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Firewood Review – A satisfying adventure game

It’s not anything I ever knew I wanted but I’m about to play it again.

Developer: Frymore
Publisher: Frymore
Release Date: 1st August 2017
Platforms: PC, Windows
Platform Reviewed on: PC, code received from developer

 

I remember this game, Firewood, catching my eye. The title put me in mind of a survival game while descriptions promised horror elements. I suppose it delivered in a way.

Now I make no secret of my low patience with this particular brand of game: 2D, indie, narratively ambiguous to seem unique. That said, I was quite pleased by this one. It put everything together stronger than most.  It begins with an old lonely man, retiring to his sad-old-hermit shack in the forest. While it begins quite ‘normal’ it quickly spirals into the supernatural and abandons the woods entirely, taking brief detours into a strange dystopian past which also has no woods.  It is difficult to talk about its narrative without spoiling the thing so let’s talk about the rest instead.

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The sound throughout the game creates an effective mood while also managing often to become background information, heard but not intrusive. ‘Melancholy’ is the word to describe most of it, and that’s just what the game needs for the story it endeavors to tell. The opening piano tune is probably the best of it all though.

Graphically, it’s got the standard indie thing going on with the simplistic 2D side-scroller look. It’s all crisp and well-made but it’s really the use of light and color that elevate the artwork. Our protagonist is an old fella but the game regularly flashes back to younger “”better”” days. The flashbacks are all in monochrome which helps to distinguish them but also ties into the atmosphere of the events that occur there. It was a good choice.
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There is a notable lighting effect in that light sources (lamps, lighters, chandelier bulbs…) glimmer and shift about as you move around them. It’s quite pleasant but can be a distraction in rooms with many lights given the instinct to seek out sparkly objects as puzzle items in this genre.

You will speak to others throughout the adventure. Few will be friends. Fewer still will be human. Their dialogue tilts and sways on the screen. I didn’t actually notice this clearly until near the end but something always seemed off in those scenes. It was disorienting in a way that was surely intentional and quite effective. The dog heads help too.

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The gameplay is the standard adventure puzzle fare. Pick up things to solve other things and figure your way through the typical bizarro scavenger hunt fare like religious souvenirs stashed in laundry machines for some reason. The gameplay, I have to say, is weak. Puzzles are few and bland. It seems as if they’re only there because the medium of ‘game’ demands it. Make no mistake: The narrative is the star here, and it earns it. You’ll end up opening every door and probably getting lost a bit but all that accounted for, one playthrough lasted me eighty minutes or so. Most of it was just walking which was tense at times but boring at others. That’s the game’s one major con, really: Too much “just walking”.

Eventually, you’ll solve the puzzles and follow the characters through their odd little tale. It will end. You will be satisfied–or not. You’re likely to enjoy it if you like these sorts of mysterious narratives. I’ve done the whole ‘spooky mystery’ thing in indies before but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It blends, by my count, no less than three concepts that have no real business being blended but work together anyway. Atmospherically, it struck me personally as a mixture of Hotline Miami and Twin Peaks, sharing a curious oddness and a certain grim vibe with both, rendered down into a minimalist form. It’s not anything I ever knew I wanted but I’m about to play it again.

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Pros:

  • Effective atmosphere.
  • Intriguing narrative.
  • Crisp graphics.
  • Pretty lights.

Cons:

  • Bland gameplay.
  • Short length.
  • No replay value.
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