Adventure Game Hotspot


Backfirewall_ review

Backfirewall_ review

Delightful environmental puzzler is a blast to play and earns a ringing endorsement

Most of us have become so attached to our phones that they can seem almost like a real person in our lives, rather than simply an accessory. But what if phones actually were alive, representing an entire internal society? Naraven Games’ Backfirewall_ explores this concept by taking app anthropomorphism to a hilarious and heartbreaking degree, offering a first-person exploration of a phone on the brink of catastrophe, solving a variety of environmental physics-based puzzles along the way. 

You play as a system update program, downloaded onto a phone to, well, update it. However, as the operating system (OS) informs you, doing so will result in not only his death but yours as well. So you and the OS decide to go on the lam, aborting the system update and wreaking chaos and havoc throughout the user’s phone. What starts off as a lighthearted romp about rogue programs ends up turning oddly emotional as you continue to play, getting to know the other inhabitants of the phone and seeing what your refusal to update does to them. The writing is thoughtful and the dialogue is quick and witty; a thoroughly entertaining combination.

The main characters in this tale are the system update you control first-hand (I named myself Elizabeth) and OS9, the phone’s current operating system. Elizabeth, or whichever name you pick for yourself, is a blank slate with not even a voice, and you can choose to be kind to the other programs and processes in the phone, or you can be cruel. Mostly this just impacts sidequests and other little things at the end of the game, as well as achievements. Some characters will treat you a bit differently depending on your choices, but it’s not a wholly different plot. 

OS9, on the other hand – represented as a pixelized eye in the top right corner when communicating with you remotely – is very much a force of personality, constantly chatting with you, providing information about your surroundings and always quick to chime in with a comment on your actions or a snarky remark. While he starts off as mildly irritating, you’ll grow to love your companion, despite his selfish intentions to remain alive no matter the consequences to everything else in the phone.


Genre: Science Fiction
Presentation: Realtime 3D
Theme: Technology
Perspective: First-Person
Graphic Style: Illustrated realism
Gameplay: Puzzle
Control: Direct Control
Game Length: Medium (5-10 hours)
Difficulty: Medium

Other recurring characters of note are Alex, a rogue Health app with big dreams; the Unzipper, an unfailingly positive, cheerful and helpful app; and Photos, the aloof queen whose place in the phone’s social hierarchy is everything. As you and OS9 make your way through the phone’s environments, a host of stories play out in the background around you, from following the tale of a lost Bit to an underground rebellion and more, each character bringing the world and its subplots to life in an entertaining way. Character conversations aren’t terribly deep, but they’re often humorous.

The main gameplay consists of solving puzzles for each new area of the phone on your journey to stop the phone from updating, which means triggering system errors and avoiding being caught by phone security. You’re given a variety of tools to work with by OS9, in the form of cheat codes that can delete data and cause other unauthorized effects. Puzzles are solved by manipulating your surroundings, removing obstacles, and changing their colors or gravity.

The obstacles are all quite cleverly designed, and none come across as fiendishly difficult or frustrating. There is a yellow rubber duck that pops up in each locale who can give you hints or walk you through particularly challenging puzzles if you need help. A few sections call for stealth in avoiding the security processes, roving sentries with ominous red light beams indicating their field of vision. However, there is the option to turn this element off in the settings menu if the sneaking is too difficult or simply doesn’t interest you.

Surprisingly, the inside of your phone is a very vibrant and colorful place, with a diverse color palette and vivid characters. This is not the gloomy, stark world of Tron, but a charming little civilization for various living programs and apps. It’s homey and familiar in many respects, with offices, doors, chairs, kiosks and multiplatform walkways, but also artificial, filled with lots of geometric shapes. The simplistic 3D art style is engaging, and the character and set designs are never too complicated, which keeps them from being distracting. At the same time, it’s a world that sparks imagination and encourages exploration, just by its friendly and welcoming areas. You want to explore more of the phone because, well, it just looks fun. From the Gallery where Photos rule to the underground resistance hideout, each area has a unique style and flavor to it.

You can freely move around with either a controller or a mouse and keyboard on PC, and the game works excellently on a Steam Deck as well. There’s no inventory to speak of; you do pick up a few things during the course of your adventures, but you use them almost immediately. You can also pick up emails and a few collectibles throughout the course of the game, which, along with a string of minor story choices, adds a degree of replayability. 

The sound design matches the upbeat, colorful graphics, as well as the bright and positive overall tone of the game that makes you forget about the underlying life-and-death nature of your quest. While the background music isn’t anything to write home about, the fun sound effects of popping and dropping when moving or deleting items are giggle-worthy, and as a whole the soundscape is well designed. The voice acting is also impressive, particularly for OS9, who shows a surprising range of emotion throughout your adventure and is absolutely on point with every snarky and sarcastic comment he gives. 

Final Verdict

Overall, Backfirewall_ is an entertaining romp through an imaginative digital world. It’s not long, and the darker emotional turn toward the end doesn’t entirely fit with the more whimsical tone to that point, but it’s a great way to fill five or so hours thanks to the charming characters and intriguing world, while the alternate story decisions and collectibles offer some incentive to return if you missed anything. The gameplay isn’t particular challenging even the first time through, but it’s enough to make you think, and if necessary the hint feature prevents the puzzles from ever becoming too frustrating, maintaining a brisk pace. If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on inside your cellphone, now’s your chance to find out! 

Hot take


Backfirewall_ is a unique and interesting look at the anthropomorphized inner workings of a phone, with fun gameplay, humorous dialogue and bright, colorful environments. 


  • Well thought-out artificial world to explore
  • Great puzzles with a helpful hint system
  • Compelling story elicits a range of emotions
  • Funny characters brought to life by strong voice actors


  • Difficult to complete all (optional) side quests
  • Ending not completely in line with the tone of the rest of the game

Courtney played Backfirewall_ on PC using a review code provided by the game's publisher.


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