by Nathan Rowland
previewed on PC
The Final Frontier
Like many puzzle games before it, Filament's design is simple but effective. Playing an initially unnamed pilot of some roving ship, you brush paths with a floating vessel amidst the vastness of space and like any intrepid adventurer, decide to board it. Simple, cutesy puzzles begin the adventure as your pilot boards the seemingly abandoned vessel. After completing the first panel of puzzles, a crew member's voice speaks out to you from the comms panel, confirming she’s stuck and asks for your help. It's a basic draw but effective enough to pull you further into this mysterious craft.
What’s apparent from the start is the atmosphere that Filament tries to impose upon the player, where both character and level design are spherical and soft. Its music in the foregrounded a synth track that proves light, airy and ethereal, whilst the ship’s design is cosy and whimsical. It’s an aesthetic blend between Double Fine’s 2014 Broken Age and Thekla, Inc's logic puzzle designs in 2016's The Witness. It's charming at first but after an hour of this same looping track, it became irritating. But it makes for a very pleasant space to inhabit in the countless hours yet to come.
Whilst there's enjoyment in exploring the ship's various cavities and listening to the trapped spacefarer's monologue, egging you on through her comm-link, the meat and potatoes of Filament is naturally its puzzle solving challenges. It’s not very clear what that system is supposed to be in the game’s rationale but here’s my best description: after approaching illuminated consoles strewn throughout the ship, you suddenly become this small robot linking together anchors, pillars illuminated by an energy cable that you draw behind you as your traverse these petite puzzle rooms. Completing five rooms finishes a console and this unlocks further ones within a set path. In turn, this unlocks more of the ship, bearing closer on the trapped crew member.
Sky’s The Limit
I'm not ashamed to admit that I hadn't seen a large portion of the ship at the point of writing this preview - after all, these are hard puzzles. So much logic and detail are baked into its simple mechanics, like the ebb and flow of the small robots’ movements, which speaks volumes of the design ingenuity behind these puzzles. Small variations like horizontal and vertical orientation of the pillars; whether they have a small piece of un-interactable wall attached to them, meaning you cannot connect to them from all 360-degree angles; their distance from one another and angles between corresponding anchors, all of which affect the problem-solving and the route taken towards completion. Its fantastically frustrating at times, yielding way to obvious and intuitive solutions.
The challenge meant I preferred taking a crack at a few, getting frustrated on ones I couldn’t do, leave, then hop back onto Filament a few hours later when I’d forgotten about them and moved onto other areas of the ship. Thankfully, the load times and menu transitions are quick and smooth, a favourable quality for when I wanted to quickly take another stab at puzzles that were bothering me. It takes only 15 seconds to boot up the game, crawling through corridors in search of easier solutions. I suspect this is by design and its cleverly implemented.
Temba, His Arms Open
I won’t say its perfect, as the visuals can become stale after a while. Previewing levels is an option but their orientation before jumping into them at the consoles can be a bit janky. Sometimes it shows you a 2D rendered layout of the anchors, sometimes a .jpeg image of this level and I cannot figure why it changes between the two. Either way, the previews don't assist in solving these conundrums and are inferior to jumping in the levels and testing what does and doesn’t work but I can’t fault the game so much for that. It’s a functionable outfit that sits layered above a fun and inspiring design in puzzle mechanics and I would heartily recommend this to any fans of The Witness or Dr Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training, because its puzzles will make you just as irate in the way that you’d enjoy. Expect a release this Spring.