PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

It’s a game that cel­e­brates the idea of two dis­parate be­ings find­ing a shared lan­guage to over­come their prob­lems

De­vel­oper Zoink Games Pub­lisher Elec­tronic Arts For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Switch, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

When Fe’s cred­its roll, learn­ing that its game di­rec­tor was also its art di­rec­tor hardly comes as a sur­prise. That’s not to sug­gest it lacks sub­stance, but it’s a game that re­lies on the good­will it fre­quently banks with its looks to for­give some of its ex­as­per­at­ing faults. And it re­ally is beau­ti­ful: puls­ing light jux­ta­posed with inky shad­ows in a de­light­fully an­gu­lar, oth­er­worldly for­est set­ting that elic­its wonder and trep­i­da­tion. If there’s a whiff of fa­mil­iar­ity about the way it looks and feels, that’s be­cause it’s been gazumped slightly by Ubisoft Re­flec­tions’ Ode. That game’s soft edges are ab­sent here: this is a spikier game in ev­ery sense (and a pret­tier one, too) but both present re­ac­tive worlds that flour­ish through sound.

In Fe’s case, those sounds come from the throat of a scrawny, coura­geous lit­tle fox cub – from scratchy bab­bling noises to more tune­ful howls. This is how he com­mu­ni­cates with the other flora and fauna, from a stag upon whose back he can ride around, to fungi that il­lu­mi­nate dark­ened caves – at least un­til their glow fades and you’re forced to is­sue an ur­gent vo­cal re­minder. You’ll get a re­sponse from most things, such that you’ll of­ten be tempted to break the oc­ca­sional si­lence with a bark or two, if only to jolt the for­est from its tor­por.

All of this is sweet but inessen­tial, though in­evitably there are ob­sta­cles you’ll need some help to pass. At which point you’ll need to learn the lingo: an­i­mals nat­u­rally make dif­fer­ent sounds, and you’ll need to tune into their fre­quency to com­mu­ni­cate with them. You’ll be­gin a con­ver­sa­tion of sorts, ad­just­ing Fe’s voice to the right pitch, even­tu­ally lo­cat­ing the right note that lets you know you speak their lan­guage. It’s a smart use of the ana­logue trig­gers, as you try to find and hold the sweet spot for a few sec­onds and a wa­ver­ing line stead­ies, per­ma­nently bind­ing Fe and her new ally.

Their as­sis­tance rarely comes for free. To soar be­tween nests on a bird’s back, you’ll need to first re­trieve four eggs for a fret­ting mother; worm­like crit­ters will only teach you the un­com­fort­ably phlegmy sound needed to trig­ger trampoline-like blooms af­ter you’ve es­corted their off­spring to safety. One play­ful flour­ish sees you en­gaged in a game of hide-and-seek with your own kind, scam­per­ing up trees to knock them off, as you both tum­ble hap­pily to the ground. Other abil­i­ties are gained from scat­tered col­lecta­bles fed into a gi­ant tree at the heart of the for­est, let­ting you climb, glide and, a lit­tle too be­lat­edly, break into a run. At times, ex­plo­ration has a rhythm that’s al­most rem­i­nis­cent of

Breath Of The Wild – only here you’re climb­ing trees, rather than cliffs, from which to float down.

Threats come pre­dom­i­nantly from an in­vad­ing army of im­pos­ing bipeds. At first they re­sem­ble au­tom­ata, but they soon seem more alien, as they sud­denly drop to all fours and scut­tle along, some­where be­tween a spi­der and Bos­ton Dy­nam­ics’ ter­ri­fy­ing dog­bots. Their mis­sion, seem­ingly, is to get some peace and quiet – as such, par­ents may well em­pathise with the ap­par­ent vil­lains of the piece – by cap­tur­ing the for­est’s an­i­mals. This in­volves im­pris­on­ing them in spher­i­cal cells formed from a flimsy or­ganic web­bing; a fool­proof mas­ter­plan were it not for the fact that a sin­gle seed, gath­ered from a nearby plant, is enough to break them free.

They’ll use the same stuff to trap you if you’re caught in the open, un­less you quickly break line of sight, whether duck­ing be­hind scenery, leap­ing to higher ground, or hid­ing in patches of long grass. It’s here where Fe starts to come un­stuck. En­vi­ron­ments of­ten seem built for form not func­tion, with some plat­forms set at a height which seems just be­yond Fe’s leap, while oth­ers are just low enough that you’ll be able to scram­ble up. It’s rarely more than a mi­nor nui­sance, but dis­cern­ing which is which un­der pres­sure isn’t al­ways easy, and if you’re pressed up against the plat­form in ques­tion, Fe some­times won’t bother jump­ing at all, forc­ing you to try again. A scant few sec­onds to move out of range of an enemy’s gaze can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death; the low-slung cam­era isn’t al­ways ideally po­si­tioned ei­ther.

It’s not an aw­ful lot bet­ter when it joins you in the sky. Com­bined with the speed with which Fe’s glide kicks in af­ter a jump, you’ll reg­u­larly over­shoot plat­forms or pick­ups. The jump but­ton is a pain else­where, too, since it’s used to scurry up trees in a jerky, stop-mo­tion fash­ion that’s de­light­ful to watch at first but can prove ir­ri­tat­ing in prac­tice. The num­ber of taps re­quired to reach the top dif­fers de­pend­ing on the height of the tree and where you grab hold of it, mean­ing it’s all too easy to tap one time too many and im­me­di­ately dive off, some­times prompt­ing a long climb to get back to where you were. It sours the game’s out­stand­ing set-piece: an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, ex­haust­ing climb which ends up evok­ing Shadow Of The Colossus, in bad ways as well as good.

Oth­er­wise, Fe’s big­gest prob­lem is over­fa­mil­iar­ity. Its story, told obliquely through stone carv­ings and spo­radic vi­sions, touches upon well-worn themes of na­ture and our treat­ment of it. And though it’s hardly de­vel­oper Zoink’s fault that its game has launched so close to the afore­men­tioned Ode, the lat­ter’s un­ortho­dox tra­ver­sal trumps Fe’s more con­ven­tional pow­ers. Even its string­soaked score feels cus­tom­ary. Still, even as the mu­sic labours to make us feel, it’s hard not to be moved by the con­nec­tions you make within Fe’s world – whether it’s croon­ing to a bul­bous flower that nods like a weary drunk un­til you rouse it with song, or wit­ness­ing the small­est crea­ture in the for­est find­ing a kin­dred spirit in the largest. It’s a game that cel­e­brates the idea of two dis­parate be­ings find­ing a shared lan­guage and us­ing it to over­come their prob­lems; in these trou­bled times, such mo­ments are pow­er­ful in­deed.

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