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The Fidelio Incident

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Act 3 Games
Release Date: May 23, 2017


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PC Review - 'The Fidelio Incident'

by Cody Medellin on July 4, 2017 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

The Fidelio Incident, inspired by Beethoven's only opera Fidelio, is a single-player, first-person thriller set off the coast of Iceland.

Whether you call them walking simulators or narrative adventures, games in this genre live and die by their stories. A great story can save mediocre gameplay, but engaging puzzles cannot save a boring story. Even though players would prefer a title that shines on both fronts, they won't mind short length or simplicity if it leads to a memorable tale with strong characters. The Fidelio Incident, the debut title from Act 3 Games, achieves that balance.

Loosely based on Beethoven's only opera, the story has you playing the role of Stanley, who is flying a cargo plane with his wife Leonore. While over Iceland, a flock of birds collides with the plane, sending it into a tailspin as it crashes against a mountain in one of the islands. Stanley awakens moments later, and amidst the wreckage, he finds a phone with a broken microphone. He learns that Leonore also survived the crash but is trapped beneath some wreckage and is slowly succumbing to hypothermia due to the extreme cold. Desperate and freezing, Stanley goes off to rescue his wife before it's too late.

On the surface, you have a standard survival-and-rescue tale. There's frustration in Stanley's voice when he runs into one obstacle after another, but those reactions feel natural instead of forced. There's desperation when he's trying to reach Leonore, but it isn't overdone. You'll hear Leonore call over the phone sparingly, but they're calls of encouragement rather than cries for help. What you're getting out of the adventure portion of the story is a bad situation that plays out seriously instead of hammy.

Fleshing out the story via diary entries is normal, but the request feels odd, as Leonore emphasizes how they can't be found by anyone else for fear of exposing the truth. Some of the entries are nothing more than one person's account of how two people from Ireland gradually fell in love. It doesn't take long before the tone of the entries changes from anger to concern to melancholy and back again. You soon learn that these entries were from the 1980s, and those familiar with the events in Ireland at the time will know that was an era known as The Troubles. The conflict between the various factions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the stage for the diary entries, and you soon learn of the Romeo & Juliet-like romance between two families. Without giving away anything, things get bad enough that both Stanley and Leonore are forced to do things that will eventually lead them to be forever on the run from their homeland.

The fact that the game tackles a subject that's only sparingly handled in other forms of entertainment is bold, and the approach should be applauded. Despite the politics, the game doesn't go for a political message, relying instead on telling a complicated love story that occurs against a heated backdrop. It is truly engaging, and you'll be privy to the story since you automatically get all of the pages of the diary once you complete the game.

If there is a weakness to the tale, it would be with the dreamlike sections you go through. There's nothing particularly wrong with them, per se, and once you understand the story and situations, you'll wonder if some of what you're experiencing is real or Stanley's mind messing with him. Those kind of tricks have become common in many narratives, so the trick is less fascinating to go through this time around.

The strong narrative is buoyed by an audio experience that is just about perfect. The music is beautifully done, as it persists in giving off a foreboding mood without going into a depressing one. Removed from the game, those tracks sound haunting enough to warrant the free soundtrack. The other highlight are the voice actors, both of whom give the characters a wide range of emotions. The sadness and determination found in some of Leonore's entries provides a good complement to Stanley's regret, and it gives you characters you'll care about even if you never have a real opportunity to see their faces.

From a gameplay perspective, the puzzle elements are light. Most the puzzles you'll encounter are valves, where you'll be turning on and off steam pipes and redirecting a few to get rid of obstacles blocking your way. A few puzzles task you with finding a critical item. The majority of your time is spent darting from one heat source to another to avoid freezing to death. Many of those spots are a short distance apart, and only a few need to be unlocked, as it would be impossible to traverse through the game otherwise. As in many other narrative adventures, you'll pick up diary pieces to flesh out the story, but at least the pieces are easy to find, since they're near fires and piles of wreckage.

For the most part, the gameplay doesn't get in the way of the story. There are a few parts of the game where unlocking a steam vent can be problematic, but there's rarely anything that'll require the use of a guide to solve. The only drawback is that the short amount of time it takes for the player to freeze, and the lack of heat sources means that exploration is almost out of the question.

If you can appreciate bleak atmospheres, the graphics in The Fidelio Incident are well done. Using Unreal Engine 4, the environments are an example of the beauty you could see in an otherwise dangerous atmosphere. The icy white snow and burning forest may be in direct conflict with one another thematically, but they look gorgeous, and there's a bevy of particle effects like snow and sparks flying across the screen at all times. Despite not having too many options, the overall picture shows off some real PC horsepower with a constant 60 fps, except for a few areas where the game pauses briefly before returning to normal. The only issue here is an odd one with Steam Big Picture, as launching the game from there causes it to zoom in enough to eat up the top and bottom parts of the diary; this is not encountered when you launch the game from desktop mode.

The Fidelio Incident is a solid narrative adventure game. The actual gameplay may be light on challenge, but it does enough to feel significant without hindering the overall experience. The presentation is also well done, especially in the audio department where the music really sells the player on the mood. However, it is the story that is the real highlight, since it deals with some heavy subject matter without being too preachy. The two main actors really give the tale some humanity and emotion. For those who enjoy the narrative-heavy experience, The Fidelio Incident is definitely worth seeking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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