Narrative-driven adventures are the types of games that generally thrive, or fail, based on the quality of the story, which is why a team of BAFTA award winning developers at A Brave Plan may be the key to success for the latest title from publishers Bossa Studios, The Bradwell Conspiracy. They’ve also thrown in some puzzling elements to try and complement the story, adding an extra dimension to proceedings. As a result, The Bradwell Conspiracy is a far cry from the other Bossa Studios offerings – like I Am Bread and Surgeon Simulator – and is probably best described as a hybrid of Q.U.B.E. and Firewatch. But does it deliver a game that’s as good as either of those two?
For many reasons – mainly pertaining to the gameplay – it’s a solid no and that’s a shame because underneath the rough edges, frustrations and downright ridiculous moments I’ve experienced, The Bradwell Conspiracy has an interesting tale to tell.
It’s all quite mysterious at the start of The Bradwell Conspiracy as you awaken in the Bradwell Stonehenge Museum, in the year 2026, after some sort of explosion has occurred. You’re an unknown protagonist, with no voice and no real clue as to what’s happened, or why. Fortunately, a pair of smart glasses will become a guide of sorts, as well as your replacement voice, and help you connect to another survivor, Amber, found somewhere else in the building. She works for the Bradwells and together you’ll try to find a way out of this half-destroyed museum, hopefully piecing together the events prior as you go.
What’s clear throughout is the amount of work put into crafting a back-story, which is discovered via various means. Amber is a regular source of lore, usually triggered by sending her a photo of something, with her then filling you in on different aspects of the Bradwell family, including their triumphs and tribulations. The rest of the knowledge is acquired by exploring the surroundings and interacting with items of interest, such as notes, letters and computers – each of which contains a selection of emails and voice recordings. There’s a decent mixture of details to be uncovered, ranging from the scientific breakdown of the technological advancements funded by the family, to the more whimsical type daily correspondence between colleagues. It won’t take long before you begin to catch on to there being more than meets the eye about the explosion and those involved.
As mentioned, Amber and the guide built-in to the glasses will be the main voices you’ll hear for the most part. Although well-voiced, the actual lines being spoken by Amber especially become a tad repetitive and that’s accentuated when you’re sending over pictures to her for assistance. Most of the time she’s as much use as a chocolate teapot; offering the same unhelpful dialogue when you’re unsure of the next step needed to progress. That’s if the photo capturing system doesn’t break, which I have to report it has done numerous times, where Amber won’t even acknowledge receiving anything. The only way to fix it – for however long – is to reload the game, and that’s far from ideal when certain puzzles need her interaction.
Fortunately there is another puzzle mechanic thrown in pretty swiftly; one that’s introduced by Jonathan Ross, who does a terrific job in narrating the tutorial-styled section where you’ll grasp the workings of the Substance Mobile Printer (SMP). This incredibly advanced piece of technology sees you sucking up items, storing the blueprints and then being able to print them in volume when necessary. It’s a smashing idea in principal, with pipes, planks and other useful items ready for solving a selection of problems. Need to cross a gap? Put down a few boards and be on your merry way. Find yourself having to fix some piping to get machinery working again? Simply print out, rotate and place pipes to fit around the existing setup. Even for newcomers to puzzlers, there’s maybe only one part that’ll prove a tad tricky, but the puzzles on the whole keep things ticking along to ensure boredom doesn’t kick in… or at least it would do if the SMP wasn’t a hot mess.
You see, far too long will be spent trying to find the elusive sweet spot for printing as the game often just flat-out refuses to do so, showing a red outline for the item as if there’s something in the way – there isn’t though. At one stage in particular, I needed to get closer to print an integral part of a pattern, but couldn’t because I’d have to traverse water (SMP doesn’t work in water). To edge nearer I had to place something down to stand on, however after many rotations and movements, there wasn’t a single area it’d allow me to print in nearby. It took a lot of frustration and pure chaotic button pressing to try and fool the game for a millisecond to be able to print. The SMP printing really lacks any finesse, with luck often the only way to get it to do what you want.
As for the visuals, and well, the museum itself isn’t anything special to look at, with the odd piece of artwork or exhibit scattered about, but the further you delve into the likes of the medical and restricted zones, there’s a bit more vibrancy in the environment. The private quarters of John Bradwell are especially exquisite and add a real touch of class to proceedings. On the contrary, the offices, sick bays, and tunnels are utterly bland, with a lot of repetition found within these areas. You could say it’s a mixed bag visually, however the keen explorers will still enjoy venturing through the environments to find little bits of information.
That’s where The Bradwell Conspiracy on Xbox One thrives for sure, in delivering as much lore as the player wants to learn about the world you’re involved with here. It’s an intriguing tale and the desire to unravel a potential conspiracy whilst escaping is certainly at the forefront of the experience. The problem is, the two core mechanics for solving puzzles are not fit for purpose because one is bereft of accuracy and often malfunctions during placement, and the photo sending aspect just randomly stops working.
You will just have to weigh up whether the narrative makes up for the utterly exasperating puzzle mechanics, but in short, I believe the negatives cancel out the positives and so can’t recommend The Bradwell Conspiracy on Xbox one as a worthwhile purchase.