EA published this?
Over the past couple of years, big AAA publishers like Ubisoft and EA have been picking up the occasional independent effort under a specific label. While the effort might be an attempt to “look hip” from the corporate level, it does give some substantial support to a game that might otherwise not get that. In Fe, that end justifies the means.
Fe is an open-ended platformer in which players fill the shoes of a small fox-like creature dropped into a dense and lush natural environment. Given virtually no instruction, the creature must now learn to navigate and survive the terrain. For the most part, that’s all that Fe really is: exploring and surviving. While that doesn’t sound like much on paper, Fe makes the most of the premise through a simple trick: scale.
The creature players inhabit is incredibly small, which makes everything from ledges to trees feel gigantic. Think the concept of Shadow of the Colossus, but the environment itself is what is blown out of proportion. In order to get anywhere, the creature must learn new skills and interact successfully with fellow wildlife. That environment is very much the real star of Fe. Even looking at the screenshots included here should indicate the richness of the world. Music is carefully placed, avoiding the desire to swell, save for the largest moments, giving it a naturalistic feel. The team behind Fe have done some wondrous things while maintaining a unified and minimalist design. If there was ever a perfect example of what the Unity engine can really do, this is it.
The creatures in Fe all communicate using their own unique languages that the player must learn through helping them survive an attack by strange mechanical invaders. Each language brings more abilities to explore the world further. These enemies trap creatures for needs that are not entirely clear, but definitely feel nefarious. Remnants left all over the map indicate that they are consumers of the nature around them. Fe easily comes down on the side of nature versus mechanization, but does so by making the player experience that nature. In fact, I would say Fe isn’t as much trying to tell a linear narrative as much as it is trying to communicate innate beauty through its interactions.
As I played through the game, I continued to think not of storytelling, but a more abstract delivery, almost like poetry. Fe’s presentation looks and feels like something one would experience reading Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which is open to all kinds of interpretation, but at the core remains the observation of nature itself. It’s a fairly special kind of approach, especially since so many open world games and their ilk are about what you can do in those worlds more than the world itself. In Fe, the appreciation of its world and the need to preserve it is effectively the only certain takeaway the creators want you to have.
However, poetry can sometimes have a difficult entry point, and the fact that Fe is abstract to the end may be a huge turn-off to some. While I could appreciate what the game is trying to do, I too had moments where I wished the game would just be straight up with what was actually going on. This also creates multiple instances of utter confusion about how to proceed. There simply aren’t enough visual indicators to easily tell how one should do that, meaning players will have to call upon the only assistance available-literally crying for help for a bird to come the help point you in a direction. I’m glad to have the option to seek help, but one should not have to rely on it repeatedly. Additionally, the in-game map is not very clear itself and can make going in circles easy to do. That particular point gets exasperated by the need to backtrack to reach newer locations after new abilities are gained. The saving grace is that each major region of the world does carry a distinctive color palate so once you’re where you need to be, you’ll fall back in awe of the environment.
Abilities are well thought-out and don’t render earlier ones inert once gained. You’ll need to rely on all the gained skills right up to the game’s end point. After a getting a couple of skills, it’s not hard to pick up a rhythm and really start to feel like a master of the world. Unfortunately, some frequent frame rate dips, combined with some less than stellar platforming can break that rhythm. More than a few segments have strange hitboxes as well, so it can look like a landing is successful right up until you slip right off. The polygonal art style also does make it difficult to indicate to the player exactly which ledges can be grabbed and pulled up to and which can’t. It really does feel like trial and error, but not the kind where you would actually learn more about the functionality of the game as much as you try enough times to luck your way into getting on to a spot. Later abilities can help mitigate this, but it’s very hard to not feel irritation at sliding off a platform or missing a ledge that by all accounts should be grabbable; especially when it can push progress back.
Even with being less than functionally sound, Fe is ambitious. The aspects the design team put as the priority shine bright enough to overcome those issues, and I imagine those who play it will find something to take from it-not unlike a complicated poem. A game capable of taking a new look at how games can present ideas is one probably worth a look, especially if you need a palate cleanser from the normal.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 16, 2018
Copy purchased by Reviewer