The Fidelio Incident begins in first person, in the cockpit of a light aircraft, flying above the frozen rage of Iceland's igneous landscape.
We learn that the plane's two occupants — a man and a woman — are life partners who've been on the run from their native Ireland for many years. When the bifurcated plane crashes and the two are separated, the game begins. The protagonist, a man called Stanley, searches for his missing lover Leonore.
Developed by Ken Feldman, the former art director of God of War 3, The Fidelio Incident is a beautifully rendered world of stark mountains and jagged ice formations. It also roams into Stanley's internal conflict, presenting psychedelic and monochromatic dreamscapes.
The game sets itself up as inspired by Beethoven's opera Fidelio, in which a woman frees her husband from an evil dungeon. And while there are plenty of nods to that thin story, the real inspiration seems to be the most successful and affecting narrative games of the past few years, popularly known as walking sims.
Stanley lurches from his cockpit and stumbles across the ice and granite. This is a wintry and unforgiving landscape and so there are elementary survival elements at play. He tries to reach warming spots of burning wreckage and plumes of volcanic steam before he freezes to death, which is generally every 30 seconds or so, at least in the early game.
Like most narrative games, the core experience is about moving from one place to the next, solving basic puzzles and picking up backstory and character-filling along the way. Leonore is sometimes available to us via a half-broken radio. The pages of her diary are also scattered about the land. We hear dialog between the lovers, as well as Stanley's inner thoughts, which are sometimes little more than "fuck, it's freezing," and sometimes more profound.
As The Fidelio Incident progresses, we learn more about Stanley and about Leonore and why they left Ireland. Early in the game, it becomes clear that there's a connection with The Troubles, and so the game grapples with the injustices of martial rule, the paths of rebellion, and the horrible price of violence.
The Fidelio Incident is ambitious enough to attempt to talk about terrorism, where it comes from and where it goes. This is a difficult subject at the best of times. Feldman has brought a mostly steady hand to the topic.
Unfortunately, the game falls short in many areas. Its dialog sometimes dips into an overwrought wailing of the soul. Leonore's Irish accent is, to my Anglo-Irish ears, phony. The written notes that I find along the way are wordy and on-the-nose. Some of the more emotively laden narrative props are hackneyed and obvious.
The puzzles are also lacking in charm and grace, following a tedious template of finding stuff and connecting stuff and putting things in the right order. This makes large sections of the game feel like a chore. One such is a case of lumbering from point to point, rearranging switches, a device later repeated with no better effect. On a few occasions I stumbled upon the answer to a puzzle before I'd encountered the question.
But the game is saved somewhat by its imaginative exploration of Stanley's soul, offering up psychological mini-worlds that stand as metaphors for pain and remorse. These quasi-dream sequences are artfully done, as Stanley delves into the misery of his memories.
The Fidelio Incident deals with difficult subject matter, but can't find the subtlety to make it all work
The Fidelio Incident makes an admirable attempt to approach a difficult subject from a unique angle. But it fails to capture the emotional subtlety or artful storytelling that games like Gone Home, Firewatch and Virginia have demonstrated within the same kind of framework.
The Fidelio Incident was reviewed using a retail Steam key provided by the developer. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.