The above trailer is a fan edit, an extension of Cyan's official launch trailer with VNV Nation's song 'Collide' in the background. The game it depicts, FIRMAMENT, is on Steam now.
5/29/2023. Firmament is now regarded widely as a disappointment. With a Metacritic rating of 73/100, it's among the worst-reviewed major launches Cyan has ever really had.
Uru, Myst V, Myst and Obduction all had review scores over the 75% mark.
This game debuted as Steam's #1 seller but only for a day. A week later, it isn't even in the top hundred.
So... what happened?
Well, a mix of widely encountered game-breaking [or at least immersion-breaking] bugs at release did not help. For me, the game has crashed to desktop a few times, the 'ice circle crane puzzle' stuck irretrievably at one point between two rock surfaces, forcing me to reload the most recent prior autosave - which, once loaded, sent me falling through the bottom of the level. I also opened a door at one point annd saw a lag where the landscape outside the door appeared only half a second after the door was opened.
Others have found audio/voiceover is completely silent, making the story at the outset even more inscrutable.
Also cause for concern: High system requirements, and a central adjunct game mechanic that is not what the Kickstarter indicated the game would have. The KS said this adjunct would be a 'clockwork companion' that would be responding to VR gestural controls. What we ended up with is a device that doesn't fly around independently of the player, but is tethered at the end of a handheld 'launcher' by an energy beam. I understand the technical challenege of an autonomous flying robot implemented in this game could have been substantial, and I would not be shocked to learn that Cyan tried it and could not get it to work at all reliably, that it kept getting stuck to things or lost.
I mean, this studio had problems at launch with a fixed position crane system tied to a particular place in a particular 'realm' so how much would thse people likely have struggled with with a physics object that could fly all over the different realms and every possible area in the game?
Had they not pivoted to the adjunct limited as it is now, suspect the game launched would be far buggier even than what we got.
I get that they tried to keep the story ending under wraps and limited who was allowed to playtest but that secrecy likely led to many of the bugs persisting into launch because they weren't identified.
So... as negative as all this is, I now worry for Cyan's future prospects - there's a part of me disappointed with the game, due to its bugs, and other backers in certain cases feel outright betrayed. But more disappointing even than the game is knowing that the dismal reception to it will potentially be a death knell for Cyan. Uru and Myst V both saw Cyan contract to the brink of bankruptcy in the 2000s and I can't help but wonder if the same could occur now. Will they have the resources to fully remake Riven in VR now? Will they now need yet another a Kickstarter to do so - and if so, will the backers show up this time (knowing how Firmament ended up?)
Riven, of course, is quite beloved by diehard fans and is a known quantity. So that being the next move may still work out.
And also, I hesitate to simply dismiss Firmament as bad. It isn't bad. It's buggy but not outright bad. The damage is done, sure, but Cyan is scrambling to patch this, and they already rushed out a hotfix for at least a few of the glaring bugs in about 24 hours after release, which is quite responsive.
Cyan also did some of this extremely well. They're masters of environment art and this title's no exception. Sound design's also really solid throughout, and while a few players were unhappy with the game's scope, feeling it was too limited, too short, I disagree.
The puzzle design's tough but fair, and mostly quite logical, and the logical nature of the puzzles and the fact that they're basically signposted by the sockets your adjunct can plug into, makes them a bit easier to solve than some 'pixel hunt' type puzzes the studio once designed. In Obduction, players constantly griped that there were 'red herrings', that so many interactables existed that served no evident purpose. Firmament pares down interactive objects and limits them to only ones that matter, and the result may seem 'emptier' in interaction terms, but that's understandable as a response to criticism of past work by the studio. Do I really want another metal box like Obduction's covered in lettering and buttons that has no puzzle relevance? No - and in Firmament it's pretty clear cut when a chunky machine or system is usable because if it is, it has a socket on it somewhere. Limiting, yes, but it does reduce confusion.
Storywise, suffice it to say that some fans - myself included - had various suspicions about where the story and its biggest surprise were going to end up, even as far back as the Kickstarter. So the twist is not going to absolutely blow you away when you learn what it actually is, if you've followed all the existing fan discussion prior to launch the speculation at times hit on the core idea, even when the details/specifics filled in around that varied. If not, even still, once you see the game environments and combine that with the game's basic name and premise, you probably will guess the gist of it early on, especially if you've played other Cyan games before like Uru and Obduction. If the story fails to grab you initially, this is precisely why - a lot of what's going on is intentionally misdirection and obfuscation and raising questions. And the ending is full of story resolution and answers, even if a few of the beats filled in at the end fall flat because they raise smaller questions [lore wise and logic wise] that the game fails to directly explain or flesh out well.
The game, in short, is not too long because the puzzles largely make sense... not because the gameworld's small. It's sparse in interactive items, but it's also really big and beautiful, large realms with lots of visual detailing everywhere on each surface, many areas to wander around in and the all look great. It's a joy to view the scenery in this game in general, likely even more so in VR. The music tracks are subtle, and hit the blend of ominous and awe-inspiring that feels much like we want a Cyan game soundtrack to feel. Machinery and ambient sounds are satisfying, the sound effects are effective. Certain puzzles require certain upgrades to the player's adjunct, which means the first part of the game entails unlocking those upgrades - one in every realm - and revealing new structures - and then the second stage involves using the new abilities to open up more areas and solve more puzzles that will allow you to get inside the newly revealed structures. Getting inside those three structures, will allow you to unlock the final areas and ending. Insofar as our upgrades to the adjunct unlock new things, this has a bit of a Metroidvania design aspect, but a Metroidvania made entirely of puzzles, something the designer of the "Eyes of Ara' is also currently trying to do in their next game, but Fimament beat them to it, it seems.
This is a moderately big game built around a pretty big idea, it looks and sounds amazing too. The issues with its design - bugs, high system requirements, even the initial pricing being a bit high for the game length, all seem like things that will improve in a few months. If the feeling you have is that you're on the fence, because of the above described issues, you may be inclined to wait for a sale on Steam.
Firmament is still an experience worth having once the bugs are fixed, once the price is down [on sale] a bit, once you have a newish computer that clearly meets the system requirements. It's $35 when not on sale, which is only worth it for the puzzle diehards. Under $20, though, in later sales of 2023, it's worth looking at again, because the critics' reviews at release won't change now but the user reviews likely will improve over time as bugs are fixed.
This has the potential to be roughly on par with Obduction after a few patches. It's an 80-85/100 game with 73/100 reviews because it had too many major bugs out of the gate.
But... I hope we don't just abandon Cyan as a result of it, as this is, at its core, a pretty cool thing, and by no means bad for a $1.4 million project. That is the same amount they had when making 'Myst' inflation adjusted, and far less than the resources they had on Riven or Uru, both of which were in the ballpark of $10 million.
When you compare what they did here to what they did with Uru when it first opened you'll realize they actually did a lot this time [per $], I think this was an ambitious project that sadly had a botched and bug-heavy launch and now will be forever harmed by it. It's a shame.