|Developer||Red Koi Box|
|Platforms||PC, Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S|
|Release Date||August 12, 2021|
I’ve always been one for puzzle games over action. Maybe it’s just the “casual” gamer in me, but I’ve always preferred games that give you time to think out a solution than ones that challenge your reflexes or thinking on your feet. It’s why the Portal series is so near and dear to my heart. Portal 2 is one of the few games that I think I could play again and again. So when I first saw the trailer for Faraday Protocol by Red Koi Box, my first thought was “That looks like Portal!” And that’s when I knew I had to give it a shot.
Spiritual Content: The AI controlling OPIS, named Iris, has a god complex. She discusses humanity’s evolution from a purely biological species to a hybrid of computer and organic components.
As I mentioned earlier, I immediately got Portal vibes from my first viewing of the Faraday Protocol trailer. And surprise surprise, that feeling carries over into the game itself. Faraday Protocol is a story-driven puzzle platformer that tasks you with directing the flow of energy throughout various chambers on a mysterious ancient space colony. As you venture through the ruins of this lost civilization, you’ll uncover the truth as to who built it and why, all while blasting energy around like you’re Jimmy Neutron.
Faraday Protocol opens with your character, Raug Zeekon, awakening on his spaceship after it has landed on an abandoned ancient space station called OPIS. As an alien archaeologist, it’s your job to search for any signs of the ancient civilization that built this place. Upon your entry to the station, you’re immediately scanned by the onboard AI, Iris, and introduced to the world of OPIS. As you explore, you’ll come across a series of gigantic ziggurats, which serve as a sort of training grounds for beings known only as SCOMs. As you take on this training yourself, you’ll learn what SCOMs are and why it’s so important for them to have a training course all to themselves.
That all sounds great. I’m always up for a good sci-fi dystopia, and I really enjoy games that let you discover a larger narrative as you go along. But while I really like the story itself, I have to say that the actual story progression in Faraday Protocol leaves a lot to be desired. You get a brief info dump at the beginning of the game giving a bit of history of the station, then, at the end of the first set of puzzles, you get a little more exposition about the people who built the station, still all very vague and mysterious. Then, you get nothing until you finish the second set of puzzles, at which point the story wraps up within about 20 minutes. Instead of feeling like you’re gradually uncovering the truth of the station, it feels more like you’re completing puzzles mindlessly until you finally get a ton of info all at once, only to just do more puzzles until you find the next story section.
Forgive me if I’m drawing too many comparisons, but the Portal franchise really is my best analog for how else this could have been done, and I think it was done far better there. Even looking only at the first game, GlaDOS gives you little hints and views into the culture of Aperture Science after every puzzle, and as you go on, she becomes more and more deranged and ominous. The game gives you story gradually, making each puzzle feel like an achievement as you get the next bit of lore. Here in Faraday Protocol, all you get after each chamber is a simple “Puzzle (x) completed. Congratulations recruit!” This is especially frustrating because the story itself is good. I wanted to find out what was happening, but it felt like the game was just refusing to give me information. A little development after every puzzle would have given the story pacing the jump it desperately needed.
While I may have mixed feelings on the story, the gameplay of Faraday Protocol is just what I was hoping for. Rather than wielding a portal gun, you’ll instead be firing a small pistol-like relic of this ancient civilization. This relic allows you to absorb energy from statues placed around the chambers and fire it to other statues to power various objects.
There are two types of energy: yellow and blue. Yellow is a standard binary energy; it simply sends power to whatever is hooked up to its receptacle. It can be fired at any wall, where it will sit as a flaming blob of energy for convenient storage, or it can be fired at a statue where it will serve as a proper power source. The blue energy, on the other hand, allows you to chain together circuits via special connection points. As you journey through OPIS, you’ll be managing these two types of energy, as well as converting them back and forth, as you navigate the chambers filled with special bridges and gates that can only be passed with a particular color.
In addition to the energy mechanic, Faraday Protocol includes a good amount of symbol matching puzzles. This mechanic has a surprising amount of depth and development, to the point that it almost feels like it’s overshadowing the main energy mechanic. Sometimes you’ll be swapping symbols back and forth with buttons, sometimes you’ll simply be choosing symbols via pillars that also change the symbols of the surrounding spaces. And sometimes you’ll be backtracking through an entire chamber to get the correct series of symbols for a puzzle at the end.
