The world as we know it has ended. There isn’t a living human in sight. And for once, there aren’t zombies everywhere. There are audio cassettes though…
It’s always nice to see publishers willing to take a risk. So many of the major publishing houses stick to the(ir) tried and true franchises year in year out. To juxtapose, you have the smaller publishers who are willing to put their money into something a bit different. Devolver Digital, Team17, and Adult Swim Games are all such publishers. The latter has had a punt on Fire Face’s Small Radios Big Televisions, a point of click style adventure with a rather unusual premise: you can enter the worlds contained within audio tapes. Why audio tapes and not CDs or digital audio files? Read on and all will become clear!
The game is set up as an exploration game in which the player must find a way to open locked doors to move forward from environment to environment. The doors aren’t all opened by simply searching the area for a key, players will have to find cassette tapes to enter different worlds to find the items to move forward. There are simple puzzle solving elements here too, with switches needing to be moved in the correct order, cogs to be swapped and a great section in which lights need to be turned on and off to manipulate the growth of plants. The majority of the game take place from a side-on view of the area, with doors and various items that can be clicked on to move areas or interact with the environment. When you find a tape and “enter” it, the world switches to first person allowing you to look around the world you visit.
The tapes are the draw here. There are a number of cassettes hidden around each of the factories that will each suck you into another world to find keys. Interactivity is limited here, but the combination of audio and visual is excellent. The great art style and sound design are at their best in these scenes, with genuinely gorgeous environments hiding the keys the player will need. It’s easy to find the key and hop back out of the tape and move on, but each one is its own mini experience, and some of them are quite beautiful. I found myself staying in some of them a little longer than I might have expected. If I had to criticise something here, it’s that I couldn’t walk around the worlds I visited. This -of course- makes perfect sense as listening to a tape doesn’t allow you much in terms of interaction, but the environments are wonderful and beg to be explored further.
So why audio cassettes? It’s because of the magnetic strip. Those reading this who are above a certain age may well know what happens when you take a powerful magnet to a cassette (it messes with the sound), and this game plays with that in interesting ways. To solve some of the puzzles, you will need to use magnets on the tapes you discover to alter the worlds you can visit. A beach will become flooded, a golden field will become distorted and overgrown. This will allow you to find items that you couldn’t previously. Some of the worlds will become quite creepy or trippy, but I won’t add any more as the discovery of the different worlds is part of the fun.
There is a story in the game, told through messages scrawled on walls and conversations between the player and an unnamed correspondent. The messages and drawings on the walls reminded me of the hidden messages from Rattmann in Portal and tell of something much darker happening than you may expect from the colourful art style. Once again, I won’t say much about the story for fear of spoiling it, but it is interesting and open to interpretation. It deals with the environment, humanity and – in my opinion at least – has something to say about gaming and its impact on people. I’m looking forward to reading a plot analysis by someone smarter than I am!
It’s a short game, but that suits the game perfectly. I feel that if it was any longer it might have caused the experience to overstay its welcome. Each factory took me around half an hour to complete, with some taking longer than others due to there being more challenging puzzles. After the game has finished, additional tapes in each factory are unlocked to give you a reason to return to the game to discover new worlds. There are also hidden lenses that are used in between factories. I won’t say any more about those though!
I really enjoyed this experience. Whilst the core gameplay is that of a point and click game, there are fresh ideas that elevate this beyond its core genre to be something genuinely interesting. The idea of experiencing sound in this way in a game is something very different, and I applaud the 2-person team for what they have created here. A great, colourful art style mixed with excellent sound and an interesting story make for a game I would recommend to players looking for a calm, different experience. Well done Fire Face, I’m looking forward to what you come up with next.