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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Zoink Games
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Fe'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 16, 2018 @ 12:20 a.m. PST

At its heart, Fe is a personal narrative about our relationship with nature, the land, and its beings.

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If you're familiar with the works of Swedish developer Zoink Games, then you know that it has a way with style and humor. Both Stick It to the Man and Zombie Vikings sport a strange art style that is reminiscent of Psychonauts but done in what looks like well-animated papercraft. They also have loads of sometimes absurdist humor packed with obscure jokes that hit the mark as often as their more accessible humor. They also happen to be very good side-scrolling titles, and the upcoming Flipping Death looks to continue this tradition. Fe is something of a surprise since some of the signature pieces have been abandoned this time around. At the same time, the game retains the factor that counts the most: enjoyability.

The game starts in an idyllic forest, but there's a sudden disturbance. Falling fireballs hide robots known as the Silent Ones. Their purpose is unknown, but their intentions become abundantly clear when they start capturing forest creatures. You play the role of Fe, a small fox cub that's otherwise pretty unremarkable. Despite your disadvantages, you make it your mission to save your home and its inhabitants from these steel invaders.

One of the main reason why the story is fascinating is because it contains no voices. There is no narrator, and the animals don't speak in any language. Outside of the menus, the game contains no text whatsoever. The actions make it easy to get the gist of what's happening, especially when you can peer into a Silent One's discarded camera to see its last recording.

The storytelling may remind some of Journey, and the rest of the game is also heavily influenced by other memorable titles or genres. Instead of being constricted, the game takes on more of an open-world approach as you seamlessly transition from one biome to another. The game design is similar to the more recent The Legend of Zelda, and the title also takes on properties of Metroid, as you'll stumble on something that is far out of reach and requires the acquisition of a new power before those secrets can be unlocked.

The powers open up lots of movement opportunities. One ability may make you move through the water faster, and another lets you glide to a new spot instead of leaping and falling. Early on, you gain the ability to climb trees, which nets you a better vantage point of the land along with access to elevated area. You can also nab special fruit that can distract other creatures or blow up fences, and there are cages made of the dark energy that power up the Silent Ones.

The key to gaining all of this and more is Fe's singing ability. We're not necessarily talking about belting out ballads or harmonies but simply howling and yelping to both the environment and other animals. By going up to certain animals and matching their frequencies via the amount of pressure placed on the R2 trigger, you'll gain their trust and have them do things for you. One of the earliest instances has you singing with a deer, so it can sing to some flowers that act as fans to help you reach higher places. Sing to some plants, and you'll open up flowers that you can leap from. Sing into the air, and you can summon a bird that sometimes gives you an idea of where to go next, but it's easy to quickly lose sight of the bird.

Although your song can immediately affect smaller animals, you gain the ability to talk to larger animals and mimic their songs by performing quests for them. If you want to gain the ability to call on birds for aerial transport, you'll need to rescue her stolen gems. In another situation, you'll need to free a giant buck from energy tethers before finding a way to climb on it, Shadow of the Colossus style, so it'll recognize you and share its song with you. All of these cases range from exciting to breathtaking, and they'll only fuel your desire to explore throughout the six-hour quest.

While there is an emphasis on exploration, there's no combat in the game. At the most, your acts of violence involve tossing explosive fruit to break open cages or luring large animals to enemies so the animals can fight on your behalf. Your only direct interaction with foes is stealth, since you'll try to hide from their paralyzing gaze while using bushes and rocks as cover. They aren't foolproof, though, so if a Silent One spots you, it can still trap you in a cage. Luckily, the game is very generous with checkpoints, so even if you're captured or fall into a bottomless pit, you'll respawn close to where you perished.

What makes all of this work so well is that it feels like you're using gut instinct more than anything else to solve these obstacles. You can pull up a map to see the next area of interest, and the game will give you hints on things like the singing mechanic and its limitations. For the most part, you're on your own since there aren't waypoint markers on-screen to point the way, and there's no real tutorial. The game expects you to assess the situation, and because your abilities and weaknesses are so easy to read, your course of action feels natural. It is the kind of title that makes you feel smart about your actions and satisfied when your instincts are right.

Much like the major gameplay elements, the graphics take some heavy inspiration from other titles, such as Shelter and Ori and the Blind Forest. For the former, that comes through in the designs for just about everything you see. There are lots of triangles used in just about every spot, from the water to the ground and the trees and creatures. Everything has a sharp, angular look, and there are few genuinely round elements in sight. For the latter, that comes through in the lighting, with a good deal of bloom for the plants. A colored fog adds to the atmosphere, whether it's the serenity of the snowy mountains or the dread of places controlled by the Silent Ones. It's a nice combination, and despite its simplicity, Fe is a real looker.

Along with the graphical style, the game emphasizes the audio. The lack of any voicework might not make for the clearest of stories, but it works well in this context. The soundtrack is mostly folksy melodies that do a perfect job of conveying wonder in new areas or when a new power is discovered. It also does a good job of conveying dread when you encounter a Silent One. The singing is melodic, even when you're off tune, and the rest of the effects work well in conveying a mythical forest atmosphere.

Fe is a game that you want to get lost in. Even if you discard the beautiful visuals, the forest world has so many areas to explore that you'll enjoy wandering around aimlessly. Thankfully, the platforming and light puzzles are done well, so those who want some purpose have something to contend with, while the abstract storytelling will mesmerize others. Overall, Fe is an excellent game, especially for those who prefer exploration over violence.

Score: 9.0/10

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