Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: All in! Games
Developer: Naraven Games
Release Date: 2022


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Backfirewall_'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 2, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Backfirewall_ is a comedic first-person narrative puzzler set inside a smartphone.

Comedy is difficult, as you're depending on the audience to agree with your viewpoint about the absurdity of a situation. Comedy in video games is even tougher, since you can use more fantastical places and ideas to tell jokes — but there's the danger that the jokes only appeal to a niche audience. Backfirewall_ is the type of comedy that uses the medium to do something different, and we were intrigued by the short demo.

You play the role of the update assistant to a smartphone. Your job is to prepare the phone for its update to a brand-new operating system and delete the old one in the process. However, the old operating system, OS9, wants to stick around and show you why it would be a mistake to replace it with a new one. After a few failed attempts at convincing you to halt the update, it makes one last-ditch effort just as you are being deleted for completing your job. That's enough to convince you to stop the process, and you go along with OS9, so it can prove to you why it should stay.

From the outset, the game tries to display its humorous side with OS9, as it has you configuring options while endlessly blabbing about random topics. Get past this, and you realize that OS9 never stops acting like an incompetent boss, so your tolerance of the humor is dependent on how much you enjoy watching the role play out. What makes the narrative fascinating is that you get to see some of the feelings of the other apps toward OS9, and some of their disdain plants the seed of doubt about whether it's a good idea to help the OS remain in place.

As you start the update process, the tutorial gives you a good idea of the basics. You can change the colors of nodes to initiate actions or delete objects. You can also duplicate objects or shift them into another place. Everything is done through a simple interface of pointing at an object and hitting the corresponding button, so there's not much more to it. Beyond the tutorial, your first real test of your abilities comes when you're sent to the trash bin and tasked with causing an error there by proving some of the program's statements to be false. That's done by finding and deleting key items, while you can call on a rubber duck to give you hints about how you can progress. Finish that task, and the demo ends just as the opening credits begin.

The only complaint we have about the demo is that the experience felt short. Despite learning a good deal of commands in the tutorial, the opening puzzle had you wandering about deleting stuff without letting you use any of the other abilities you learned about. It's difficult to gauge how involved the puzzles can get and how much of this is balanced out by the dialogue and walking around until the next key moment triggers. We know that we like what we're seeing so far. It feels more involved than a walking simulator, but it remains to be seen how complicated the rest of the experience will be.

So far, Backfirewall_ makes good use of its setting to initiate an interesting story. The small sampling makes it difficult to tell how complicated the puzzles can get, but the dialogue already does a good job of delivering some absurdist humor that was the hallmark of games like The Stanley Parable. We're very curious to see what the game can deliver when it releases later this year.

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