As a child, I read The Beano; a comic that was extremely popular in the UK. In it was a strip called The Numskulls, focusing on a group of technicians controlling a human, running the body. You’d find control room Numskulls in the brain, ordering everyone about.
In Backfirewall_ the same principle is applied, but instead of a human body, you are placed in a smartphone, full of living workers and technicians. When a new update arrives on the horizon, it throws their world into chaos – apps start going rogue.
The question is, are you ready to play a game that will ensure you can never look at your smartphone in the same light?
Some games are very familiar, running similar setups and styles of gameplay. I’m not playing down these games, especially if the familiarity is well-made. But sometimes it’s nice to be taken by surprise, especially in terms of concept, storytelling, and gameplay. These are the games that really give me hope and make me smile. Backfirewall_ is one of those games.
The story starts brilliantly, as you work through a clever opening sequence, adjusting settings with an AI talking to you. You soon find out that this voice is an operating system called OS9 and you are an update file for the new operating system which places you inside a user’s smartphone. At the start, it’ll have you walking through the phone in a first-person perspective, heading towards delivering your purpose in life; to update the phone to OS10. But OS9 doesn’t want to die and doesn’t want you to die so they make you escape and stop the update. From there, OS9 and you are traveling through the phone’s world, finding answers and meeting apps.
The writing and storytelling for Backfirewall_ are absolutely brilliant, purely original in their concept. The world is clever and full of wonderful ideas, whilst the writing is witty and fun. Without spoiling too much, you’ll find yourself going to different departments like the gallery which is run by the Martini drinking photo app of the phone. You go into the password vault system and witness their boring bureaucratic office. There is a health app that appears, working like a hero of the resistance. It’s a superb bit of gaming narrative that is hard to describe, but an absolute pleasure to discover. The only slight criticism I have is that I don’t think the ending is quite nailed.
The gameplay runs in the first person, a mixture of exploration and puzzle-solving. There are some great tools at your disposal in the guise of cheat codes handed to you by OS9. You can delete items, making certain things like boxes or doorways disappear. You can change the colour of items, which is handy in opening locks, all by turning buttons from red to green. Items can be duplicated as well and this mechanic is used in a myriad of different ways from bridges to power supplies.
The game drops you into huge areas before giving you several tasks to action, all in order to open a door to make your escape. You might have to delete all the overgrown foliage, or rearrange the user’s photo gallery display. You might have to disrupt a piece of machinery or get a photocopy of a form to make a new password. These examples might sound like madness to you, but they make complete sense while playing the game. Backfirewall_ constantly surprises throughout, keeping a smile on your face at all times.
It all looks lovely too, with some brilliantly hilarious characters and extra stuff you can find through multiple playthroughs. It’s a cartoon world, but it’s one that mixes real-life video and pictures of the owner of the phone in a wondrous way. There is great attention to detail in the notes and secrets you find throughout your journey and the friendly design is one that works brilliantly with the story.
The same can be said for the soundtrack which is warm and always in line with the gameplay. The voice work is excellent, with some great characterisation from the main parts to the incidental stuff you hear playing out on radios as you venture by.
Backfirewall_ is a wonderful game; one that is highly original and full of creativity. It’s a delight to play through, capable of making you laugh and gasp in equal measure. And whilst it feels a little bit rushed as you reach the conclusion, that’ll mostly be because you want to spend more time in this brilliant little world.
Backfirewall_ is on the Xbox Store