Have you ever wondered how life would unfold inside of a mobile device? Well, wonder no longer, because Backfirewall_ is here so to provide you with a glimpse! Antics aside, Backfirewall_ takes this concept and creates a microcosm, personifying apps and functions inside of a mobile device to create a fully-fledged world. Overall, some surprisingly solid character development alongside a rich environment make this quite the memorable experience.
Backfirewall_ introduces the player’s initial purpose pretty swiftly, to be an Update Assistant. OS 10.1.1 is set to be installed on this mobile device, in which the player is tasked with aiding the process. However, courtesy of the “Boss” OS9 – the current head of the system – plans change as now you are tasked with preventing the update, saving both your own and OS9’s skin (this saying has never felt more metaphorical). Working alongside apps and functions, the player and OS9 venture through the mobile device to prevent the deadly update.
OS9 is an entertaining, witty companion to have throughout the roughly four-hour game. He almost mirrors Wheatley from Portal 2 with his charming British voice, singular eye, humourous lines and questionable morals. OS9’s dialogue is fantastic, breaking the fourth wall and responding to circumstances throughout the game in the most relatable ways possible. While the parallels to Wheatley are difficult to ignore, OS9 is loveable and arguably the best component of Backfirewall_.
Several other characters undeniably have a lasting impact down to their exaggerated characteristics. Unzipper, for example, is overly enthusiastic and helpful, whereas Social Media F is gullible and a coward at heart. Other examples exist in which apps’ personalities correlate directly to their purposes; the photos app, for example, is particularly vain. Consequently, we have an array of quirky individuals bringing life to the world.
For a title that feels so gimmicky, its narrative is rich with intrigue and depth. Characters are multi-faceted, from distinctive speech patterns to emotions. The personification of mobile device components thus works well, resulting in genuine emotional responses to significant events in the game. During moments of repetition, I found the narrative maintained my attention. Backfirewall_ has plenty of humour to coincide with OS9. Watts saying “What?” in a goofy voice and turning lights on with the response of, “Oh, yeah,” (I see what you did there Naraven Games), these moments are appreciated.
Backfirewall_ has three core components intertwined within the gameplay. Firstly, we have the puzzle sections. During several points within Backfirewall_, the player will be locked within an area, tasked with creating a set number of errors in the system to prevent the update. This occurs through interacting with characters, items and using abilities 0S9 kindly provides through cheat codes. Manipulating colours, object duplication and more provide depth. Due to the nature of a puzzle game, these abilities have limited uses, of course.
Puzzles are generally satisfying to solve, although they’re not overly complicated or contemporary. This is also a general comment for the title, although the experience is still a blast. Hints for puzzles are available in the case the player is stuck. Many hints attempt a difficult balance, being vague as to not reveal the answers, yet they can sometimes fail to offer direction to the player. Generally, puzzles are a strong component of Backfirewall_, although some repeat in concept. While not overly bland, some puzzles are noticeably copy and paste.
Next, we have general exploration. Environments are vibrant at many points, which makes exploration exciting and enticing. In conjunction with the various quirky characters and collectable encrypted messages, there is purpose to venturing out of the linear pathways, especially if you’re trophy hunting. A personal favourite of mine is exploring the battery of the phone, much of this environment being a beaming green to emphasise the potential danger of plummeting into the acid. Even on the path to the next objective, much in the way of narrative can happen in such a short period, maintaining my interest.
Stealth is one of the weaker elements of gameplay in Backfirewall_. While not awful, this becomes more repetitive than the puzzles. Throughout stealth sections you must navigate often dark corridors and avoid security to get from A to B. Two problems arise: Much of the stealth gameplay is characterised by dark environments, and the mechanics aren’t tailored to stealth-heavy gameplay. While it’s certainly intriguing to see colours symbolising gameplay style, too many stealth sections with gloomy environments exist in Backfirewall_. Perhaps it prevents a sensory overload, however, as some sections of the title are incredibly bright.
Backfirewall_ doesn’t outstay its welcome. An engaging story, puzzles and environments capture a sense of wonder because it all feels meaningful. While the cursor was occasionally frustrating and glitches occurred a couple of times, all in all, Backfirewall_ provided a satisfying experience that I recommend anybody to give a go.
Developer: Naraven Games
Publisher: All in! Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 30th January 2023
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Backfirewall_was provided by the publisher.