I put together a piece last week about first person puzzle adventure Faraday Protocol, wondering what the game would be like without much more than seeing some screenshots, especially with it having flown right under our radar. After spending the time since then tackling the puzzles of the mysterious OPIS station I now know more about what’s been going on, but can’t profess to have all the answers. It’s safe to say though that if you like intricate, multi-layered puzzles wrapped up in an enigmatic environment then this will be for you. Be aware though, despite the head scratching, it’s not the longest game in the universe, and it may well leave you wanting much, much more.
Awaking from stasis after an intergalactic flight, you find yourself controlling Raug Zeekon, an interstellar archaeologist who’s been sent to investigate a strange signal from a space station discovered in orbit above a dead planet. It’s clear on exiting your ship that the place is deserted aside from a host AI that’s keeping things ticking over, but that doesn’t stretch to housekeeping given the state of disarray much of the central hub is in. With no clue to what has happened, what this strange place is, or if there are any inhabitants hidden away, you start out on an exploration that takes you deep into one of the pyramids that dot the surface. Inside the black and gold saturated building you find a Bia-Tool that looks like a pistol, but acts as a conduit for transferring energy, and soon you’re being led through a set of challenges that act as a training ground for whoever used to occupy this building. Driven deeper by your inquisitive nature and desire to uncover the truth, you’ll be tested constantly in order to make progress, and just maybe you’ll figure out who this civilisation was and what caused their downfall.
Faraday Protocol is a pure puzzle game where you’re presented with a room that appears to have no exit, and have to figure out how to make one. It’s part physics puzzle using energy to power or link items, and part escape room as you search for hidden switches or clues to codes. As always with any good example of the genre, it starts off relatively tamely to help teach the basics of the core mechanics (mainly converting energy), and then starts to add on new elements that allow it to present grander and more complex challenges. What’s quite surprising is that there’s no real voice or written tutorials, everything is taught through contextual actions within the world. By breaking down sections to make sure progress can only be made by using the right method, it reinforces the training before taking off the reins. It’s also not shy about doling out complexity quite quickly. Once the energy manipulation skills have been passed over, it’s time to crack on with multi-roomed and levelled puzzles where there’s only one solution to open the exit.
There are two types of energy on hand to use – a blast type that can be fired at distance to objects to power them; and a linking type that strings between connectors. The principle is creating a flow from energy stores to the target switch/platform/door, and that’s easy to comprehend. Where Faraday Protocol adds in the challenge is that there never initially seems to be enough of the energies to complete the puzzle. The Bia-Tool only holds one at once, so you can’t load up on “ammo” and freely fire it out, and there are barriers that prevent movement between rooms if you’ve any stored in the tool. It all has to be discovered in the room, and that’s where it pays to scour every nook and cranny for where the power lines guide, and for dials and switches. Clues are usually close by, and there’s a lot of symbol matching to be done, yet it’ll pay off and more energy sources will be revealed. If it’s the wrong one that gets uncovered, there are ways of converting between the two types at will, and when you see these stations it’s usually a clue that it needs doing at least once.
Without any kind of guidance except the computerised voice of the AI saying when a test is complete, it’s impressive how well structured the puzzles actually are. Taking a few minutes to review the room and what’s laid out before you will save a lot of frustration, as will just going with the flow and not trying to second guess where you’re heading… there’s a good chance in some of them that you’ll end up in exactly the opposite direction. As far as I could tell it’s not easy to fail a puzzle or it put you in a dead end, but early on there were a couple of sections where trial and error seemed to be the only option for progress as for the life of me I couldn’t see a clue. Later in the game as it gets more complex, all the info is very clearly signposted, so it was more jarring early on to feel a bit stuck. Fortunately for those that need it there’s a restart option that will reset the room and let you go again from scratch. Most of the time though just working through what’s in front of you with what you have in hand is enough to get the solution, and there’s a nice sense of achievement and advancement as you work your way up the meatier levels.
Aesthetically, Faraday Protocol makes sure you are in no doubt this is modelled on ancient Egypt with the colour scheme, the hieroglyphics that are tweaked to be more alien, pyramids, and giant statues. It works really well to be fair (and the Unreal Engine does a great job with the reflections and shine). In the parts where you get to glimpse beyond the escape rooms there’s a good portrayal of advanced technology on a scale beyond our comprehension. These elements are what flesh out the game world and rope you into the high concept sci-fi side of the tale. There are payoffs to the story, and selectable endings as well which are worth seeing independently, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was rushed. It falls on the short side for a puzzle game like this, you’ll probably see the end in under 3 hours, though there’s some replayability with finding collectibles. Just as it starts to get interesting and reveals a potential antagonist, it wraps up and that smacks that there should have been more content. Supporting this are the 3 pyramids in the central station area, yet you only visit 2.
Ignoring the space elements of Faraday Protocol I’m betting things are sounding a little familiar – AI guidance, testing rooms, handheld devices that shoot energy – of course comparisons to that genre defining game are going to be there, just don’t let that put you off. File them in the back of your mind and consider this for exactly what it is: a hard sci-fi tale about alien races and their demise. With some really superbly designed puzzles in a well polished product this is one for all fans of this type of puzzle/exploration game to have a go at. Then tell your friends to play it because I’d like to see where else this could go if the Red Koi Box team were given the chance to do more.
A PS4 review copy of Faraday Protocol was provided by Red Koi Box’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC for around £20 depending on digital store.