First person physics-based puzzle games were brought to the fore by Portal all those years ago when Valve’s seminal work took the gaming world by storm. It feels like we’ve them to thank each time a new one arrives on the scene. The latest one to reach our machines is The Bradwell Conspiracy from A Brave Plan and published by Bossa Studios, and it’s got a great pedigree in terms of the development team – alumni from games like Fable, Tomb Raider and Ether:One. With a focus on the narrative as much as the gameplay experience it promises to bring us an alternate reality that might feel a little too close to the actual world. Can it lead you to resolving the mystery of what’s happening at the Bradwell Foundation, or will it leave you in the dark?
It’s 2026 and Bradwell Electronics is the dominant tech giant in the UK (and arguably across the globe). Think Google if they’d been founded in the 1960’s as a family business. Getting ahead of the curve, they released the home computer in 1977, then expanded into communications and R&D. They release all the must have gadgets, support foreign governments and have a foundation that’s aimed at providing equal opportunities for all. The Bradwell Conspiracy joins them as they’re about to launch their clean water initiative at Stonehenge, which they bought and turned into a museum. At the presentation something goes wrong and the site becomes unstable and has to be evacuated. During the chaos someone is left behind inside and needs to find a way to escape… and here the game begins.
Awaking in the aftermath, the only guide you have is the voice in the high tech Bradwell Electronics smart glasses. This AR enabled device works as a tutorial and highlights interactive objects in the environment, whilst also providing clearance access to the various sectors of the facility you find yourself in if you pick up another employees pair and assume their identity. The multi-function aspect continues with the glasses working as communication devices, and it’s not long before you’re in contact with another survivor and need to work with them to get out. The downside to this partnership is that due to smoke inhalation your character can’t speak, and the only means of conveying messages is by taking pictures of what you are looking at. It’s a convenient explanation for the silent protagonist syndrome and an interesting twist on getting advice.
Of course, fancy specs aside, there needs to be another mechanism to get to grips with and this comes in the form of some more hi tech wizardry. The Substance Mobile Printer (SMP) device enables you to 3D print blueprints of objects from within the world using a mysterious material that’s being mined under the Stonehenge site. Simply known as “substance” it acts as the construct for any and all items, and can be absorbed from a raw brick or existing item made from the material. Find a blueprint, pick the device, and then select where you want to put it by moving the view around. If you’re putting it in the right place it auto-locks on, or turns green if it’s a free placement, and it’s just press print to fill the outline. This means that it’s easy to fill your environment with as many objects as you’ve substance to use up, and can reabsorb them at will as long as they’re not serving a mechanical purpose.
The Bradwell Conspiracy employs the SMP in dual roles – it’s there to add in puzzle pieces like an elaborate jigsaw, and it’ll work as a means to bridge gaps and traverse obstacles. It all layers up nicely as the game progresses, and it tests everything you’ve learned in the final puzzle of the game. From a difficulty perspective it’s never too hard and the context sensitive help you’ll get from taking pictures is always useful. The only parts that are likely to tax are when you forget that you can use the SMP in multiple ways, or you need to photograph something and send it on its digital way. In fact, with the snapshot ability fixed to a shoulder button (if you’re like me) you’re very likely to accidentally send way more images than you mean to as you mix up the mode select for printing and the camera shutter.
The highlight of the game is by far the story and characterisation, the backstory is so deeply thought out that they’ve even got a faux website for the company. Voice acting is superb with the glasses voiced by Assassin’s Creed: Origins Bayek performer Abubakar Salim and actress Rebecca LaChance as your mostly unseen support. It even sees Jonathan Ross make an appearance as the new employee induction narrator. It’s all brilliantly written and executed to leave you being surprised when big reveals happen. That said, if you’re an avid email reader, voice memo listener or spend a lot of time looking at the whiteboards and posters, you might just figure out what’s going on before The Bradwell Conspiracy wraps up. The performance on console isn’t as hot as you’d like it to be especially as it doesn’t seem that taxing graphically, though a patch has drastically improved things, but there is still the odd bug or glitch that get in the way, or stick you in scenery forcing a reload to the title screen. That’s a minor point though as checkpoints are reasonably spaced and the issue only arose if forced in a particular section.
Here at Codec Moments we’ve been looking forward to The Bradwell Conspiracy since we saw it at EGX 2018, and it’s been a great mystery to explore and enjoy as it unfolds. For fans of FPS puzzle games it offers up a depth of world not often seen, and some interesting challenges along the way too. It isn’t a particularly long game sadly, but at least that means it doesn’t outstay its welcome. For an independent studio’s first title though it’s ambitious and well executed, and I say that regardless of what the team have worked on in the past.
The Bradwell Conspiracy is out now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch and Apple Arcade for around £20, though is on offer in the first few days of release on some of the digital stores.