Backfirewall hands-on: a charming narrative puzzle game with depth

By Tom West,

Backfirewall_ is a first-person puzzle game that blends tragicomic storytelling with environmental manipulation inside a smartphone. We recently had a chance to play this intriguing game; here's what we thought.

Naraven Games' upcoming tragicomic puzzle game Backfirewall_ offers us a unique perspective into the daily lives of the apps on our smartphones — metaphorically speaking, of course. Our recent playthrough of one of the game's levels showed that the 360-degree environmental manipulation, quirky characters, and consistent use of easter eggs and additional storytelling props via collectables means that this could be an exciting game to watch if you're a fan of single-player narrative-driven puzzle games.

We don't currently have a release date for Backfirewall_, but we do know that it'll launch this year for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC. To learn more about the game from the developers' perspective, check out our recent Backfirewall_ interview.

Backfirewall_ official gameplay trailer

Backfirewall_ is set within a smartphone, with each level offering us a chance to explore a different piece of its inner workings, such as the RAM, Wi-Fi, Speakers, and more. We take on the role of an update assistant that's been convinced by the phone's current operating system, OS9, to hinder the upcoming system update that will replace him with OS10. While Backfirewall_ features plenty of puzzles for you to work through, its main focus is on its narrative and prodding you to explore and reveal many of the game's secrets.

I had the chance to play through a level that allowed me to explore the phone's RAM (Random Access Memory), and as such, its overarching theme was filled with random activities. The room itself was deceivingly small at first glance, but Backfirewall's real gameplay is found by clicking on everything and anything you come across, and as such, I realised that the room itself had four different variants that I could switch through via glowing buttons.

Each version of the RAM contained a different element of the four puzzles I needed to complete in order to progress, and after a while, I found myself engaging with pretty much everything in the environment. There wasn't anything overly complicated about what I was doing, and I soon realised what the game was asking me to do; flicking between the rooms to place blocks in their correct positions, cutting back overgrown binary trees — Backfirewall_'s foliage — and various other environmental tasks.

Spread throughout the level I found many notes pinned all over the place that, while unnecessary, gave the phone's inhabitants a 'living' feel. I even met a couple of them, which, just like everything else I had encountered while playing, required me to perform certain tasks. One clever-looking gentleman needed me to get him stuck in a looping state; I admit, I didn't realise what I had to do at first, but after a little bit of assistance, I realised that the hints were staring me right in the face all along. It's all cleverly written on various notes and whatnot around the room, but in a way that's not cluttered.

While the main focus of my time in the RAM room was aimed at completing the necessary puzzles to move further through the game, there were also points that uncovered a bit of the game's secondary storyline. Naraven Games has made a secondary storyline that runs parallel with the game's primary story, which isn't necessary for your playthrough but adds extra depth to the world.

As we're attempting to stop OS9's destruction, the secondary storyline slowly offers a look into the life of the phone's owner; it's a really nice touch that made me feel like one of the emotions from the Disney movie, Inside Out; while the owner of the phone is out there living her best life, I was invisibly solving problems and enhancing processes to make sure her device was running optimally, while also saving the old operating system... I think.

Overall, I really enjoyed my short time with Backfirewall_. The one level I played offered plenty of puzzles, additional story arcs, and easter eggs to have me intrigued at almost every point. To be honest, while I did complete the level itself, I came away feeling like I might have missed something and wanted to return to double-check. For a game that offered me a reasonably confined experience on that one level, its ability to have me second-guessing myself is an impressive feat.

If this has got you in the mood for a puzzling narrative adventure yourself, I recommend you take a look at Escape Academy, which we wrote a few words about earlier this year. It's a virtual escape room game that follows an overarching narrative about a school that trains escape artists. You can play Escape Academy now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and via an Xbox Game Pass subscription.

Backfirewall_ launches on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One later this year. What do you think about the game so far? Is it making you question the inner workings of your own smartphone? Never going to update the operating system again? Drop a comment below and let us know!
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with a number of systems until he eventually fell in love with Xbox. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not hunting for Xbox achievements, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online or fighting for survival in Battlefield.
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