During my three years of owning a Nintendo Switch, I've been astonished at just how many indie titles have come to the system and flourished. Sure, you can get games running faster, or looking a lot better on a PC, but some titles just benefit from being able to pick them up and play them anywhere; Filament is the latest to benefit from a Switch port.
Originally released earlier this year, Filament sees you board an abandoned spaceship, The Alabaster, tasked with getting it operational again while solving the mystery of what happened to the missing crew. The whole endeavour would be a pretty lonely one, if not for the presence of the the ship’s navigator Juniper, who is trapped on the bridge. It's your job to get your way to Juniper, by solving puzzles around the ship.
You do this by powering up ‘anchors’ scattered across three floors of the ship, each with varying levels of difficulty. To provide an anchor with power, you need to navigate a little robot and their extendable power cord around nodes, powering them up, which will open the exit for you to complete the level. Complete the five puzzles associated with an anchor and you will find yourself back on the ship, with that anchor now turning green. It is a simple concept that is pushed to the extreme, with the difficulty ramping up quickly. You can clear a whole room of the spaceship and move onto the next only to be confounded by the newest addition to the concept; whether that’s nodes needing to be powered up in a particular order or nodes that need powering multiple times. This can lead to some frustrating moments, as you think that you’ve got a handle on the puzzles in the game, only to come unstuck and wondering how you even got this far.
Make no mistake, Filament is a tough puzzler and apart from a hint system that will tell you the first two nodes that need to be powered, doesn’t really offer you any help. Despite this, you never really hit a wall because the entire ship is pretty much open for you to explore. Get stuck on an anchor in the engine room? Just leave come back to it later, head upstairs and check out another area of the ship.
And what a beautiful ship it is. The level of detail throughout The Alabaster is outstanding, with each area feeling ‘lived-in’, despite the fact that the crew is nowhere to be seen. From the posters and the plants, through to how well the ship is lit, you could spend hours just wandering around and admiring the care and attention that's gone into creating this living space. After solving my first few puzzles, I spent an hour or so just running around the ship and exploring, the beautiful melancholic soundtrack from Tom Rumbellow adding to the whole experience.
Once you've completed a few anchors you'll find yourself in possession of keycards, which can be used at a computer terminal to unlock weekly inboxes of the abandoned crew. The mystery of the missing crew is drip-fed to you, with each keycard giving you access to a week's worth of emails from a particular crew member. This way of giving the player the narrative to piece together themselves fits in with the rest of the game pace-wise; this is a slow burn of a game, that if you try to play through in one go will lead to hair-tearing moments.
Sometimes you just need to step away from the puzzles and read the emails that you gain access to, giving your brain a break in this game is key to succeeding. You can spend half an hour on one puzzle and get nowhere, only to step away for a while, before coming back and seeing the solution right in front of you.
The whole experience would've been a very lonely one, if not for Juniper who is always on hand to keep you company with some sort of commentary accompanying you over the radio as you explore the ship. Voiced by Abigail Turner, who nails the role with the right sense of loneliness and hope, Juniper's presence aboard the ship kept me going when I was frustrated by many of the later puzzles in the game.
As I touched earlier, one of the great benefits of the Switch is the portability of the console and Filament benefits from this. I found myself seeing nodes and anchors in my mind after I had stopped playing, and having the ability to quickly get my Switch out and tackle a puzzle is something you can't do on any other console.
Filament requires a level of trial-and-error that I've not had in gaming for a while, sometimes the solution will come to you in seconds and other times it might take hours. But the pay off is worth it, with a beautifully constructed spaceship, supported by a fantastic performance from Abigail Turner. Beard Envy get the balance between difficulty and reward perfect, all while wrapping up the puzzles in a mystery that I was invested in and wanted to get to the bottom of. If had I had a checklist for what I wanted from a game experience, then Filament ticks all the right boxes for me, and it's hard to find any fault with this beautiful but challenging game.