Is Brad feeling unwell? Perhaps The Bradwell Conspiracy will help us find out.
I’m not always the best at puzzle games. Perhaps my big juicy brain isn’t big or juicy enough, but many of them put me off when the puzzles are too esoteric or illogical. With that said, there are a few that I do like. Lines allowed you to try to find different solutions to abstract puzzles but let you retry immediately should you fail. Q.U.B.E. 2 had challenges in which you would add and remove objects from the environment in interesting ways to progress. The Room was very tactile, and had you manipulate objects in a variety of ways to unlock more and more intricate puzzles. Recently, I’ve been playing The Bradwell Conspiracy, a first-person puzzle game with an emphasis on narrative and some potentially interesting puzzle mechanics.
In The Bradwell Conspiracy, you take on the role of a nameless protagonist who awakens in the collapsing ruins of the Bradwell Museum at Stonehenge. It seems that some sort of attack has taken place and that almost everyone has been evacuated. A voice in your head, identifying itself as your smart glasses named Guide, tells you that you are uninjured, but that smoke inhalation has left your vocal cords damaged to the point of needing to remain silent. Guide instructs you to find the nearest emergency exit and to escape. Before long, you hear from another person trapped in the complex via their own set of smart glasses. This individual seems to know more about what’s going on. So begins your attempt to escape the museum and find out what exactly happened there in the first place.
At first, your smart glasses are the main way you interact with the game world. You cannot talk to your ally, but you can take photos of your surroundings and send it to them for advice or to actually solve a puzzle. An early example has you trying to move across an area by rotating platforms. Each platform is rotated by taking a picture of it to instruct your remote companion to reposition it. It’s certainly a simple puzzle-type, but the manner in which you interact with it makes it a touch more interesting.
The puzzles aren’t limited to this though, as about a quarter of the way in, you acquire a device called the SMP. This allows you to scan, deconstruct, and copy certain objects in the environment, assuming you have the resources to do so. For example, in the tutorial for this gadget, you are instructed to scan a large key in the room, and then create a copy of it in a keyhole to unlock the door. As a mechanic, this is really quite excellent, as there are all sorts of possibilities that the SMP could be used to make really creative puzzles.
Sadly, this is often not the case. Most of the time, you will be using the SMP to cross gaps in the floor, or move a macguffin from one place to another to allow you to progress. There’s very little that makes use of this genuinely interesting mechanic. I enjoyed the puzzles that had you try to recreate a pattern to release a combination lock, but the vast majority don’t make good use of this potential at all. There’s even one of those puzzles in which you place mirrors to guide a laser beam. I thought those had gone the way of block pushing puzzles.
Whilst the puzzles themselves aren’t terribly creative or taxing, the world is much more interesting. The Bradwell museum itself is very well put together, feeling like an actual museum dedicated to Stonehenge and the history of the fictional Bradwell Foundation. All the undamaged exhibits have descriptions that give you more details on the Foundation’s history and interest in the British monument. As you venture deeper into the complex beneath, you uncover more of what’s going on through sound files and emails. Eventually, you’ll find out what the whole conspiracy is, although I found the actual revelation wasn’t really all that interesting. The discoveries along the way were far more interesting than the resolution.
The presentation is mostly very good. I really liked the visual style of the game, with lots of bright colours — especially in the early areas — giving an appealing vibrancy to the world. It has this almost 60s colour palette and design to the environment that’s certainly one of the more interesting aspects of The Bradwell Conspiracy. Sound design isn’t quite as strong as many of the sound effects are quite weak, whilst the music is fairly good, if nondescript.
The voice acting is much stronger though, which makes sense for such a narrative-driven game. All the lines are delivered really well by a cast of excellent voice actors. I was genuinely surprised when I heard Jonathon Ross voicing a tutorial narrator! This voice work is present throughout, to the point where you can take a picture of pretty much anything in the environment and your ally will comment on it, giving you more background on the world. This was certainly the strongest area of The Bradwell Conspiracy.
The presentation is very good, but unfortunately there are a number of performance issues that mar the enjoyment. Playing on a regular Xbox One, I had all sorts of freezing and frame rate issues — although no crashes — as well as some bizarre sound problems that made all the voices sound temporarily distorted. This happened far more towards the end than it did early on, even in areas that wouldn’t be considered that visually intensive.
That’s the issue with The Bradwell Conspiracy overall though. Really great ideas let down by the execution. Why am I using the creative copying mechanic to clone planks to cross gaps rather than copying and pasting different objects in the environment to engineer a fix for a broken machine? Why does the story start so well but contain elements that seem completely at odds with the rest of the narrative? Why are some interesting early puzzle mechanics completely forgotten about after barely being used? The way that smart glasses bound to certain staff members of the complex open specific doors is neat, but never used beyond allowing you access to the next room when it could be utilised as a method to explore and find secrets.
I did have a good time with The Bradwell Conspiracy, but I was just disappointed that there was so much more that could be done with the great ideas. There’s an interesting world with lovely presentation and neat mechanics that could all be put together into something quite exciting if it were given more time. As the first game from an indie studio, this is a promising start and I’d be interested to see what they do next. I hope it goes (Brad)well.