After what seemed like an eternity, Firmament is about to be released. The indie project started more than 4 years ago and has managed to secure more than $1.4 million in funding through Kickstarter. Development had its ups and downs but it all came together in the end. Finally, worlds will indeed collide as promised by Cyan Worlds, creators of games such as Myst and Obduction.
Firmament is a puzzle-adventure game full of intrigue and mystery. The game is steeped in steampunk visuals complete with large pipes and post-modern architecture reminiscent of Bioshock Infinite. The maintenance stations have with it the backdrop of three realms each with its own contained biome. The three realms hide away pieces to a larger puzzle that only Keepers can reveal. And you are the key to everything.
The player takes control of said Keeper. You have just woken up from a deep sleep and you don’t know anything about yourself. An apparition guides you to do a singular task: Awaken the Embrace. To accomplish this task, your Mentor has provided you with an Adjunct. A tool that is used in the maintenance of the great machine you reside in. As you continue on your journey, the mysteries of the world reveal themselves to you. Slowly but surely you will know the truth behind your task and the apparition who accompanies you on your journey.
If you’ve ever played Myst before, this game is going to be very familiar to you. Essentially, Firmament is a series of puzzles that all comes together like clockwork. All the while, your mentor explains everything you need to know about your purpose. She may give a hint as to where you need to go next. But she will not give you any direct hints on solving the puzzles. Which is good or bad, depending on where you’re coming from.
Personally, I think this is the best way to go about it. Yes, it is frustrating not making progress. But there’s not much that can compare to that dopamine hit when you solve a puzzle all by yourself.
Unlike games past, there are quite a number of physics-based puzzles to tackle. This is what rubs me the wrong way about it. I know it can be nice to see something dynamic compared to static assets and turning on the right switches. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of the game’s stability. I’ve had to load a save more than a couple of times on account of unexpected occurrences. More on that later.
Generally, I had a blast figuring out each and every one of those devious puzzles. There were times when I was stumped and would curse my tormentors for putting me in such annoying circumstances. But once the pieces started to fall into place, the good times started rolling. As always, it was the little things that failed to catch on. After years and years of solving puzzle games, I still can’t get over how silly it is to overlook such critical pieces of information.
The apparition is the absolute highlight of the game. This is her story and you are but a passenger throughout the whole journey. You’ll come to understand by the end. For now, it’s fair to say that Firmament carries on a tradition of leaving behind recorded messages. It’s never what it seems like. She doesn’t bother to hide it though.
There isn’t much in the way of audio in Firmament. The long series of puzzle solving is only ever broken up by our mentor providing a little information about the world and our job as Keepers. Other than that, you won’t even hear the sound of wind let alone birds in the air. The visuals, on the other hand, tell a different story. Though not the most beautiful in the world of gaming, the vistas can be quite the sight if seen through a VR headset.
The game ran great for the most part. There were a few pre-release patches that were released during my review and it was only then that I realized that I was wandering around without so much as a guide. Thankfully, the patch made it so that I can finally hear my mentor’s voice past the opening sequence of the game.
There was only a time when large sections of the game failed to load in. It was quite shocking but you can usually count on those happening in a pre-release game. The good news is that it happened only once and never again.
If I have one major complaint about the game is that physics objects would get stuck in the world. There is a crane puzzle in the ice factory location of Curievale. The claw got stuck in the mountain. And I’m not talking about wedged in an awkward spot. I’m talking about the claw sinking into the map and refusing to move an inch. I was hard-stuck thanks to it being a physics object. To make matters worse, autosave failed me. I lost an hour’s worth of progress. Was I mad? No, not really. Just really disappointed.
Firmament managed to accomplish so much with what little it had to work with. Everything hinged on the climax at the end, and it delivered in spades. The nearly 8-hour game is a great reminder that you don’t really need players to keep playing your game for X amount of hours. I’m glad that Cyan Worlds stuck to its strengths and let storytelling and world-building do all the heavy lifting.
Without spoiling anything, all I could say is that the ending sort of just came out of left field. It probably won’t be to everyone’s liking. But my focus wasn’t on what it was supposed to be. I was too awestruck that I got bamboozled by an apparition. I couldn’t help but say, “Well played”. She did say that she was going to lie. And she did so full of conviction.