A comet crashes into an unfamiliar planet, bringing with it cute fox-like creatures. These tiny animals spread across the land and hold powers that few others have. The power to sing, to relate to any animal in this harsh wilderness. These creatures are also controlled by you, and the world of Fe is one which will bring this vague dystopia dream to reality. These beginning moments of EA Original’s newest venture from Zoink Games are reflective of the game’s roughly BLANK hour story. I dove into Fe’s odd setting to experience what I thought would be the newest Unravel. I was sorely surprised at what I found.
Your character, a half-fox, half-squirrel animal, crash lands on a world ripe with other life. This world is not unlike ours but with some added personality. This personality shows through the flickers of life that exist on the tips of tree leaves and through the sounds that echo in the forests. It shows even more in each individual animal that you’ll meet on your adventure. The first is a deer-like mammal that glows with orange dots running across its back. Upon going up to it, you’re prompted to press R2 and synchronize a melody which is sung by both you and the deer-like animal. This moment of beauty matched with the satisfying moment of holding the trigger to exactly the right sensitivity is one of the main components of Fe.
Through these interactions with woodland animals, you’ll be able to reach new areas of this three dimensional space. The deer I just mentioned is able to open orange flowers so that they can give your character a boost up to places you couldn’t reach before. Keep going and you’ll find that every species you meet unlocks new ways to traverse that are similar to this first encounter. Though Fe is not directly a platformer, these mechanics along with a few others would make the genre a close fit for this sparkling indie. But, like the world, these mechanics are only a distraction form the fact that Fe isn’t really anything.
What do I mean by this? Well, for starters, the mechanics that your animal companions unlock are seemingly inessential. They each introduced platforms or objects that are already in other platforming games from the start. Adding them in by using the note synchronization just means Fe forces players to go through meaningless moments of absence for no real reward. Yes, getting to new areas is cool, but it’s not really the best result these singing animals could’ve given. I would’ve liked to see Zoink Games take a different approach and find a real way to impact gameplay with these moments. New abilities or power ups could’ve given me more of a push to try and find animals to sync with and would’ve helped keep the game feeling different in the long run.
I noticed the game distracted from another inherent problem. Though its color choice and crystal clear audio design was superb, it lacked any sort of foundation. Under the neon highlights stood bland polygonal structures which did little to increase visual appeal. Even more, the odd shapes and make up of these structures meant I often got confused with where I was going or what I was doing. While sometimes my animal friends would guide me along a clear path, other times I tried to scale rocks that looked like paths but weren’t. This problem I faced while roaming around in Fe’s world meant exploration was a dreadful chore that was often at the bottom of my list of things to do in the game. This is particularly frustrating since the flora and fauna of Fe is so eagerly calling out to be explored. Especially trees.
One of the most satisfying parts of Fe was also one of its most insignificant. Climbing trees was a serendipitous event which I did as often as possible. Seeing your little creature scurry up the evergreens felt fantastic. The little hops and twitches by the small creature also left me feeling more connected to it. Sadly, it was only another path by which Fe threw you, and it oftentimes lacked that compelling feeling because it was only used directly as a means to travel. I would’ve loved to see whole bosses or levels designed around tree jumping, but the fact that it was built in such a linear way meant that the one truly fascinating mechanic was once again soiled. The choice of how that mechanic was implemented on a gameplay level was, like the song synchronization, a waste of great potential.
Going further into Fe only revealed more bad features. One such feature, the narrative, made the whole experience feel less impactful. A strange, one-eyed species of aliens are trapping the cute animals that call the mountain and woodlands home. These monsters are not as menacing as they seem, and their AI make that evident. It’s this combined with the long cutscenes that only continued to confuse me that made the story of Fe almost inconceivable. I tried to understand and tried to think about the story long and hard, but no logical explanations came to mind for why I just didn’t like it. Perhaps not relatable enough, maybe some extra story points that dragged down the overall narrative, or it could even be possible I’m a Debby downer. It’s tricky, because like most things in games, things can be completely subjective. Sometimes stories don’t connect with some but ultimately do connect with a niche or even a wider group of players. I feel like Zoink Games’ newest story encapsulated in this mid-tier platformer is just that. It’s likely not going to appeal to everyone, but to animal lovers it might hit that special cord. This could be excusable if it weren’t for the terrible implementation of mechanics that took place within my six hours of playing Fe.
I wanted to like EA Original’s newest title, I really did. But after trying to convince myself every hour that things might get better, they didn’t. Gameplay features I thought would see me through to some amazing ends didn’t. That was largely due to the implementation problems, something that can all but ruin the most fantastic concepts. Though the sound design and animal personalities gave a breath of life to Fe, it epicly failed in making its experience narratively and mechanically fun. I regret saying this because I know how much love was likely put into this dream, but Fe falls short on most things it brings to the table. Among other indies releasing at this time, Fe might be the weaker of the bunch.
Developer: Zoink Games
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 25th February 2018