Review: Fe (PS4)

Fe is the first game to result from the EA Originals programme, whereby the giant company is helping to fund and publish games from indie studios. Cynics have argued that it’s just a way for EA to buy good press and detract from the outcry over loot boxes and microtransactions in games like Star Wars Battlefront II and FIFA. Others have suggested that it’s a way for the big publisher to give something back by supporting smaller developers, nurturing creativity and giving worthy games a boost.

But let’s put the money politics to one side and just examine whether Fe is actually worth playing. And after spending just over a week with the game, playing it for a few hours every other night, I can confirm that it most definitely IS worth playing. In fact, it’s up there in my top games of 2018 so far.

First things first, it looks stunning. The backgrounds are chunky and stylised, while the characters are clever creations that are based on – but aren’t quite – woodland creatures. You play a fox-like creature that walks on two legs, and later you meet giant owls with long tails, odd snake creatures with horns that burrow underground, and giant boar things that sing to mushrooms. But get used to the colour purple, because you’ll be seeing it a LOT. At first I found it distracting, like I was exploring Prince’s fever dream, but I gradually came to appreciate the art direction – especially the way that the forest colour switches to yellow when you enter a dangerous area, or blue when you head underground.

The game that Fe most immediately reminded me of is the excellent Hob from last year. Both games eschew dialogue in favour of visual representations that propel the story, and both provide very little handholding. In Fe, your fox creature wakes up in the middle of a forest, and essentially it’s up to you to work out what to do next. Some may find this frustrating, but I found it exhilarating – working out where to go and how to get there is incredibly rewarding, and there’s not really such a thing as a ‘wrong way’. Any diversions off the beaten track are rewards in themselves, as the game is absolutely packed with well-hidden collectibles. Indeed, some of my favourite moments with Fe were just ignoring the main path and exploring the forest, poking into caves and peeking behind waterfalls, or attempting to reach a tree on the top of a mountain, just to see what’s up there. In almost every case, your curiosity is rewarded with something to collect. And if you are unsure of where to go next, the game provides map waypoints to nudge you in the right direction – or you can always ask a bird to show you the way (more on that in a minute).

Your fox gains the ability to climb trees very near the start of the game, but there are several other abilities that can be unlocked by collecting a total of 75 purple diamonds scattered across the landscape. Only the second ability you collect is essential for progressing in the game, but the other abilities make it easier to traverse the forest – and generally they’re just a lot of fun to play around with (I won’t spoil them for you here, best you discover them for yourself). In short, it’s worth digging around for the diamonds.

The core mechanic of the game, however, is talking. Well, singing really. Pressing R2 starts your fox howling, and increasing or decreasing pressure on the trigger changes the pitch. The plot sees a swarm of mechanical folk called the Silent Ones descend on the forest, and the overall aim of the game is to enlist the help of the other animals to stop the baddies from kidnapping forest folk and generally causing mayhem. But at the start of the game, you can only speak ‘fox’ – you have to learn the languages of the other animals, usually by helping them out in some way, after which they’ll teach you their language as a mark of thanks. So later, for example, you’ll be able to talk an owl into carrying you on its back to reach high-up places. The ‘talking’ itself is a fun little mini game where you adjust the pitch of your singing to match the other animal’s – it’s a clever way of showing you (literally) reaching the same wavelength as the animal you’re chatting to.

I was regularly surprised and delighted by Fe as I played through it. The bit with the stags in particular was amazing, although I don’t want to spoil it for you here – it’s best you experience it for yourself. I’m a big fan of the way the game leaves massive question marks hanging over it, even after you’ve finished. Who exactly are the Silent Ones? What do they want? And where did the forest and the creatures in it come from? The clues are all in there, sometimes in the form of memories triggered by finding a Silent helmet and experiencing the world from their point of view, but it’s not obvious how it all joins up. Even long after completing the game, I’m still puzzling over how some of the pieces fit together. But I’d much rather that than have the plot shotgunned into me via regular, unskippable cut scenes. Fe is more David Lynch than Michael Bay, and all the better for it.

Some people have complained that the game is a little short, saying it can be completed in around 3 hours. Well, it probably can be completed in 3 hours if you just race through the main path and don’t bother exploring – but that would be to miss the main joy of the game. I don’t know exactly how long I’ve been playing Fe (why oh why is there no way to track time spent playing on PS4? Come on, Sony!), but I’d guess it’s about 8 hours, and I’m currently hunting back through the forest for the collectibles I missed. Once you’ve seen the end credits, you can go back and explore the world unimpeded by enemies, and I’m currently having a whale of a time just clambering up mountains and gliding over waterfalls.

In summary then, Fe is a beautiful, thoroughly enjoyable game that’s well worth its asking price (currently around £18/$20) – particularly if you love exploring and working things out for yourself. Whatever you think about EA, I for one am pleased that their money has helped Zoink to grow this wonderful game and enable it to reach the audience it deserves.

Fe is available digitally for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch. We reviewed the PS4 version.

Disclosure statement: Review code for Fe was provided by EA. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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