All in! Games preview: Phantom Hellcat & Backfirewall_ (Gamescom)

With a library of releases that includes the likes of Ghostrunner, Daymare 1998, Tools Up! and Chernobylite, All in! Games is one of the most diverse publishers out there, so we were eager to see what they had lined up when we met them during Gamescom a few weeks ago. With Backfirewall_ and Phantom Hellcat, they certainly did their reputation justice – time for a closer look.

What we know

Revealed during Opening Night Live, Phantom Hellcat (previously known as Codename: Project Raise) is an action/slasher platformer in which you star as Jolene, who unleashed a terrible evil from a haunted theater and now has to try to right her wrongs. But on top of all the usual combat elements, upgradeable skill trees and the inspiration it draws from retro-modern classics like Nier, the game also has a few surprises up its sleeve.

One of these is the ability to wear masks that are infused with magical powers to help you change up your gameplay style, but even more striking is the visual style for the game, which really embraces the theater setting. Elements of the story play out like a stage play, or take place ‘behind the scenes’ as they turn the location into a character of its own. Another striking part, visually, is that the action switches from 2D to 3D gameplay, which combined with the unique setting makes for something that immediately stands out. The game is scheduled for PlayStation, Xbox and PC.

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Also coming out for those systems, alongside a Switch release, is Backfirewall_, a first person puzzle adventure game with a unique theme that’s as original as it is relatable. It focuses on a central question that’s almost philosophical in nature: where does the former OS go when your phone decides it needs an update? Here, you venture inside such a phone, to find out that the OS has become sentient and tries to dissuade you from performing said update out of self preservation.

It’s a great concept, and Swiss-based developer Naraven Games really runs with the theme through satirical writing and nods to elements that any smart phone owner will recognize. The game is due out later this year.

What we saw

After its initial reveal earlier that week, we got a closer look at Phantom Hellcat during a hands off-presentation led by Alex Godlewska, head of studio at Ironbird Creations. Offering insights into the development of the game as well as footage now included in the announcement trailer, we learned a lot more about what to expect.

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For Backfirewall_, we actually got to go hands-on in a half hour developer-aided session that introduced us to the core mechanics and setting, letting us ask questions as we played.

What we thought

Although it was a very early look at the project and the game doesn’t have a release date yet, we thought Phantom Hellcat’s unique setting was immediately intriguing. The blend of a theater backdrop and storytelling mechanics where lines get blurred between the written fiction of a play and the haunted nature of the theater that’s it’s set in looks to be a narrative vehicle where we want to see where the developer takes it.

We also liked that, despite obvious sources of inspiration like Nier, they’re not just going for a typical 3D action adventure look, with 2D sections that remind us of a mix of games like Trine with the fast-moving action in some of the Castlevania titles. We’re very curious to see how it’ll pan out and how far they’ll be able to stretch this concept. Ironbird isn’t planning on having a large number of levels (or rather chapters/acts, considering the context), so we’re guessing levels will be rather long. Fingers crossed for more information soon!

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But while Phantom Hellcat’s not expected to launch soon, we won’t have to wait that long for Backfirewall_, which we have pretty high on our watch list for the rest of this year. We immediately loved the concept, the writing we experienced during our demo session was often hilarious and we can’t wait to see how the rest of the story pans out. Your OS partner/narrator has tons of personality, and while it’s described as a tragicomic tale it feels like one of those games you play with a smile on your face.

The puzzles we saw didn’t feel too taxing though, so we’re expecting a rather streamlined journey through the narrative rather than something that puzzle purists will scratch their heads over. That’s okay with us though, as Backfirewall_ is shaping up to be one of 2022’s most refreshing meta-commentary video games, and one that flourishes within the smartphone-filled lives of its players.

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