Firmament is exactly the kind of game you’d expect coming from Cyan Worlds. Known for their beautiful, meditative, puzzle-solving adventures, it is perhaps not a shock that their latest is a title in that same ilk.
Waking up in a bunker after a deep sleep, you are told by a spirit-like lady that you are something called a Keeper — just as she was before you — and that if you use the glove-like Adjunct tool in front of you, then she will help you learn and keep The Realms. She also straight up tells you she will lie to you before dissipating into the air.
It is on that mysterious note that your lonely journey begins, having you set out to visit three distinct realms while using the Adjunct to solve a variety of puzzles involving interesting mechanical structures and machines. Each of the realms has a unique look and feel, but all share that uncanny sense of loneliness and melancholy that has become one of Cyan’s hallmarks.
Outside of your ghostly mentor periodically delivering a voice line as you slowly piece together the events that have occurred, you truly feel like you are the only person in each of these places. With what little evidence there used to be of others only emphasising the unnerving nature of true solitude as you poke around the locations and try to figure out what the purpose of the steampunk-esque machinery is.
There were times whilst playing through Firmament that made me realise just how far technology has progressed in 30 short years. The visuals are nothing short of beautiful, and it is kind of mindblowing to realise we have surpassed the impressive CG renders of the original Myst and Riven by a significant margin but now in real-time.
When it comes to gameplay, however, Firmament stays true to the formula established in Cyan’s earlier titles — you’ll explore locations paying close attention to the environment and experiment with the assortment of quirky machinery you encounter. Trying to understand and discover what these structures do and how that applies to your area is the core to solving puzzles in this game.
And herein lies the problem in reviewing any game like this: everyone’s capacity for puzzle solving is different, especially when they work different parts of your brain — I have a knack for spatial puzzles, but others might not.
So manipulating different physical parts of a machine to allow something to flow through it is much easier for me than one where, for example, mathematics is involved. Puzzles in Firmament tend to blend a mix of needed skills to figure them out, and compared to Cyan’s other work, they are easier to at least wrap your head around with fewer lateral leaps and mental gymnastics needed to even begin on the problem. In general, you can see exactly what you need to do; you just need to figure out how to do it.
This may or may not be a problem depending on how well you got on with any of the Myst games, but as it’s the core gameplay of the title, it will make or break how much you enjoy it. For the most part, the game is a lot more grounded than Cyan Worlds’ earlier works, with more logical machinery that is easier to grasp the function of.
The actual plot of Firmament is interesting and has some unique elements that I can’t even mention as just the tease of anything would ruin the experience, but who the Keepers and Founders are, where they’ve gone, why you woke up here, and who your ghostly mentor is are all fascinating questions you slowly get answers to via dialogue from your mentor and items in the world.
Unfortunately, as beautiful as the game is, I did have a few technical hiccups whilst playing. For the most part, the game ran well, but I suffered from two main problems. The first was that after the game had been on for extended periods, my framerate would tank even in areas it was fine previously. When this happened, a quick restart fixed it, which suggests it is a memory leak of some kind.
The second problem was that I would get random stutters out of nowhere periodically. I’m not really sure what caused these specifically, as it wasn’t consistent at all; the game was installed on an SSD, and as far as I can tell, this wasn’t connected to shader compilation, the bane of PC ports in recent times. Usually, this stuttering would go away after a few moments. Neither of these problems affected my enjoyment of the game too much, but hopefully, they will be resolved in an update at some point, as they do drag you out of the moment.
Firmament isn’t really a game I can flat-out just recommend to anyone due to how heavily puzzle-focused it is. If you really don’t get on with Cyan’s style of exploratory, environmental puzzles, then you’ll get stuck a few minutes in and hate it. But if you already enjoy their work or you like giving your brain a workout — even if you do sometimes need to take a break and have a cuppa to let your brain breathe — then you’ll have a fun time with this.
Firmament proves that getting lost in visually appealing but eerily empty worlds is still as captivating as it ever was and that, for as obtuse as Cyan’s puzzles can be, that eureka moment when you finally figure out a solution can’t be beat.
Firmament (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
An intriguing exploratory puzzler that nails the aesthetic and the unnerving feeling of being alone. Some technical issues mar an otherwise great experience with a quirky, interesting story.