Fe (pronounced Fee-uh) is the first game to be published by EA under the EA Originals title, a way for Indie developers to get their work out to a wide audience whilst reportedly allowing the developer to keep close to 100% of the profits. After all the abuse that EA get for “ripping off” gamers, let’s hope they get mountains of praise for this initiative. The second game in this program is A Way Out, coming at the end of March.
Fe was developed by the Swedish-based studio, Zoink. The studio’s chief executive officer, Klaus Lyngeled, described the title as “a personal narrative about our relationship with nature” and to emphasize that “everything in this world is connected”. Fe sees you controlling the fox-like titular character through a forest that is being attacked by a race of beings called the Silent Ones. In what is essentially a 3D platformer, Fe learns new skills along the way by singing and interacting with other creatures in the forest.
One thing that strikes you about Fe once you start playing is the simplicity of the screen. There is no HUD, health bar or mini-map to be found. The entirety of the screen is the environment around you. The controls are very simple as well, with only movement and jumping required, along with RT being your singing button, probably the first time I have said that about any game! The RB button will bring up a map, and the LB button allows you to change the type of singing voice that Fe uses. There is no fighting here, being seen by a Silent One will result in pretty instantaneous death, so Fe needs to hide or climb in order to evade the enemy.
The singing element to Fe is probably one of the game’s most unique features. There are six different songs (or animal calls) to learn, and these are earned by completing the objective in a level. When faced with a new creature, a press of the RT button will start the singing and you will need to find a sweet spot on the analogue trigger to have a successful interaction. Learning the different songs will allow you to unlock new ways to traverse the forest. The owl call allows you to travel on the backs of owls, plus it also unlocks a green plant that you can throw at obstacles to destroy them. Learning the deer call will unlock a flower that gives you a boost of altitude when you fly over it. Simply ‘singing’ when near one of these plants or flowers will activate it. Stringing these movements together will obviously allow for a quicker traversal around each level, except the need to do so never really happens.
Visually Fe is a beautiful game to play. Although most objects in the world are quite obviously polygons they are all shaded in a colourful but monotone fashion. Even though this creates a warm, almost ethereal quality, it makes it very difficult to distinguish between levels. Although the game feels like one large map, in effect it is actually different levels with their own unique creatures and environments. Apart from the minor graphical nuances and different colour schemes between levels there’s not much more of a difference between them. After a while these do become very repetitive. With games of this ilk I often find myself delighted when you return to a previous area after learning new skills, which allow you to solve previously impossible puzzles. But there is none of that here. Fe feels like you are following a straight path from point A to point B with no chance to revisit previous areas in order to collect the items that you have missed. Unless it did, and because of the repetitive level design I just didn’t realise?
Obviously being a platformer there are collectibles to er, collect. Pink Gems are used to learn new skills and are obviously hidden around the levels in hard to reach places. In my playthrough I only unlocked two skills, but these allowed me to complete the game, so I am not sure if there is any incentive to collect them all? There are also hieroglyphics on rocks to uncover by, yes, singing to them, and there are also Silent Cubes which will release a memory of a Silent One for you to experience. Apparently there is an option to replay levels once the game has been completed, but after completing it I didn’t have the urge or patience to do so. And that is probably Fe’s biggest failing.
There are just too many times where I felt lost and disorientated with not a clue on what I needed to do to progress. Too many times I fell from a high-up position due to a clunky control system, and then had the long job of repeating that climb. The scene with the giant deer was a great example, as it took many attempts and there were many rage quits, as slightly misdirecting a jump was disastrous. This ruined a quite spectacular graphical scene, as all I could think about afterwards was missing those jumps. Another level saw many attempts to cross a lake by jumping into giant pink floating jellyfish (yes, really) and this was just an awful experience that I never want to replicate. To counteract that, some levels were just joyous as you jumped and glided along a pre-set path, and it felt completely natural. But these joyous moments were far too sparse.
And the story. I finished Fe, watched all the cutscenes and I am still completely clueless as to what happened. I don’t know why the Silent Ones were in the forest, or what their motivations were, and I am disappointed by that. After investing around eight hours I wanted a revelation or a pay-off.
One area that Fe does excel in is its audio. Obviously a game like this will live or die based on audio, and the sounds of the forest and the differing animal calls are wonderful, even when Fe is singing out of tune as you try to hit those sweet spots. However, although Fe is at times a beautiful experience, its too rough around the edges to warrant putting it into the same bracket as the likes of Limbo or Inside, both games that tell a story without the use of narration, just like Fe attempts to do.
Thanks to Xbox and EA for supporting TiX