Mixing puzzle games with a strong narrative is still a fairly new thing. In the good old days, puzzlers used to be straightforward affairs, leaving you to move a few things around to finish a level. There was no reason for this, no backstory nor character arc – it just was a game about puzzle-solving. But then titles like Portal and The Witness arrived, mixing narrative storytelling with puzzle elements to great success. Ever since, this genre has proven to be very popular indeed. Ever Forward is a game that uses this format. It puts you in the shoes of a young lonely girl trying to get through a group of tests, while we – as the player – get a backstory of how she came to be. Let’s see if we can solve the enigma.
For many, the store of Ever Forward might feel a little bit too close to home at times. Set in the not too distant future, the world is in the throes of a global pandemic; the population can’t go outside. You play the role of Maya, a little girl who you find out through cutscenes is stuck between the real world and a strange dream-like reality. It’s here where she has to solve puzzles and hopefully find a cure for the pandemic. The story is mainly drip-fed to us through cutscenes focused on Maya and her mother’s relationship. Her mother is directly involved in the pandemic struggle – but that’s all I want to say for fear of spoiling it. The writing is pretty good throughout and you’ll certainly care enough about the characters and the stories included to keep you invested all the way through the game.
In gameplay terms, you are playing in the dream world state which consists of a main open world hub. There is a lush beautiful island that Maya can explore, but some areas are corrupted by a red digital fog; these are the puzzle areas that you need to complete. When you go into these levels you are thrown into a sort of computer simulation, with futuristic pressure pads, angular platforms, and robot drones.
You simply have to work out how Maya should best get to the other side of the level without getting shot by the robot drones. These drones are stationed around the level and have a certain field of vision; if you go into them, they will shoot you. Further, if something makes a noise or you jump for example they will go into red alert, turning their attention on you or where the sound has come from. Your job is to try and get past the drones and get to the end of the level.
There are switches to play with and these give you floating cubes which will help your task. For example, you can throw the cube to distract the drone, allowing you to slowly walk past. There are other moments where you can trigger cubes to fall, which also distract, whilst later on new devices are added to the mix – teleportation devices and more complex vertical and longer level designs.
Ever Forward works well and provides an experience that works as a very interesting concept. The level of difficulty is steep though, but this should mean that the puzzle fans out there will relish the chance of trying to work through the levels. I have however found the movement of Maya’s character to be a little annoying at times, not really responsive enough in terms of the quickness needed. In fact, at some moments, even though I knew what needed to be done, the actual controlling of Maya hasn’t worked as I would have liked. After a while, it just becomes a bit too frustrating.
Visually, Ever Forward looks wonderful – light and airy with a great colour palette. The island is a pleasant place to walk around and the levels look great as well. Maya is well drawn and animated and it’s nice that the story-based cutscenes are designed so that it is very different from the main game. It works brilliantly. Soundwise and there’s a decently good, pretty relaxing and interesting score. The voice-over for Maya and her mother work great too, with some excellent work by the performers.
Ever Forward is a pretty great little puzzler that just so happens to have a wonderful narrative weaved in. The originality of the stages is worth highlighting, but there is a bit of a struggle in terms of the gameplay mechanics and the movement of Maya; it feels a bit too slow and not always accurate in its response time. Aside from that, Ever Forward is a puzzler that is worth consideration.
Ever Forward is playable on Xbox One and Series X|S from the Xbox Store