The indie gaming scene is thriving right now. There’s a really rewarding treasure trove of great games, made outside of the mainstream, that I currently have my eyes on and being released through 2023. Several titles are already on my radar that I’ll be covering. Then, there are some titles that I hadn’t heard about and seemingly come out of nowhere. Developed by Naraven Games and published by All in! Games comes Backfirewall_, one of those games that I hadn’t heard of but when I saw the trailer attached to the press release sent to me, I knew I had to play and review it.
“Hello and welcome to Backfirewall_, a first-person tragicomic adventure set inside a smartphone. You are the update assistant. Solve wacky puzzles to counter the update and save the previous operating system from deletion. The fate of the System is in your hands!”
So, I guess that I had better cover the story first. Backfirewall_ is set inside a smartphone. You play as an update assistant being guided by an operating system called OS9. The thing is that the owner of the phone needs to update its software and the old OS. OS9 doesn’t want this to happen as that means he, and you, will be deleted. And so, OS9 tasks you with trying to stop the phone from being updated and deleting the old OS. Got that? No, the story doesn’t make a great deal of sense and yet, it makes absolute perfect sense at the same time.
If I were to try and sum up Backfirewall_ in a straightforward and simple way, I would liken it to The Stanley Parable meets Portal. Even then, as fantastic as those games are, this lazy likening really does not do this game justice at all. Like The Stanley Parable, this game features a humorous running narrative that guides you through the game, supplied by the OS9 character. Then, the game is split into various corridors that will lead to puzzle rooms, this is what put me in mind of Portal.
The game begins with a tutorial to get you used to your four skills. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. Before you can even play the game proper, you are greeted by OS9 who asks you to adjust sliders for the volume of the music, voice and sound effects. Just this simple idea perfectly sets up the humour of this game. If you’re not giggling to yourself at this point and before the game even starts, then you need to have your funny bone checked. After you have set your preferred volume, then you get to play the tutorial.
As mentioned, you have four skills or ‘cheats’ as the game is set in a smartphone and is based around software, programs, apps and such. These cheats allow you to make certain objects disappear, raise or lower other objects, change the colour of things or duplicate items. The puzzles in the game are all based around using those four cheats and usually entail you creating errors in the phone’s programming to disrupt the whole updating of the software. For instance, an early puzzle has you in a location with a set number of boxes. You have to delete the boxes to disrupt the total. As you progress, the puzzles get more creative and you’ll be having to use those four cheats of yours to disrupt as much as you can in ever increasingly more clever and inventive ways.
But, it’s not all about puzzles as you’ll be doing a fair bit of exploration too. There’s quite a lot of stuff to discover too. Bugs that need reporting, hidden toys, messages sent to and from the phone’s user and more. You really do need to keep your eyes open as the phone that you are in is crammed with character and characters. The various apps of the phone are the NPCs here and you’ll be talking to the likes of social media, photos and other apps that really do help make the environment feel alive. It kind of put me in mind of a Disney/Pixar film where things that are not meant to be alive are living. Think of Toy Story meets Inside Out… in a smartphone. There is a hell of a lot of charm here and charm goes a long way.
Then there’s the humour. I honestly don’t think I have has such a laugh with a game as I have had with Backfirewall_, it is just overflowing with jokes, references and sometimes, utter nonsense. Very, very mild spoilers ahead but there is a part in the game where you have to get a form signed. You end up getting tangled in so much pointless bureaucracy, sent from one place to the next and back again… multiple times. It’s really quite maddening and highly frustrating. Yet, it is so brilliantly observed and realised that you can’t help but laugh as you are forced from pillar to post, just to get a form signed. It became my favourite bit of the game. Stupid and infuriating nonsense but hilarious.
Backfirewall_ will cost you around £12 and is available on PC, PlayStation and Xbox. This may not break new ground or really bring anything revolutionary to the table. But, it really doesn’t need to. Backfirewall_ is a good, solid puzzler with a wonderful sense of humour, great characters and a brilliant finale. The last act of the game is [REDACTED TO AVOID SPOILERS] and really had me caring about the apps/NPCs I had met along the way. A recommendation from me for a great little game at a very fair price.
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