Cyan Puzzler Firmament Is Compelling, Enigmatic
I have a confession to make: I’ve never beaten Myst. “Yeah, but haven’t you reviewed it?” You might ask. And to that I’d have to say: wow, thanks for following my work! That’s amazing. Developer Cyan’s seminal work was a cultural phenomenon when it was released back in the early days of CD-ROM video games–when full motion video and hi fidelity audio soundtracks were emerging novelties.
Firmament is a first person adventure game with an emphasis on solving puzzles. To solve those puzzles you’re given a tool called an “Adjunct.” You’ll use this Adjunct across three realms to manipulate various pieces of machinery on the behest of a voice that serves as a source of exposition and also as a guide as you work to discover the true nature of the Firmament
This isn’t Cyan’s first rodeo when it comes to creating enigmatic worlds that beg for exploration, even if exploring them means solving puzzles. The three realms each seem to serve a specific function in a steampunk society that values work and obedience. You play as a character that has no memories, woken from a hibernation to serve as a Keeper to the Firmament–but you soon discover that there’s a mystery to be solved.
While previous Cyan developed games have relied on moon logic and cryptic puzzles, the type of puzzles you’ll experience in Firmament never felt like they required leaps of logic. Everything made sense, and there were only a few times when I felt like I was missing the way forward. And while puzzle difficulty varies from person to person, I found Firmament to be right in that sweet spot where it wasn’t impossibly hard, but still challenging enough to stump me from time to time.
To solve puzzles in Firmament you’re given a tool called the Adjunct, which shoots out a lead that allows you to manipulate an object once attached. The Adjunct acts in a sort of binary fashion: you can turn something on or off, move it left or right, etc. For some objects you can switch modes; so something you can turn left or right you can also move forward or backward, for instance. While this sounds simplistic, developer Cyan has created a series of clever ways to make the Adjunct feel like more than a way to turn switches on and off. Firmament has a wide variety of puzzle types. Some use logic, others use line of sight, etc. Puzzles aren’t always just standalone, as you’ll sometimes have to manipulate something at one end of a realm to create a way forward on the other end.
As you explore more of the world of Firmament you’ll get upgrades to the Adjunct to allow you to get to places you weren’t able to before. There are three upgrades: torque, range and concatenate. Torque allows you to turn certain switches you previously couldn’t, Range extends the reach of the Adjunct, and Concatenate allows you to chain together switches, often to power something.
Firmament is completely playable in VR, and it feels like it was designed to be. There are many times when you are gifted a beautiful vista just for figuring out a mundane puzzle. And the Adjunct was designed specifically to be used as a hand-mounted device–a simple twist left or right actuates the switches throughout Firmament. However, there are a lot of times where you ride elevators and vehicles, something that was not pleasant for someone who is easily motion sick, like myself. I ended up playing Firmament mostly with a good old fashioned monitor, thank you very much.
I really enjoyed Firmament. Cyan has a specific brand of world building and puzzle solving that has captivated me ever since I was a little kid, and Firmament really sates a specific appetite. It feels like a game that was made by a developer that has had decades to hone their puzzle chops. It also has a story that compelled me to look for answers. And though the answer ended up being a little cliche, I really enjoyed the view.
Firmament is available today on Steam for PC and Mac, and for most VR systems, with a PlayStation 4 and 5 and Playstation VR release planned for some time in the future.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review