It should be a day for celebration. Bradwell Electronics, a seemingly benign British conglomerate, has piqued the world’s attention with the announcement of its groundbreaking ‘Clean Water Initiative’. Gathering the greatest minds from the scientific community within the confines of its Stonehenge Museum, you’re ready to witness the birth of a technological breakthrough. But disaster has seen fit to intervene and you awake amid the rubble of the once-impressive Brutalist facility, masonry collapsing all around and alarms blaring warnings of danger. Was this a freak accident? A terrorist attack? It's up to you to find out.
While its trailers hint at an experience that might flirt with horror, The Bradwell Conspiracy is far more comfortable presenting uncomfortable truths than it is delivering predictable jump scares. New studio A Brave Plan (which comprises talent with experience in everything from the Fable and Tomb Raider series to the Batman games and Ether One) has crafted a slow-burn first-person puzzler that falls somewhere between the narrative beats of Firewatch and the brain-teasing conundrums of Portal, Chromagun and the like.
With only a pair of smart glasses to assist in the opening moments – think Google Glass meets Jarvis from the MCU (voiced by the very talented Abubakar Salim, aka Bayek from Assassin’s Creed Origins) – you’re informed you need to find a way out of this crumbling museum, and pronto. Your AI-powered specs soon discover another survivor – Dr Amber Randall – but you’re both separated by a security door that’s been firmly locked down. With your own voice conveniently silenced by smoke inhalation, you have to rely on the in-built camera of your glasses to send Amber visual prompts, and vice versa.
It’s a cute idea, and one that certainly has a lot of potential. It helps Amber share important information with you, such as a door you need to find in order to progress, or the code for a keypad. There’s even a really neat puzzle early on where you’ll send Amber images of rotating walkways so she can move the correct ones to help you across. Your disembodied companion will also provide her thoughts on pretty much anything you share with her. Found an interesting book on water purification? Discovered an overtly Orwellian company poster? Amber will give you her two cents.
A Brave Plan brought on two dialogue consultants with plenty of experience in TV (including Buffy, Battlestar Galactica and Husbands) and it really shows. Considering your relationship with Amber is an almost entirely one-sided affair, Rebecca LeChance’s performance is warm, natural and convincing. Unfortunately, the photo capture aspect doesn’t always work as smoothly as it should. Responses often lack context, such as Amber telling you to follow a sign you just shared with her, only to discover you’ve been sent in the wrong direction because you’ve missed an important blueprint or story beat.
There are no on-screen markers or prompts either, so you’ll often need to rely on the visual and audio clues Amber provides – as well as maps and signs littered throughout the Bradwell site – in order to navigate your way through its eerie and empty hallways. You can collect new Guide specs along the way, which serve as rudimentary keycards for accessing new areas. These also give you access to email accounts and voice mails that give a little more insight into the nature of Bradwell’s research, as well as some odd little throwaway moments, such as an impromptu meditation session. It’s a very spartan approach to storytelling and navigation, but it fits the minimalist style of the Bradwell world and it ultimately urges you to push further into the mystery.
After a brief wander around the main foyer of the facility – with Stonehenge itself visible through a giant panoramic window – you’re given a quick tutorial on one of Bradwell Electronics’ other breakthroughs, the Substance Mobile Printer, or SMP for short. It’s a portable 3D printer that enables you to suck up a malleable material and print designs based on blueprints you discover throughout the Stonehenge Museum and the facility beneath. With a chirpy overview from – of all people – British chat show host Jonathan Ross, you now have a means of interacting with the environment to solve various puzzles that are blocking your way.
Annoyingly, you can’t scan every item in the game and replicate it, only those made from Substance. Almost every new item you suck up provides a unit of Substance and a blueprint that enables you to rebuild it. Initially, you’ll use this tool to create planks to cross broken walkways, but later on you’re scanning algae pods to restart reactors and complete puzzles involving pipes. These limitations are there to stop you breaking the game, but with a relative amount of freedom to explore in each area of the facility (your blueprints and Substance are reset every time you progress to a new section in the story), you’re left to study the environment and use Amber’s hints and usable blueprints to solve each new puzzle/work out where to go next. There’s a decent variety to the puzzles, and most are relatively easy to deduct, but each one does ultimately rely on the same formula of ‘search for right blueprint/collect enough Substance’/make everything fit’ and it does eventually lose its sense of wonder.
Sadly, The Bradwell Conspiracy also suffers from some significant technical issues on Nintendo Switch. The game is meant to be running at around 30fps, but it can struggle to maintain that figure with consistent drops in frames and lag. We eventually grew used to the slowdown, but watching the camera chug or particle effects shift and flit in an effort to keep up is frustrating and very distracting. It should be added that other versions of the game are also suffering from similar problems, so it’s not just an issue isolated to Nintendo Switch. We were also frustrated to see a lack of touchscreen controls, which seems an odd omission considering the game has also been released on Apple Arcade.
The Bradwell Conspiracy offers an intriguing take on the first-person puzzler formula, even if its USP lacks the simple creativity of other similar puzzle games. The story itself has some real potential, but it ultimately fails to really flesh out some of the more interesting beats hinted at in news reports and audio logs. More interactive than Firewatch but far less challenging than The Witness, this is a puzzler that’s ultimately more style than substance. And with so many issues with performance in its launch state, The Bradwell Conspiracy on Switch doesn’t prove itself to be the ultimate portable version it really should be.