In a world where technology has become an indispensable part of our lives, is there enough attention paid to how we actually use our smart devices? For Swiss studio Naraven Games, that idea grew into the interesting narrative experience that is Backfirewall, and having gotten a small taste of the game at Gamescom 2022, we are ready to start questioning our decisions when navigating the lifetime of a smart device.
Taking place inside a smartphone, players assume the role of an update assistant, set to update the phone to a newer version and, in the process, wiping everything that has existed before. Of course, that won’t sit well with the denizens of said device, and for the current OS9, it has no intention of dying, so to speak. Thus begins the tale of Backfirewall, where your decision or non-decision of going ahead with the update will colour your progress in the game.
For Naraven, a female-led development team aided by freelancers, the notion of being “attached strongly to our devices” was an intriguing one, particularly when the question of “what would happen inside these objects” was asked when the devices are treated badly. Such “reflection about people’s relationship and interaction with devices and how we just throw things away without thinking about it” eventually led Backfirewall into being.
The obvious stars of the show are going to be the various apps and software that players will meet, starting with OS9, all personified and painting a vibrant picture of life inside a smartphone. It is quite surreal an idea, but it is quite well realised as a society that we never knew could exist is brought into our consciousness. Are you going to be the benevolent god perceived by some of the apps, or the evil that has seemingly engendered a growing resistance?
Making progress in Backfirewall is going to take some wits, especially when it comes to environmental puzzles that need solving. Players will gain certain cheat codes during their adventure, allowing them to affect the environment by deleting or duplicating certain objects, and opening up a path forward. There is no doubt that things will get increasingly complicated, so you best keep your wits about you.
If that sounds complicated, it is quite intuitive in execution, with objects clearly signposted when they can be interacted with. During our time with the game, it was easy enough to spot objects that can be manipulated, but knowing what to do with them is an entirely different matter.
As shared by the team, making the gameplay “more approachable for everyone” was an important pillar of the game, which meant the original idea of hacking was taken out for being too technical. The main focus will then be on reading the environment and seeing what you can do with it to make progress.
While all of these puzzles serve to inject fun and moments of surprise into Backfirewall, they also help tell the story of the game, which is truly fresh and worthy of note. Add to it the colourful characters that you will meet along the way, and it gets closer to being a recipe for success.
For a team that boasts alumni from the film industry and even the area of neuroscience, perhaps it is no wonder that Backfirewall is quite unlike anything in recent memory, and that’s a good thing. While there’s no set release date yet, we are definitely on board to live life in a smartphone in the near future.