While I found the energy mechanic fun and intuitive to use, these symbol puzzles grew stale pretty quickly. If it were merely an occasional addition to the (very fun) energy gun puzzles, I wouldn’t mind it, but, especially near the end of the game, it all but overtakes the game. In a game where the main object is exploring the chambers to find the best way to manipulate the flow of energy, being forced to stand still and mess with buttons until I’ve solved the puzzle drew the gameplay to a screeching halt.
Still, despite my gripes with the symbol puzzles, overall, Faraday Protocol manages to weave those basic mechanics into puzzles that, while challenging, never crossed the threshold into the forbidden world of irritating. I got decently stuck on a couple, but I was always able to figure out what I was supposed to do with a little more exploration. The pacing of the puzzle mechanics is also very well balanced, giving you only one or two chambers to learn a mechanic before remixing it to keep things interesting. You’ll start out just firing energy to open a door, but you’ll then be given a chamber where you have to find just the right angle to power a hidden statue. Then, you may have to convert energy back and forth several times as you make your way toward the final door, then find that special angle again. This gives the player just enough time to familiarize themselves with a given puzzle mechanic before being forced to use some critical thinking to apply it in a new situation.
One place where I feel Faraday Protocol really broke the mold with both its puzzle solving and its storytelling comes about two thirds of the way through the game. You’re imprisoned by the station’s AI, and your energy gun is taken away. You have to escape from your prison by solving a series of button puzzles, and while these aren’t my favorite, having the gameplay shaken up to such a degree was a nice change of pace. In addition, this section had a completely different art style from the rest of the game, making it really stick out in my memory. I would have loved to see a few more of these sections to break up the gameplay a bit more.
Speaking of art style, I’ve got to give props to the developers. The architecture of OPIS is done in a neo-Egyptian style, with towering statues done in a beautiful black and gold. It made me wonder what a Bioshock game might look like if it incorporated Egyptian culture rather than American. But while the entire game looks gorgeous, after a couple puzzles, I found myself easily getting lost. The blacks and gold are very samey, leading to some very confusing navigation. I would have appreciated a bit more differentiation between individual puzzles, or rooms in different chambers, like I mentioned before with the one section of button puzzles. That kind of variation would have helped immensely.
And finally…there’s the length. I beat the main campaign in under 8 hours. This does make for a very easily replayable game, especially with the addition of optional collectibles that are hidden throughout. However, for a game that will run you $20 on PC, (jumping up to $25 on consoles,) that’s a really short runtime. You’ll probably be able to squeeze another 4 to 5 hours out of a repeat playthrough if you’re really scouring for those collectibles, but coming from someone who is anything but a completionist, that’s not a good way of extending playtime. I didn’t really want to go back and solve the same puzzles I just completed for the collectibles. In addition, that short length just exacerbates how rushed the story already feels. At the end of the game, you’re forced to make a decision that leads to two different endings, but neither of those endings really hit the way I think the team wanted to. That’s because I’d spent 8 hours solving puzzles, but less than an hour of that was spent getting to know Raug and Iris. They weren’t fleshed out enough to make me care about the story, and that was really disappointing.
So…in case you couldn’t tell, I’m a bit conflicted on Faraday Protocol. Its gameplay is a wonderful return to a style of game I’ve been missing for a very long time, its puzzle mechanics are well-implemented and well-balanced, and its art style and controls are polished. However, the rushed story and strange pacing, along with a woefully short campaign, make it difficult to say whether it’s worth the $20 ticket to entry. If you’re already a fan of the Portal games, or honestly just puzzle platformers in general, I’d say it’s worth it, but just be aware that you’ll be finished before you know it. But if puzzle games aren’t your thing, or especially if you’re not a completionist, it might be worth waiting for a sale before you jump onboard Faraday Protocol. But if you’re able to snag it for a bit less, I would definitely recommend picking it up for a blast back to the golden age of first person puzzle games.
The Bottom Line
Faraday Protocol's puzzle mechanics are a perfect match for fans of its spiritual ancestors like Portal, but a rushed story and minimal campaign length make it a tougher sell to anyone who's not an established fan of the genre..