What’s it like to be an operating system right before a major update – one that would introduce a whole new life to a device at the expense of the old one? Backfirewall_ imagines this scenario, and its exploration of this concept is as funny as it is emotionally intelligent and clever. Despite presenting itself as a puzzle, Backfirewall_ is truly a sci-fi narrative adventure that explores the fear of change, the desire to help others, and the gallows humor that gets people through their darkest moments.


Backfirewall_ lets players take control of a phone’s update assistant and prepare to take the device from OS9 to OS10. Before this can happen, OS9 takes the time to introduce himself to the player and walk them through their first steps until he briefly encounters his body, which is quickly destroyed, leaving his consciousness to be integrated into the player’s body. OS9 is an instantly lovable narrator, full of sarcastic wit and sincerity, two traits that become even more apparent as the adventure continues. The characterization and vocal performance of OS9, as well Backfirewall_‘s meta comedy, makes it almost impossible not to compare favorably with The Stanley Parable‘s excellent structure.

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While on their way to the update room, players are taught the four main commands used to solve the game’s puzzles: delete, invert, color mode, and duplicate. These actions are used constantly, whether it’s erasing crates or dirt, reversing the direction of bits or items, changing the color of certain objects and buttons, and duplicating different items to meet quantity requirements. After learning the basics, players enter the update room and are greeted by the new OS and a presentation of its upcoming features. OS9 interrupts this, revealing that performing this update will kill him, the player, and many other systems operating under him. With this revelation, OS9 and the player set out to sabotage the new update.

Backfirewall_ Traverse a puzzle room with multiple floors and moving platforms

Short and simple puzzles are the backbone Backfirewall_‘s opening hours, as the players are slowly introduced to the systems at play. First, the game introduces the RAM terminal, which provides a universal reason for the puzzles. The RAM has a list of conditions that are currently met, and the player’s job is to find these things and figure out how to interfere so that the conditions are no longer met. As expected, the puzzles get progressively harder as the game progresses, and while they’re rarely obtuse, some can present enough of a challenge to warrant a hint. These come from one of two sources: a rubber duck sitting on a podium and posts from OS9.

Fortunately, OS9 doesn’t give hints until a decent amount of time has passed, thus avoiding the constant hinting problem that God of War: Ragnarök was criticized for. The rubber duck will be more divisive, however, as it warns players in advance that, in addition to hints, it can also provide solutions. This decision may lead some to believe that being able to get solutions defeats the point of making a puzzle at all. That said, it also makes the game much more accessible to players who may struggle with certain types of puzzles but still want to challenge themselves and enjoy the story. Overall, the hint system is well designed and offers the player a lot of assistance if needed, where the more involved system is completely optional.

Backfirewall_ Traverse open area with npcs and multicolored objects

Where Backfirewall_where it really shines is its world and story. Starting with its world, each area is carefully designed, aesthetically cohesive, and populated by different systems and characters. The result is a surprisingly immersive world filled with life and detail that reinforces OS9’s efforts to avoid updating. Talking to these characters also reveals their appreciation for OS9, which they call “boss”, and how they try to make the system they currently live in as efficient as possible. In addition, a mysterious side story is starting to emerge about rogue apps and features, such as the health app, which seems to have a similar goal to OS9, but in a more extreme way.

All of these things come together to tell a story about change and how to process and work through the fear that comes with it. Overall, Backfirewall_ is a wonderful experience filled with heart, wit, emotional intelligence and respect for the player. It is therefore highly recommended for anyone – even if the puzzles are not appealing, the uniqueness of the story and the deft skill with which it is told still make for an excellent experience.

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Backfirewall_ releases January 30 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a Steam digital download for the purpose of this review.

Source: PlayStation/YouTube

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