Developer / Publisher – Cyan Worlds Inc
Price – US $34.99 / CA $42.99 / EU €34.99 / UK £27.99
Release Date – May 18th, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Sitting, Standing, Roomscale
Store Links – Steam
Reviewed on – Oculus Quest w/ Link
So my history with Cyan’s games has been hit and miss as I really didn’t care for Myst or Riven when they originally launched, though admittedly those game types really weren’t my jam back then, with Obduction grabbing my attention but over the course of that story, lost me thanks to what I took to be rather convoluted puzzle designs and VR implementation that was so rough on PSVR, that I opted to play it flat, something I almost never do. So with Firmaments release, I was really hoping for a high-quality environmental puzzler set in a strange and enticing world that pushed my brain power but didn’t necessarily try my patience…at least not to much. What we do get is, thankfully, exactly that and a game I thoroughly enjoy.
The premise here is a familiar one with you waking up to an unfamiliar world that you must try and navigate through, though of course many obstacles get in your way. You aren’t completely alone as accompanying you in this strange fantasy steampunk world is a spirit who was one of the last survivors of whatever calamity befell the land before your awakening, leaving it in disrepair. With her loose aid, you’ll travel to various realms, operating complex and ancient machinery in an attempt to figure out why this world seems to have been abandoned.
This does play like a traditional first person VR title and while you do have 2 hands to grab stuff, outside of some books or errant items that may have clues to your next puzzle, you’ll be using your adjunct, a sort of large mechanical device that fits over your hands that can launch a connector to receptacles that allow you to operate the various machines you’ll stumble across like cranes, elevators, bridges and many more. It’s that one core mechanic that drives almost every puzzle in here and while a brief tutorial explains the basic use of this tool, it wasn’t until the first few puzzles did I realize that I wasn’t in for an easy ride. The first puzzle just requires you to move a crane around to bypass a busted bridge, and I fully admit that it took me way longer to figure it out than it should have, though a large portion of that time was balancing and remembering the adjunct’s various options. It’s not complicated; connecting to any port is as simple as aiming and firing at it, assuming it’s close enough, and a little dial shows up on the adjunct mounted on your hand that displays the various controls of the device your attached too. It could be as simple as raising or lowering a bridge, having to disconnect and connect rail cars while moving them all around a massive rail system or just turning large power coils to direct a current to a battery. Every puzzle in here is its own contained beast so when you stumble across the next item blocking your path, you know you’ll have to solve something nearby. The adjunct is actually a great mechanic when it comes to VR as you can use the thumbstick to choose the action or tilt your wrist to steer the needle to your next choice, circumventing the pain of tracking issues or wonky hands that can plague complex VR puzzles like the ones found in here.
Connecting the various realms you’ll be visiting are the Conveyance pods, which transport you to a hub area called the Swan that let’s you choose one of three realms and specific areas in them once the have been discovered. In these realms you’ll travel to different sections using the omniwheel, which drives along tracks spread throughout the game and offer some fantastic views while quickly cruising around the environment. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and running and you do have the option to manually climb and descend ladders & stairs though there are more than enough of these that I opted for the instant teleportation mode for ladders, which actually saved me a lot of time. There are options for click or smooth turning and the degree or speed at which you turn though outside of those, there aren’t many other comfort options so for those with queasy stomachs, be aware. In actual practice, the controls here are fairly simple and don’t really change up outside of some upgrades to your adjunct that you’ll receive as you explore each realm which makes it all the more important that the puzzles kept me engaged and boy did they ever. Very few times did I breeze past any particular problem with almost of them requiring me to pay close attention to my surroundings and make sure I knew where every adjunct connection is as they are key in solving every puzzle.
Every barrier requires you to manipulate your surroundings and I never felt them to ever be unfair but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer up a lot of challenge as some had me stuck for quite awhile. It’s the kind of game that may require a few breaks as fresh eyes can reveal solutions not seen when fatigue sets in. This is a puzzler through and through with no real gameplay mix-ups save for whatever the next obstacle might be so if you haven’t liked these types of games up to this point, you probably won’t care for this, but if you really enjoy testing your brain, then this is one of the best ones I’ve played in awhile as it never felt unfair.
Accompanying this fantastic game design is equally impressive presentation though admittedly, I could only play this on medium(ish) settings thanks to my aging PC. Regardless, what’s here is a spectacle thanks to massive set pieces, intricate details and a near endless draw distance. It’s a steampunk world with each of the 3 main realms having distinct looks from a factory built into the mountains, rocky cliff sides with little vegetation and the last one being a very green landscape that is easily the most vibrant and beautiful stage in the game. The architecture is typically massive in scale and the attention to the details in them, and really throughout the game, is something to behold as it’s clear a lot of effort went into making every area in here look authentic and real. There are moments when entering and exiting a building where all you see is black or white until your eyes adjust to the new light levels, adding a nice sense of realism and exploring or just taking in my surroundings was a treat, especially when I noticed the smaller clues that pointed toward the game’s tragic past. With that steampunk aesthetic comes the moving of gears & pistons as machines start back up, especially when they are seemingly made of hundreds of parts, all working in tandem. It’s not photo-realistic or anything, but looks in line with what I’d expect from the developer and current gen flat gaming (this is a Hybrid title after all) offering up dynamic lighting effects, high quality textures and an overall level of polish that just pops in the headset.
Typical of this puzzle sub-genre, the game plays largely with musical silence save for those pivotal cinematic moments when something happens leaving the environment to set the mood be it the wind blowing in a canyon, the grinding of large gears as machines come back to life or the weird brief messages that still broadcast across the landscape. That spirit I mentioned earlier will offer insights into her histories but of course, her words often illicit more questions than answers and despite her brief appearances, I still found her presence welcome as Firmament can feel quite isolating at times. Spatial audio is on point offering up incredible sound design when it comes to the environmental effects, further immersing me in this fantastic world. I really can’t complain about the presentation as I caught myself on many occasions taking in scope and wonder of it all and I couldn’t wait to see what Firmament was going to throw at me next.
Outside of the fact that this really is only back-to-back puzzles and that style of game might not be for everyone, I really couldn’t find too much to whine about when it comes to Firmament as it delivered upon all my expectation. The studio is known for their slower paced and methodical puzzlers and this is no exception, offering up some well thought out conundrums that occur in small and massive scales. Throw in the deep lore for your surroundings along with the rather clever use of the Adjunct, and I’d argue this is one of best, truest form of a classic puzzler I have played in recent memory. With a campaign spanning roughly 10 hours, I think the $35 asking price justifies all the time you’ll spend in here. Solving every puzzle was just as rewarding as seeing what the next challenge brings and I’d argue that is probably the most important aspect to making in an excellent puzzler.
Cyan Worlds provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!