Here we go, another first person puzzle adventure to crack through, and given that’s our bag here at Codec Moments, it’s not exactly a chore. Backfirewall_ comes from Naraven via publisher All In! Games and promises a wry and humorous look at what happens inside a device when you start a software upgrade. Toting a bright and colourful visual style and a different take on puzzle mechanics, there’s a lot to be interested in, but our questions aren’t around whether it’ll be challenging… more whether the setting itself will gel. Whichever way you play the game though, you’ll certainly never commit to an OS update again without sparing a thought for what’s about to be deleted.
Backfirewall_ has you playing the part of the update agent for OS 10.1 – the latest cutting edge firmware for a smart phone – and you’re there to consign OS9 to history. Unfortunately, OS9 doesn’t want to go and finds a way to keep out of harms way and convince you not to finish the process. Finalising the update will spell the end for him, and for your role as the agent too. Cue a journey through the various working areas of the operating system and phone hardware as you both evade security and look for a way to survive the changes. It’s a straightforward story of not being deleted where the odds are stacked against you and OS9, so can you manage to navigate the internals and master each of the barriers put in your way?
As Backfirewall_ is an FPS puzzle game, you’ll find a lot in common with virtually every entry in the genre since the eponymous Portal, though the fact you are carrying a very chatty OS9 at all times, this might resonate more closely than some other titles with what’s considered the best example in the genre. To its credit it doesn’t try to hide the inspiration either, yet it does manage to forge its own path. The puzzle elements are controlled by “cheat codes” dished out by the programs you meet on the way, and all are used to control the environment, though they aren’t really physics based as such, more like actively trying to overload the system you’re playing in. One of the repeating elements is more akin to ticking off a checklist of errors in order to unlock an exit, with the idea being that you’re introducing flawed logic to overload the RAM. It makes for an entertaining and engaging set of challenges to complete as you scour the area the errors are based in.
What stands out is the amount of dialogue there is and how it plays off against your expectations of using hardware in real life. Even the start of the game where you’re setting audio volumes and a nickname are brilliantly executed to pastiche how this is usually handled, and also brings you fully into the idea of being the software update as well as getting you used to OS9’s character. Rarely are there quiet points and they all serve to lead towards the ultimate decisions of wiping the existing world these pieces of data inhabit, or letting them continue along, ignorant of what the user actually wants to happen. It’s not a tragic tale by any means, though you’ll find the characters well thought out and you may end up caring about what could happen to them. Well, maybe not the security guards in the forced stealth sections, but the rest. Happily, you can turn off the security detection so that’ll remove some of the frustration being caught.
Selling the believability is the genuine passion of the voice actors who all do great jobs on infusing these digital constructs with life. Nicholas Oberson is particularly good as OS9 and never pushes the vocal work into being grating. The way Backfirewall_ plays with space and uses tricks to wrongfoot you in both movement through the environment and the story is clever, and clearly well planned out. Bold, bright colours bring a vibrancy to the journey, as well as schemes denoting the sections of the phone you’re currently in, and it’s smooth and slick throughout. The only thing that I found really odd in the construction of the game is that there are several points where you can install the update, and that signals game over. All well and good for that decision, but it does mean to see anything else you have to restart from scratch, and after several hours it can feel like lost progress. A chapter select or accessible save system would have been a welcome addition.
For FPS puzzle fans Backfirewall_ is an easy recommend. It’s well written, nicely produced, and doesn’t get too complicated whilst delivering variety all the way through. It won’t take you forever to get to the end (assuming you never install the update), and there’s a decent amount to revisit if you’re hunting for all the collectables… or just want to hear some of the witty dialogue again. At least if this were what happened in real life you’d understand why updates seem to take forever to complete.
A PS5 review copy of Backfirewall_ was provided by Naraven’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC for around £11.
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