway across the level, and sometimes an enemy in the very same room won’t react at all.
Gunplay is a chore due to lousy aiming mechanics, a terrible camera, and questionable hit detection. Depending on the layout of the level, the camera might refuse to show what’s ahead of you, forcing you to rely on memory and luck in order to hit a target. Ammo is limited by design, so there are times that a single miss will force you to restart the level. As you approach the end of the game, combat becomes more integral while the puzzle solving never evolves. It strikes a poor balance, and provides an unsatisfying ending to the short campaign.
I don’t recommend Retool. Its great concept is unrealized due to uninspired puzzles, bad combat and below-average mechanics. While I do believe there is a great idea to be found in here, the execution simply fails to inspire.