The term “walking simulator” has become shorthand for narrative-driven games where the player explores an environment to unravel pieces of a story. Although it’s a rather condescending term, and one that I don’t especially like, it’s just too accurate not to use. The Fidelio Incident is no different in that regard, and you do indeed walk around an environment uncovering a narrative. But to call it “just another walking simulator” would be undermining a game that tackles some interesting and rather dark themes with a confidence that is, at times, enchanting.
The Fidelio Incident was developed by Act3 Games, a small studio featuring the Art Director of the God of War series. The premise was allegedly based on Beethoven's only opera.
The Fidelio Incident is available on Steam for $14.99
The Fidelio Incident begins with a short-but-effective intro scene that immediately captures its charm. You are Stanley, an Irishman flying to Iceland with his Irish wife, Leonore, for unclear reasons. As an anxious Stanley regales Leonore with a story from his youth, the plane begins to crash. The two of them are separated as they plummet to the icy tundra below. Stanley, unsure of his surroundings, must find the strength to brave the extreme cold and find his wife. It’s a simple tale that quickly becomes shrouded with mystery and uncertainty as Stanley must face his past and stay alive in an unfamiliar environment.
The game deals with “The Troubles” of the late 20th century, a time of political strife in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’m no expert on the topic, and I won’t pretend to be, but being from Britain I’m certainly familiar with the time. A dark but very interesting time of extreme social turbulence; I highly recommend people do a little research into the topic if they’re at all interested in what The Fidelio Incident has to offer. Naturally then, it should be warned that the game deals with some very dark and heavy themes, but ones that are quite fascinating and executed excellently.
As I said, The Fidelio Incident is a quite unapologetically a walking simulator. You explore the harsh icy Icelandic environment picking up entries from Leonore’s diary as you attempt to stay warm and find your wife. The diary entries, wonderfully stylised and brilliantly brought to life by Leonore’s excellent and endearing voice acting, uncover Stanley and Leonore’s past one entry at a time. They’re presented in a jumbled order that does a great job of further cementing its mystery. The entries are well-written and their great presentation is enough to entice you to find every last one. The only problem I had with them, however, is simply that you cannot listen to them as you continue to explore, and must instead sit there and take them in. Not a huge problem, certainly, but at times it seemed to disturb the flow of the game’s narrative.
The flow of finding the diary entries, however, is nicely controlled by the smart use of black smoke trials to highlight the location of the next entry. The smoke trials also feed into another of the game’s key mechanics: staying warm. The extreme cold will, naturally, become too much for Stanley if he’s exposed to it for too long. This is manifested in what essentially boils down to a timer. If you go too long without standing next to a source of heat–a fire from the plane’s wreckage or pipes that shoot out steam–you’ll die. As a mechanic, it certainly makes sense and it’s an effective way of demonstrating the extreme cold Stanley is facing. But it feels a little restrictive at times, especially considering it only serves to limit your exploration.
Furthermore, there’s a little layer of puzzle-solving involved in traversing the harsh and unforgiving environments. Typically they involve changing the flow of steam pipes in order to melt a block of ice, or finding your way through the game’s mysterious bunkers and underground facilities. There’s nothing particularly vexing but it adds a novel layer of problem-solving and environmental storytelling.
Graphics and sound
The Fidelio Incident runs on UE4 and certainly makes good use of it. The icy environments are harsh and suitably unpleasant-looking. Some nice lighting and particle effects do an effective job of bringing the world to life, or rather highlight the lack of life. As I previously mentioned, the voice acting for Stanley and Leonore is excellent and does a great job of endearing you to the characters and their struggle. There are a couple of other voice performances sprinkled throughout the game, and they’re all equally as effective. The game is also layered with a wonderful score throughout, which further propels you through the experience.
Generally I had no problem with the game, aside from a couple of rather ugly performance hitches, which primarily showed up briefly as I loaded into a new area. The game is natively locked at 60 frames-per-second and features optimisation that is perhaps not the best, but it was nothing that significantly hindered my experience.
Ultimately, The Fidelio Incident is an excellent example of how to bring characters and their story to life in just a short amount of time (the game took me only 2 hours to finish). The themes that the game deals with throughout are interesting, dark and well-handled, all at once. They provide a fascinating insight into a period of history that has hardly been explored in games. Few games tackles their themes with the confidence and audacity that The Fidelio Incident does, and fewer still manage to juggle that with an excellent presentation. Although the darkness of The Fidelio Incident may put some people off, those who are willing to embrace what it has to offer are in for a unique experience that will stay with you for quite some time.
|+Excellent characterisation||-Death by cold mechanic can be a little obtuse|
|+Great presentation all-round|
|+Wonderful and endearing voice-acting|
|+Well-written and very charming|