The line between game and art is often a blurry one; many games looking to forego gameplay elements in favour of telling a story. This is by no means a bad thing, as storytelling is in itself the most fundamental element of entertainment.
Firstly it’s important to note that Firewood was Greenlit on Steam and created by two friends who are collectively known as Frymore. The game took them 5 months to create, which included everything from the handrawn art to the music, and it’s only £3.19 at the time of writing.
The game tells the story of an old man who has previously worked for some sort of government or government agency. It becomes clear early on that he lost his wife years ago under mysterious circumstances, and is still struggling to deal with his past. After his wife’s funeral, he decides to move to a cabin far away from his home in order to escape from his haunting memories, as well as his country’s oppressive regime, of which he was once an advocate.
Despite this, the man begins to suffer hallucinations at the cabin, and it becomes obvious to him that he is never going to be able to escape from his guilt.
The game takes place during two time periods; the man as he was young with his wife, and then again as he is old. Through this interactive story detailing the oppressive tale of his youth, and the psychological struggle in his twilight years, we begin to unlock memories that remind the man who he was, and let us as the observer discover what horrors have littered his past.
The gameplay elements of Firewood were extremely simple, and really didn’t strike me as anything other than a vessel to carry the story. None of the puzzles were challenging. There was some thought put into one or two, such as a key code that had to be remembered from a computer based on the sound each key makes upon entry, like a dial tone. Overall however, the game consisted mainly of lots of walking, fetching and implementing a number of different, obscure items as keys. The real effort here was to provide an unwinding psychological tale, and it did that very well.
I found myself more drawn in to this plot the further I got into the game. What begins as a whodunnit dead wife tale soon turns into something more layered – with warring political factions, secret government experiments and personal vendettas, and the game culminated in what was actually a suspenseful and ultimately emotional end, which for a game that’s only about an hour long is pretty impressive!
Unfortunately there was one very noticeable element that held the game back – the poor grammar and spelling within the dialogue which was a regular occurrence throughout the game. I understand that the Frymore team are Turkish and not native English speakers, but some simple proofing never goes amiss, as I found this to bring me out of the immersion of the conversation quite frequently, which is a shame because the dialogue was actually very good – even poetic, and had the ambiguous mystery of the animal headed characters of Hotline Miami (which is coincidental as these characters also had animal heads).
The hand drawn visuals work remarkably well in this grim tale. Through the majority of game, I found there to be detail enough to highlight the the more horrific elements and still leave a kind of perverse indecipherable nature to exactly what grossness I was looking at, although at times I found objects (such as a pig) too difficult to identify until the in-game dialogue actually described it. Never-the-less, overall I think it worked. There was also great use of dynamic 3D lighting effects that were coming towards the screen through windows and from light bulbs which gave the game a great sense of depth as you moved around the room that would have otherwise been missing. You often felt deceived into thinking you were standing in a 3D room as opposed to a 2D one.
The sound was also particularly successful in this venture. A moody undertone stayed with me throughout the game with the occasional sharp static noise to punctuate the sudden appearance of some malformed creature, which did on more than one occasion make me jump. The sound effects were minimal, but effective in persuading you that you were in a very old and empty building. There were small segments of music implemented at certain points, and although these were clearly not the work of fully fledged musicians, they served their purpose well in identifying important moments in the game, and sounded quite pleasant.
“Firewood is a sombre, thoughtful and occasionally haunting indie gem, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed”
Sure the game is only an hour long, and sure it’s got some teething issues that could have been rectified with a little more quality assurance, but this is Frymore’s first attempt at a game, and I think they’ve really got something here. The game is as simple as games get, but the atmosphere is wonderfully implemented and their ability to capture and explore a lot of different ideas in such a short space of time shows real ability to tell a story effectively. Firewood is a sombre, thoughtful and occasionally haunting indie gem, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed for this price. I can’t wait to see what they do next!
Check out the full trailer below.
Firewood is available on Steam for £3.19 at the time of writing.