Expectations are a funny thing. Met or missed, expectations can alter your experiences in a huge variety of ways. Whoever ‘they’ are, they often advise not to judge a book by its cover, and in most instances that is decent advice, but occasionally expectations can be used to misdirect in order to surprise. Narrative-driven puzzle game The Bradwell Conspiracy meets expectations in its early moments, only to subvert them not long after. Providing an intriguing plot that begs to be uncovered, as well a puzzling mechanic that is full of potential but could have done with a few more minutes in the oven, The Bradwell Conspiracy isn’t perfect, but it definitely deserves your time.
That speech really brought the roof down
Things kick off in a curious fashion, with you waking up amongst the debris of a museum that has suffered some sort of disaster, causing it to crumble. Luckily for you, the year is 2026 and this is a technologically savvy museum that adorns guests with glasses fit with an in-built AI that steps you through the emergency procedure, otherwise known as a tutorial. As you make your way through exhibits in an attempt to find an exit, you will discover that you are in the Bradwell Stonehenge Museum that is situated, as you would expect, at the sight of the famous landmark from its namesake.
Shuffling past a now ruined private event in the main museum auditorium, a voice can be heard from behind a large, sealed door. This voice belongs to an employee of the institute by the name of Amber, who is also looking for a way out of the collapsing building. Communication between the two of you is a little…strained, as your voice is non-existent thanks to damaged vocal cords, caused by smoke inhalation, otherwise known as a videogame explanation for a silent protagonist. Luckily, your snazzy spectacles have a photo feature, allowing you to take pictures and send them to Amber as a means of communing with her. It would be easy to just have Amber be aware of what is happening on your end by means of security cameras or some such baloney, so I appreciate the use of the glasses as it gives the player some input and agency. Before the two of you are able to open the door separating you, the floor begins to give way and you are plunged into the depths below the building. This is where the conspiracy alluded to in the game’s’title begins to reveal itself. When consciousness finds you once more, it finds you in an underground facility, hidden away from the public. It is clear from the first moment you arrive in the underground area that there are secrets everywhere that are begging to be discovered, and with the opening few moments as good as they were, I couldn’t wait to find out where I was and what was going on.
Doing the old once over check after a big night out, we have all been there
Exchanging photos via your glasses, you and Amber establish where each of you are positioned in this labyrinth of offices and hallways and it quickly becomes apparent that your pair of visitor glasses just won’t do, as the specs give clearance to locked doors and whatnot. To circumvent restrictions, Amber hooks you up with a pair of glasses that were destined for an employee that was supposed to start that day. These give you access to far more rooms in the facility and further your mission to escape. This becomes a reoccurring element throughout the four-five hour run-time of the campaign. If you can’t manage to unlock a section of the building, finding a more relevant employees glasses usually does the work. It’s a sneaky way to control pacing in the environment that actually makes sense in relation to the world. It turns out that this underground facility is comprised of a variety of laboratories, researching many different inventions and projects. Realising that the building’s collapse has locked down elevators and most other exits, Amber guides you to a device that might be your saving grace, the Substance Mobile Printer (SMP).
The SMP is Bradwell’s equivalent to the Portal Gun or Energy Field Manipulation Manipulator as it is used to complete most puzzles throughout the game. The SMP is more or less an advanced 3D-printer that can construct and deconstruct items on an atomic level. For example if you deconstruct a plank that allows you to cross a gap, the SMP stores the blueprint of the plank so that you can remake it indefinitely as long as you have the material needed. Materials can be obtained by deconstructing items, or by obtaining Substance, otherwise known as Bradwellium (no prizes given for those who can guess which company discovered it). Substance can be found scattered throughout the facility and appears as shimmering bricks. So the SMP is fairly simple – acquire blueprints and Substance, put the two together and poof! A useful item right in front of you
Sweet, sweet substance come to me
Despite its simplicity, you do step through a tutorial that teaches you the basics of the SMP that is disguised as an employee aptitude test, narrated by Johnathon Ross funnily enough. The tutorial gives you simple problems to solve such as rotating objects to make a certain pattern or lay down planks to cross a gap, easy stuff to prepare you for more difficult tasks down the track. But that’s just it, the puzzles themselves never really increase in difficulty. For the most part the challenge revolving around the game is simply finding enough Substance to meet blueprint requirements rather than actual problem solving. As the SMP doesn’t work in water, there are a good number of sections that require you to build a makeshift bridge over the old H2O in order to construct something at a distance. This isn’t a particularly engaging way to challenge players, nor does it scratch my puzzle desiring itch. Busywork takes up most of your time in fact, fetching items that will aid in your escape, which is a criticism, but is one that is easily looked over as the plot is the main driving force here, not the puzzling.
As you delve deeper into the labs you will notice that not everything is as it first appeared. The Bradwell Corporation (the company that owns and runs the museum) is a humanitarian organisation on the surface, striving to provide clean water to the world, but is that their main agenda or are there more nefarious purposes at hand? The game’s pacing is perfect when it comes to the plot unfolding. The world itself gives you clues as to what might be going on, from emails on staff computers to whiteboards in private meeting rooms that have been left unwiped due to the emergency, the story is very much shown rather than told for the most part and it keeps you interested throughout.
You can live in a mansion, but it is underground? I would take that trade
I won’t talk specifics with the narrative as that is The Bradwell Conspiracy’s biggest draw, but I would like to highlight another few shining beacons that the game has to offer in the way of voice acting and visuals. The main voice you will come to be familiar with during your playthrough is Amber. She is constantly talking you through obstacles as well as making conversation – well, one sided conversation as the player character is in desperate need of a lozenge. A character that talks as much as Amber could easily become grating over time, but she conveys such a large amount of personality through her speech that she endears herself to you in no time at all. So much so that during segments of the game where communication is cut off, you feel particularly alone and isolated, longing to hear her familiar voice again. That is not something you find often with a companion character, so it is a welcome surprise here. Just as endearing are the visuals. Minimalistic and bold, the aesthetic is that of a modern piece of artwork. Nothing is overly complex or detailed, but that works in its favour, being beautiful and simple at the same time.
For a shady, underground facility it’s pretty damn nice to look at
Every time I got frustrated at The Bradwell Conspiracy for not providing puzzles that were interesting and engaging I was lulled back into complacency by the plot unfurling further, or by Amber telling a humour-filled story about her exploits working for the company. I began the game expecting challenge similar to that of a game like Portal, but instead I was given a narrative driven adventure that I couldn’t stop playing until I had uncovered the mysteries that it had presented. That really does speak volumes about expectations, doesn’t it? Although my expectations weren’t met at all in one regard, they were completely blown away in another. If you have an afternoon free to enjoy a self-contained story with genuine heart you should really consider The Bradwell Conspiracy, just check your puzzling expectancy at the door before you do.
Reviewed on Xbox One // Review code supplied by publisher