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Fe was a unique looking game when it first appeared a couple years ago, but now the game is here and it's time to see if there's anything underneath the lovely coat of paint. Rest assured, there is. While Fe is similar to many games in concept, it's an indie 3D-platformer at its heart, the execution is what makes the game, and that is entirely unique, addictive, and hypnotizing.
You start the game as a small cub animal waking up in a glade. It's not a bear, or a cat or a dog or a squirrel, but it's a little bit of everything. We'll call the creature Fe, since I'm going to assume that's the name, though you're never properly introduced to the character at the beginning of the game. In fact, you're never properly introduced to anything. The game begins when you do what you would obviously do if you woke up in a strange place, look around. From there you see a creature that resembles a deer, and as it's the only thing you've seen that moves, you follow it.
From there, the adventure begins. There is no dialogue between characters, no text on the screen. Only the very occasional button prompt ever informs you what is possible to do. It's up to the player to figure out everything, from the next step to the story the game is telling. Controls are equally simple. You can move, of course, you can jump slightly, and you can pick up a few small items. Beyond that, the only other tool is Fe's voice. The flora and fauna in the world of Fe communicate with each other by singing. Fe starts the game with one song, but can learn others as the game goes on, each giving Fe the ability to manipulate the environment in different ways. There are also other abilities that Fe picks up along the way, like the ability to climb trees or glide, which can then be used to give Fe access to new areas of the map.
I referred to Fe as a platformer in the introduction, and that's probably the best single description, but it's many other things as well. It's also a Metroidvania style game, as you'll find yourself backtracking to get to previously unreachable areas after acquiring new abilities. It's also got light puzzle elements, and even a simple stealth mechanic. Fe has no combat abilities to speak of, so when the little creature comes up against hostile enemies, it's about sneaking around them rather than fighting through them.
Anybody who doesn't care for stealth gameplay need not worry too much. Fe has just about the simplest stealth conceivable, which is to say the AI of the creatures coming after you is pretty stupid, and hiding from them is pretty easy, even when they're right on top of you. While some might see this as a flaw, I tended to find it nice, as it meant that you were never torn out of the game after being spotted, forced to start over. This kept the game flowing nicely and it encourages you to explore the world, something that is worth doing since there are numerous collectibles to pick up as well as simply a lovely world you'll want to see all of.
The basic gameplay is simple. In each hub world, you'll need to complete objectives in order to aid the wildlife in each area. Each objective is guarded by patrolling bad guys. You figure out how to get past them and complete each objective. Clear the hub world, then move on to the next. The simplicity is addictive. You find yourself thinking you'll just go ahead and grab that next navpoint because it shouldn't be too tough, and it's not, but then you do that three of four more times and find you've you've been playing Fe a lot longer than you expected to.
Fe music and sound design are its true success. The music is mesmerizing, drawing you in and giving you a feeling of peace while you play. You'll want to keep playing just because the world is such a nice place to be. The level design is also top notch. It would have been so simple for a game that gives you so little direction to leave the player lost and confused, but that never happens.
Fe is one of those games that's defined by its atmosphere more than its gameplay. It's not about giving you impossible puzzles to unravel, it's about showing you a place and giving you enough of a reason to continue to explore it. It's a journey worth taking.
This review was done with an Xbox One version of the game provided by the publisher.