By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on October 14, 2020
Filament is an indie puzzle game, developed by Beard Envy Games and published by Kasedo Games. A little research shows that this indie developer is based somewhere outside of London and has a three man crew. Filament is their first game and was originally released for PC on Steam on the 23th of April 2020. Now, a mere six months later, it is time for Filament to get its first console release on the Nintendo Switch!
The original PC release has received generally favorable reviews, which I did not read since I wanted to form my own opinion about the game at hand. I have not played the game on PC, so this is my first time playing the game on Nintendo Switch. What also catches my eye is the game was placed as one of the winners at the week-long Epic Megajam (don't understand a thing of what I just wrote but it sounds tasty and probably gives them some bragging rights). Reading up on the game did raise my expectations, do we have the next Celeste on our hands? Or is this a frustrating port? Let's find out ,shall we?
Let me quote the developers' own website: "Filament is a laid back, story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship". In a nutshell this means you get to control tiny robots and help them connect the dots in order to restore power to a huge spaceship, one room at a time. We also unlock private diaries of crew members along the way, which we of course open and read to catch up on all the gossip that is going around. But let's start at the beginning; Filament's story begins with your own spaceship approaching an unknown Filament corporation vessel with no crew detected. You board the vessel to start looking around for clues to what happened to the crew. A female voice who introduces herself as Juniper starts talking to you, telling she is locked up in the cockpit. She names you Pluto and the adventure begins.
What I did not expect when starting this game is the amount of story that would be in it. And, more importantly, there were kittens somewhere on the ship. Let's forget about what happened to the crew members; the kittens are what matters the most! Crewmembers don't have real names, everyone has a color and a corresponding codename. After each puzzle you solve, you unlock new story parts. There is a lot of reading in this game, so please be prepared for that. Of course the puzzles and game can be played without the reading, but I would not recommend this. I myself enjoyed reading the logs. Sometimes I just played for a while to collect more logs and afterwards I spend a lot of time reading through it. I'll try not to spoil too much about the story and let you experience it for yourselves. What I can tell you is that the story is delivered in a 'find it out for yourself' way. You don't find part 1 and then part 2 and then part 3, and so on, and so on. No, there are logs from multiple characters and from different days. Every part is somewhere on the ship and sometimes I went from character X on day 6 to character Y on day 1. This can be confusing for inexperienced readers like myself, but is also part of the charm.
The gameplay in this game can be divided into two parts. You have exploration on one hand and puzzle solving on the other. The exploration part surprised me, I did not expect that from a puzzle game. The game uses a top down 3D view of the spaceship. You control your character walking around, exploring and finding collectibles (cards that can be viewed with story details or cards with tiny puzzle solutions on them to unlock more story logs). There are computers around the spaceship with which you can keep track of what you collected and read or listen to these story bits again. The computers are also the place where you input codes you find while exploring. What adds to the charm is that you can often find stuff mentioned in the story while exploring the spaceship. Once you reach these areas often another story skit is presented in which Juniper narrates what happened. This adds to a lot of 'world building'.
Now, on to the second gameplay part: the puzzles. This is where the game gets really difficult. The adventurer in me started to explore the entire spaceship before I started puzzling. When I eventually did start puzzling I quickly found out that these puzzles are really difficult at times. The upside is that beating them feels really rewarding. The game doesn't hold your hand. Some puzzles can only be solved by exploring and finding clues on the spaceship. Since I have a superior intellect *cough, cough*, I did not expect this game to be so darn difficult. But as a reviewer I have to see all the game has to offer. That is why I had to unlock the 'hints' section. Not because I needed it, but for reviewing purposes. You believe me, right?! The hint section works as following: during puzzling you can hit + to highlight the node you need to hit next. If you already hit a few nodes, the one that should be hit next is highlighted green and if you made a wrong choice, the one that needs to be replaced by the green one is marked red.
To keep things interesting you can only activate hints twice each puzzle, this means there is a certain strategy to when to use hints. I often found it valuable to know which node should be picked first and never needed to use many hints after that. But I did found out that you can cheat for more hints: quality of life hack to not lose sanity is that you can pick two hints each time you enter the puzzle, so if you encounter a really difficult one you can re-enter puzzles for more than two hints. Controls are easy to use; in exploration mode, you control your character. You can't jump, there is just the action button to activate puzzles or collecting stuff. During puzzles you control one or more robots, this works virtually the same. It felt really natural to me. Puzzling is an advanced way of connecting the dots by threading a power cord through and around a collection of pillars. What I really like is the fact that the developers keep introducing new mechanics and variations on the basics of the puzzles but the core mechanics stays the same.
For instance; during some puzzles you'll need to avoid black pillars because they will cut the power; other ones have different colored pillars and you'll need to match colors; or little arrows point out which pillar needs to be activated first in order to unlock other pillars. The goal is always to connect all the pillars, restoring the power to the room, after which you'll need to reach the exit. Now this doesn't sound too hard right? Well I forgot to mention one thing, do you guys remember the game Snake on the older Nokia phones? Well, maybe not, since I am not as young as I used to be. But the point I want to make is once you have spun the power cord around some pillars, you can NOT move through your own cord. This way you might be blocking the route which you need to reach a pillar or once you finally manage to connect all the pillars, your route to the exit is blocked.
In the past I have played quite a few ports on my Switch that were first released on steam. Some of these ran horrible. Luckily, this is not the case here. I can truly say that I am quite amazed by the quality of this port. Ok, I have not played the PC version, so maybe some things like textures are downsized, but to me this indie game looks really good. Filament has virtually no slowdown and the sounds are amazing. I have experienced 0 crashes. When I first played the game, the setting reminded me of the Metroid series: the desolated spaceship, electronic music tunes and sense of exploration. The soundtrack for this game is amazing, the only negative is that I wished they had more different songs. Juniper's voice acting is plenty and professionally done. Sound effects during puzzles are basic, nothing too fancy, but hey; it's a puzzle game, what did you expect? Overall, this game is really solid in the graphics and sound department.
Before I start with my conclusion, there is something I want to explicitly mention. People that crave a good story, maybe people that play a lot of adventure novels, could really love this game. The story is amazing and to experience it all you really need to connect the dots yourself. You can find weird drawings in the spaceship, which you can use to unlock different logs. This was the first game in a while where I had to take notes or take screenshots to unlock everything. I haven't felt like this since the glory days of Lucas Arts click and point adventure games. Maybe Beard Envy took some inspiration from them. The amount of story this game provides is not something I expected when I was asked to review a puzzle game. And puzzling you will do. There are 300 puzzles for you to solve, it takes around 20 hours to reach the end, double that if you want to solve and find everything. There is enough going on to keep everything interesting and, of course, challenging.
Filament is a game that is appealing to story based puzzle fanatics. It can get really difficult, luckily there is a hint system and already quite a few online guides to help you get through the more difficult parts. It is also a game that can be enjoyed in short bursts, making it the ideal match for Nintendo Switch and handheld gaming. It is not the next Celeste, it is Filament, and deserves to make a name for itself, since the combination of story discovery and puzzling is new and very entertaining.