Sometimes games are ‘art’. Sometimes they’re just games. On rare, exciting occasions however a game and its art inform each other so intrinsically that they simply can’t be separated, resulting in some truly amazing experiences. Fe, developed by the ever-talented Zoink and published under the EA originals program, is one of those games.
Fe is a first and foremost a game about discovery and exploration. This becomes clear as soon as the brief, wordless introduction gives way to the first moments of gameplay and the player finds themselves in control of a semi-bipedal wolf-like cub (who I’ve taken to naming ‘Fe’ despite not knowing if that’s accurate) and given no instruction. After wandering a forest clearing momentarily, a deer is spotted running deeper into the wood. Follow the deer, the game says without speaking a word. Not a ground-breaking notion on its own, but an ethos that holds true almost completely throughout. Follow the deer. Sing to the lizards. Ride the giant bird. Every moment of Fe’s journey is dictated by a visual and aural language that permeates all of the game’s systems and gently guides players every step of the way. Save for a handful of prompts when using a button on the controller for the first time, there is no on-screen HUD and no dialogue to speak of in Fe. Everything that needs to be said is done so through the player’s interaction with the forest’s flora and fauna, and their own desire to discover its secrets.
Why does it always rain on me?
As the aforementioned (and super adorable) young kind-of-wolf-thing, players explore a dense and magical forest where all manner of majestic creatures and natural wonders come together in their unique songs. The forest however, has been invaded by a legion of hulking, machine-like beings called The Silent Ones, seemingly hellbent on silencing the forest and capturing its denizens. Luckily, Fe has the unique ability to learn the songs of other creatures and with their help sets out to stop these mysterious invaders. Much of this adventure centres around rescuing and interacting with the game’s animal inhabitants, gaining their trust and using the songs and abilities they pass on to progress deeper into the forest. Fe is probably best described as an action platformer, taking inspiration from the Zelda/Metroidvania school of semi-open worlds with progression tied to a steadily increasing repertoire of abilities. Like similar games, gaining new potential is not just tantamount to pushing forward, but also more thoroughly exploring areas previously visited. While there isn’t necessarily any player agency in determining how Fe’s five-or-so hour journey plays out, much more time can be spent discovering its secrets and finding every last clue to its esoteric fable.
EA Originals is an initiative set up by the publishing powerhouse to cherry-pick especially promising indie games and prop them up with funding and marketing without taking a cut of the profits. The endeavour was announced in 2016 alongside Fe, which is the first and only title to be released under the EA Originals banner thus far
The face of a bird unburdened, flightless but plight-less, and so on!
Fe is a relatively simple game in action. Run around the lush environment, leap across trees and rock formations, sneak past the menacing Silent Ones and discover the appropriate songs to sing to the various plants and animals and open the way forward. The game is full of great set pieces and puzzles, but it doesn’t impress just because of its individual moments or systems. Fe is great because of just how well it bonds form with function to keep the player in the experience at all times and never at a loss for what needs to be done. Kudos is due when a game flows so well from beginning to end that an afternoon is lost in the blink of an eye. It’s also an immensely gorgeous game, with a distinct and eye-catching polygonal style that makes fantastic use of colour and lighting to heighten its already expert use of visual cues. The creatures of the forest are wonderfully designed and full of personality and Fe (the cub) reacts adorably to the world around, oftentimes staring intently at whatever might wander by.
Equally as triumphant is the symphony of sounds that come from every facet of the game. The forest’s ambient soundscape married with the many songs of its inhabitants and a beautiful orchestrated score make listening to Fe just as enchanting an endeavour as playing or viewing it. Just singing along with nature is a joy in itself, and Fe’s growing repertoire of songs from his default infantile growl to the bellowing calls of the larger animals play off perfectly against his surroundings. Again, everything in Fe from gameplay to visuals to sound is in such perfect harmony that playing it just feels right. Zoink have clearly set out to create a world so rich and cohesive that its story needn’t be told explicitly, and to that end they’ve wholly succeeded.
If there are any gripes to be had with Fe, they’re minor and wholly inconsequential. Mostly, some of the abilities that Fe acquires can feel a little superfluous and underutilised, serving more to gate progress than add to the gameplay. Only in hindsight did this occur to me, though, because the game is so perfectly paced overall that it never stood out as an issue in the moment. Also, for all its visual splendour, including a gorgeous native 4K presentation on the Xbox One X, I did notice one or two slight hitches in framerate during my journey. Nothing so much as to interrupt gameplay or take me out of the experience, but they’re there.
Fe is exemplary. Through a perfect partnership of form and function, it’s a shining example of the kind of storytelling that no other medium can provide. Despite being published by a giant such as EA, it’s borne entirely of indie sensibilities, and stands as a lofty benchmark for others to aspire to.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher