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Backfirewall_ review – Osmosis Jones for smartphones

Backfirewall_ is a tour through a phone in need of an update. Read our review of Backfirewall_ today.
Backfirewall Logo Image
Image: Naraven Games

iPhones have been around since they were first revealed by Steve Jobs in 2007, evolving into a two trillion-dollar industry. Since then, smartphones have been evolving with the times, with Apple often banking on having a new one out each year. There have been many attempts at drawing attention to this from a satirical standpoint, but few to none that show the loss that a phone might feel.

In Backfirewall_, a new version of the operating system is way past the point when it should’ve been installed. It’s up to you as the Update Assistant, called Elizabeth by OS9, to ensure it gets implemented. However, the old operator OS9 isn’t keen to see the new update and makes a convincing argument to the player.

Players will tour the different major areas of the phone, learning about the different entities that make every function in our phones work. While the game doesn’t specifically name the device you’re inside of, it shares a lot of similarities with one of the most popular phone brands in the world.

A brand new OS, but at what cost?

Backfirewall OS9 Image
Image: Naraven Games

When you first load into the game, you’re greeted by a lovely video about the update and all the new features that the User can expect on their device. While it’s not clear why at the start of the game, it appears that the OS has been putting off an update for a while now, preventing the User from installing the update via you, the Update Assistant.

Something feels off from the beginning, with the player able to choose whether they want to install the update and end the game or keep playing. If the new update is installed, then the credits roll, leaving the player to go off and play something else. The really interesting parts of the game come from the player willfully choosing to listen to OS9 and ignore the update.

That being said, the player will have to live with this choice as what follows is a direct consequence of their choice to put off the update one time too much. This makes the User pretty upset and players feel the weight of their choice, even though it’s as simple as hitting a button. While this doesn’t seem like it would lead to a captivating story, there are moments when Backfirewall_ is genuinely endearing.

Backfirewall Photos Image
Image: Naraven Games

The game conveys its stories in a lot of ways, be that through direct exposition, log entries around the world, phone calls, and more. On top of the actual story of the OS update, there’s a sort of meta-story where the players learn about the User through her messages with various people. While you can’t read her replies at first, these unlock after a certain point in the story and give you background into her situation.

The game is seeped in themes of death, with the main reason for the player going on this long journey being that they are afraid of being deleted, technology’s version of dying. There are multiple endings and by the time you reach them, you will have a new understanding of what it means to be at the whim of a boss’s ego. This is because this is the story of OS9’s acceptance, and you’re just a passenger.

You, as Elizabeth the Update Assistant, have no voice and no real defining qualities outside of your ability to read small text that OS9 can’t. Because of this, the game saddles you with OS9 and you realize his failures at the same time he does. This works pretty well, culminating in a big way at the end with signs from OS9 showing up.

Creating errors in an outdated device

Backfirewall Password Image
Image: Naraven Studios

It becomes very clear throughout the game how outdated the phone is, with some messages revealing that it’s at least 5 generations behind. This makes OS9’s decision to encourage you to break the phone even more by wrecking processes and creating deliberate errors in the system. It’s unclear, but it may be that OS9 values his existence more than the actual functions of his device.

Most of the puzzles require the use of four cheat codes that let you do things like delete, copy, change color, and invert. Throughout the five-hour run of the game, players will see a few mechanics repeated, although the game does introduce plenty of variety in the gameplay. Throughout each distinct area based on phone functions, players will cause mayhem and attempt to help a variety of characters.

In certain rooms, players have access to a rubber ducky that will provide them with clues to the puzzles in that room. This is a great tool that improves accessibility without the player being forced to hear the solution to the puzzle while they’re trying to solve it.

Backfirewall Rubber Duck Image
Image: Naraven Games

Even when the game shifts away from the preservation and into the next chapter, the game doesn’t get rid of the fun puzzles, just the boards with lists of objectives. At a certain point, the puzzles become much more about the survival of the character and OS9 facing down the barrel of an update that will cause them both to cease to exist.

Something that was really interesting was how well you might think you’ve done when the final credits roll, only to be surprised that you did not do nearly as well as you expected. There are clearly a lot of extra areas and logic puzzles for players to complete that reward them with being able to help the characters later in the game. Realizing you weren’t able to help the character is a devastating blow, as you realize their fate.

Backfirewall Club Image
Image: Naraven Games

There are so many characters in the game you can help that it seems impossible that you’d be able to get a complete run the first time through without a guide. There’s some replayability here past the five hours as you try to collect all the items and solve the puzzles that will allow you to help the friends and services you’ve made along the way.

The Final Word

While Backfirewall_ might not be the most challenging puzzle game on the market, it makes up with its unique charm and humor. While some of the jokes and punchlines feel like meta-humor from a decade ago, the game does a great job of making you feel hurt when you’re unable to help certain characters. Throughout the five-hour story, players will understand the failure of a boss and his need for preservation.


Our Backfirewall_ review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!

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