Fe is quite unlike anything I've played before. A game with no dialogue yet an awful lot to say, Zoink's platformer presents a surreal world in which the understanding of its ecology is the key to progress, and the only way to gain a deeper knowledge of your surroundings is to interact with the fantastical creatures that inhabit them.
Playing as the titular Fe, an odd little critter that looks like a mix between a fox and an echidna, you are tasked with saving the sprawling Nordic forest in which you live from the sinister-looking Silent Ones. These mechanical baddies are seeking to trap and enslave the forest's wildlife, and it's your job to ensure that this won't be the case.
Fe Review: If You Go Down to the Woods Today...
Fe's primary ability allows him to make use of other creatures' strengths by way of singing to them. With a gentle press of R2, Fe can seek the aid of other wildlife throughout his journey and can learn to emulate their primary ability after rescuing the lone adult of their particular species. There are five abilities to be learned, and each one allows Fe to gain access to previously unreachable areas of its forest.
Fe takes place in an open-world environment, though exploration isn't a necessity. There are no "collect 10 of this item" or "forage around for this trinket" objectives, with you instead given a waypoint on a map before moving towards it in your own time. Collectibles and secrets are stuffed away for those who want to find them, but if you want to keep plowing on through its story then you are free to do so.
This lack of direct guidance in terms of how to progress through Fe's narrative continues throughout the rest of the game. From the moment you wake up in a desolate, snowy woodland with only a galloping deer-like creature to offer you any sense of direction, you're left to figure things out for yourself. While the game is hardly a bundle of complexities, roaming through its environment and gradually uncovering how everything works lend it an air of mystery. Thanks to Fe's unwillingness to linger on any one particular idea, this only continues as you progress through it.
Fe Review: Shadowing the Colossus
I was struck by how many ideas Zoink introduces to Fe without it feeling like a scattershot collection of half-baked concepts. The overarching goal of marching from waypoint to waypoint is simple, sure, though what awaits the player at each waypoint is different than the one before it. The game is split into areas that each present their own unique array of wildlife, and in place of defeating bosses, Fe is instead tasked with rescuing or helping the adult creatures that roam the land.
Each of the encounters with these larger animals is memorable for its own reasons. After one stage played out like a Shadow of the Colossus battle, I had assumed that this was too good to not replicate elsewhere in the game, but nope. Zoink does away with this idea immediately after it concludes, before you're blissfully soaring through the sky equipped with your new ability and heading on to your next adventure. Fe reveals its hand slowly, and there are few breaks between the pleasant surprises that permeate it. To expand on the various "a-ha!" moments that coincide with learning more about Fe's world would be to spoil the game, though rest assured that if you feel flummoxed by a particular area and aren't sure how to advance, you won't be left wondering for very long.
Fe Review: Unspoken Story
Though there's no dialogue, Fe's story is conveyed through wordless cutscenes and discoverable Special Helmets, which explore the forest's past from the perspective of the Silent Ones. There are some head-scratching scenes hidden in these Helmets, and I'm curious to see the various theories that will inevitably sprout from its deliberately vague story. Much like Journey, there is no traditional platformer conclusion to Fe, and you won't be expected to bounce on the head of a giant monster's head three times in order to herald in the final credits. Instead, more questions are raised than they are answered.
Dealing with the Silent Ones also eschews platformer tradition in favor of Fe never making physical contact with them. The player is instead required to navigate through long grass in order to hide away from your enemies' built-in searchlights, with them capturing you if you linger in the light for too long. The Silent Ones never really present much of a challenge, as they're relatively easy to run away from even if they do manage to spot you, and though a later enemy type presents a few headaches my progress through Fe was never brought to a halt as a result of a brain-bending puzzle or a difficult stealth section.
Fe isn't for those who want a challenge, but rather for those who want to explore a captivating world where intrigue awaits around every corner. The designs of its weird and wonderful creatures, who each perfectly occupy a space between familiar and otherworldly, are complemented by an art style that blends dimly-lit terrain with dashes of vivid color, its alien plantlife popping out of the screen as a result. The Silent Ones' appearance is marked by an intimidating swell of fiery orange filling the screen, as though the sun is plummeting down upon the forest. Even though these enemies don't present much of a threat, this visual shift makes them vastly more intimidating than they really have any right to be.
Fe Review: Final Verdict
Fe is going to stay with me for a long time. Zoink has sprung up from out of nowhere with a truly unique platformer that demands to be played by fans of the genre, extending its magic beyond its stunning appearance and into its vibrant open-world. After its 5-hour story concludes there's still plenty to do, from collecting crystals and unlocking new abilities to uncovering more hidden secrets, if you need any additional reasons to revisit its stunning forest.
Though it rarely presents a challenge to the player and its opening half is arguably filled with its better ideas, these are minor flaws in an otherwise fantastic experience. I can't recommend Fe strongly enough.
Copy provided by publisher and reviewed on PS4 Pro.