Review – Backfirewall_
The popularity of games like Portal and The Stanley Parable has proven that first-person puzzle-platformers with a big emphasis on a smart, comedic plot are something players will always want. As long as the titles deliver in the script and gameplay departments, of course. Many games have tried to emulate the humor seen in Portal, for instance, but very few have managed to properly deliver. Being funny alone isn’t enough; you have to be smart at the same time. You need to deliver a good story in between the jokes. This is why Backfirewall_ is different from the rest. By no means is it as good as those other titles, but it did deliver some neat puzzles, with a smart script, and some very creative setting.
Backfirewall_ takes place inside… a cell phone. For some bizarre reason, when inside a smartphone, apps take physical form and become sentient beings. They live in a civilization where they have lives, jobs, functions, and serve a greater good. This is all in service of pleasing the owner of the phone, who they see as a superior being. It’s almost like the premise from The Emoji Movie or Ralph Breaks the Internet, but done right. Please, Naraven Games, don’t kill me for the comparison. You control an update assistant, who teams up with the current OS (represented by an eye icon who travels along with you, commenting on everything like Wheatley from Portal 2). You’ll travel through the different areas of the phone, both software and hardware-wise, in order to… stop the update from happening.
I don’t want to get into additional details regarding the plot, as the sheer nonsense happening before your eyes is half the reason you’ll want to play Backfirewall_ to begin with, but I can say it’s a perfect mixture of “really smart” with “really ridiculous”. It’s a clever plot with some creative dialogue sections, even though the characters themselves felt average at best. The banter uttered by the OS ended up being the game’s highlight, even though your playable character, like Chell in Portal, is a silent protagonist. Backfirewall_ is never truly hilarious, it never made me laugh out loud, but its premise never bored me either. It was consistently “kinda funny” throughout its entire runtime, and that’s already enough for me.
That being said, this is not a walking simulator. At its core, Backfirewall_ is still a puzzle game. By spending time with the OS, he will progressively give you new “cheats” you can use to bypass security checks or just interact with the world in general. You can “delete files” (or in this case, objects), “invert object positions”, “change object colors”, or “duplicate objects”. Puzzles in the game revolve around using these cheats in order to solve them.
The core gameplay loop usually revolves around reaching a wider area with a handful of puzzles to be completed in bulk. Once conditions are met, you can proceed to the next area. Never too easy, though never obtuse either. I’d occasionally get stuck in a puzzle for a minute or two, but it wouldn’t take long for me to discover a solution. There is also the option to skip a puzzle altogether if you get stuck in it, so newcomers don’t need to worry that much.
Sadly, as creative as these wider areas area, a good chunk of Backfirewall_ is set in narrow, repetitive corridors. It felt like a massive waste of a really amazing premise. Sure, the innards of a phone are mostly comprised of circuits and cables, but once we’ve decided that programs can be sentient beings, such as a social media app being a walking thing with a book for a face (clever), why not go all in on the LSD and have the entire game feel 100% nonsensical? Then again, as disappointing as this may be, the overall visuals are still quite good. Nothing in Backfirewall_ is outright bad. On the contrary.
Backfirewall_ is filled with creative puzzles that are never obtuse. There are a few collectibles here and there. The script may have never made laugh out loud, but it was clever. The game may not be as memorable or replayable as its sources of influence (then again, that’s an incredibly high bar), but I had a pretty good time with it. It’s funny, well-designed and unique, with the latter being its most important quality. It was a nice one-off experience, which showcased the talent and potential from the folks at Naraven Games.
The visuals are trippy, but a good chunk of your time is spent in narrow corridors and tight areas, which felt like a waste of a good premise.
A mixture of walking and solving some simple puzzles based around the four “cheats” at your disposal. They never felt too easy, nor did they feel obtuse or overly complicated. Smart, just like the game as a whole.
The perfect combination of a clever script and really good voice acting. It’s not downright hilarious, but it made me smile throughout my playthrough.
Fun Factor: 7.5
It’s filled with creative puzzles that are never ridiculous. There are a few collectibles here and there. The script may have never made me laugh out loud, but it was clever. All in all, it was a pretty decent time for one single run.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Backfirewall_ is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC
Reviewed on Intel i7-12700H, 16GB RAM, RTX 3060 6GB.
A copy of Backfirewall_ was provided by the publisher.