Developer: Red Koi Box
Publisher: Deck13 Spotlight
Release Date: 12 August 2021
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5 (via backwards compatibility)
Faraday Protocol is a first-person puzzle game set on a desolate space station. Armed with the gun-like Bia-Tool, players absorb and redistribute energy to manipulate electrical currents and pass through Opis’ many test chambers to discover the secrets at the heart of the facility.
Faraday Protocol Review
While editing rough cuts of movies, film directors often use existing pieces of music to serve as a guide for the composer, a process known as ‘temp tracking’. Directors often become so attached to their temp tracks that the final score is only as different as it needs to be to avoid copyright infringement. This can result in music that might be effective, but never quite establishes its own identity.
Faraday Protocol, a first-person puzzler from developers Red Koi Box, feels a bit like a temp track to me. It’s actually pretty good, and I certainly enjoyed the five or six hours I spent with the game. It’s just so clearly indebted to another game, however, that it’s sometimes hard to take it on its own terms.
There’s a Starman
Intergalactic explorer Raug Zeekon has landed on the deserted space station Opis in search of the source of a mysterious signal. Playing as Raug, you’ll explore Opis under the watchful eye of an artificial intelligence who is testing you for some unstated purpose. The only equipment you’ll find to aid in your quest is the Bia-Tool, a strange gun-like implement that can absorb and redistribute electricity. This is the core mechanic through which you’ll interact with most of Faraday Protocol’s puzzles; little owl-like statues containing orange and blue electricity are dotted all over Opis, and you’ll need to suck up and shoot out this energy to power circuits and open the locked door at the end of every test room.
Hang on; that all sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it? Indeed, Faraday Protocol unashamedly takes inspiration from Valve’s 2007 classic Portal, almost resembling a photo negative of that game. The sterile white laboratories of Aperture Science have been replaced by the imposing black and gold chambers of Opis, but the similarities remain. I found myself experiencing a distinct sense of déjà vu as I progressed through the game, memories of hurtling through orange and blue portals never far from my mind.
No-one Can Hear You Scream
If there’s one thing Faraday Protocol nails, it’s the atmosphere. Don’t get too attached to the dense forest you’ll find on Opis’ surface after stepping out of your spaceship; you’ll spend only a few minutes amongst the foliage before you descend into the facility’s forlorn depths. Opis’ onyx, Egyptian-inspired environments are simplistic, but their starkness and scale contribute to a feeling of total isolation. Not all of the game’s visuals are quite so immersive, though; effects such as sparks of electricity in the station’s more decrepit areas look quite crude and cartoonish.
The game is a largely soundless affair but its silence is used to great effect; the eerie quiet heightens the feeling of solitude that comes with being Opis’ only living visitor. The score is classic sci-fi, all throbbing synths and dramatic strings, but it appears infrequently and seemingly at random. It’s fortunate, then, that the sound design of the game is on point; your Bia-Tool fizzles pleasingly when used, and you’ll hear a satisfying chime each time you solve a puzzle.
Ah yes, the puzzles. There’s an art to a good puzzle, isn’t there? If it’s too hard, you’ll quickly become frustrated. If it’s too easy, though, you might feel your intelligence is being insulted. While I never felt actively condescended to by Faraday Protocol, I seldom found myself seriously challenged. I’d often figure out the way to beat a room almost immediately, spending more of my time enacting solutions mechanically than I did thinking about them. Truth be told, I’m kind of a dumb guy, at least when it comes to puzzles; if I can get through this game so smoothly, many other players will have an even easier time.
Faraday Protocol places more obstacles in your way over time, like coloured doors that won’t let you pass if your Bia-Tool contains energy of the same colour. In other chambers, certain bridges will only let you cross if you’re carrying energy of the same colour. Entirely new puzzle types are introduced later on, tasking you with spinning wheels and swapping tiles to match cryptic symbols. These elements add some welcome complexity to the game, but genuine brain teasers are still few and far between.
I only hit a real brick wall very late in the game, with a tile-swapping puzzle that I just couldn’t crack. It was simply too much for my currently Covid-addled brain to handle, so I took a break for the night. Once I returned to the game in the morning, I was able to solve it rather quickly. Ideally the game’s trials would have gradually increased in difficulty over time, rather than suddenly presenting a large spike of frustration at the last hurdle.
In fact, I had more trouble with the few ill-advised platforming sequences in the game than I did with its puzzles. Raug moves slowly even when sprinting, which makes trying to run and jump onto disappearing platforms quite exasperating at times. You can find collectables scattered throughout Opis if you want a break from puzzling, but hunting them down offers only a trophy and perhaps a sense of satisfaction as reward.
Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
Throughout it all, Raug speaks rarely and betrays little personality when he does. The audio logs he occasionally records are largely functional and reveal little about the character you’re inhabiting. The station’s A.I. is similarly quiet, mostly chiming in to politely congratulate you upon completion of each level; GLaDOs, she ain’t. With a cast of only two, it’s a great pity that Faraday Protocol’s characters are so slight and lifeless.
The game invites many questions about who built Opis and why they abandoned it, but you won’t get many answers until the very end. The unceremonious info dump at Faraday Protocol’s conclusion is too little, too late; there simply isn’t enough reason to truly care about the how and why of the story. Without that context, the choice you’re offered in the game’s final moments falls flat no matter what decision you make.
There’s a lot to like about Faraday Protocol, but I can’t say it left me feeling fully satisfied. It offers fun and diverting puzzles that are cleverly designed, but don’t pose any significant challenge. The game has everything going for it at the start, with a great premise and an atmosphere of creeping loneliness. The actual plot takes so long to kick in, though, that it feels almost like an afterthought. All of this adds up to a reasonably enjoyable experience, but not a memorable one.
Above all, I wish that Faraday Protocol did more to carve out its own identity, and to set itself apart from Portal. Maybe it’s unfair to hold this game up against one of the greatest ever made, but Faraday Protocol wears its main influence so openly on its sleeve that it suffers from the comparison it invites.
Disclaimer: A review code was kindly provided by the Publisher.