You’ve played all sorts of high octane game. You’ve shot at aliens, blown up zombies and raced around in super cars. We have all explored dungeons and perhaps battled the odd dragon or two.
The First Tree isn’t really any of that. There are no spaceships, no suits of power armour or silly hats to collect. There’s no combat of any kind. So then what is this game? Should you play it, if you haven’t already? Does it offer a memorable experience? Or does it not see the forest through the trees?
We should get this out in the open. The First Tree isn’t really a game in my opinion. Not in the traditional sense at least. Created by David Wehle, The First Tree released on all platforms from November 30th (Switch version tested). This is more of an experience than it is a “Game”, a thought provoking journey. But we can keep calling it a game for this article. If you need the constant adrenaline pumping action offered in other titles, this isn’t going to do it for you.
“The sleeping fox catches no poultry” – Benjamin Franklin
The First Tree details two stories all at once. Sounds weird at first, but it pulls it off seamlessly. The one aspect sees you interacting with the world as a fox looking for her cubs. As she encounters different objects and artefacts, we learn the story of a couple dealing with a personal tragedy. When brought together, these two sides come together to form one very engaging experience that had me drawn in from start to finish.
Right from the beginning I was invested in the story around the fox. It’s a cute little fox, right? What’s not to like? The mood was set immediately against the snow covered mountains. I had my first “gasp” moment of several, almost right away. I didn’t initially expect to be as interested in the human story as much as the fox’s. But within minutes, that had me too. The story is paid out in chunks frequently enough that you won’t get bored but not in such a way that distracts from the environment. I found myself looking forward to the next portion. I wanted to learn about the voiced characters and see where this was going.
Wolf in sheep’s clothing?
In Short, The First Tree looks gorgeous. It uses a kind of cartoon style for want of a better word. It reminded me of Abzu and Firewatch somewhat. Whatever we call the style, the more simplistic look of the world only adds to the majesty of the different areas you visit. From snow covered peaks to green woodlands. Great lighting effects and a well thought out colour pallets just accentuate everything and make the world pop with character.
And then there’s the music. It’s absolutely beautiful. Every single note fits the feeling of The First Tree. From Josh Kramer along with Lowercase Noises and Message to Bears, the soundtrack always follows the pace of the game, keeping low and slow when dictated only to soar at exactly the right moments. I don’t own a lot of music that features in video games but I’ll be tracking down some of this.
I spent a good while trying to figure out how to review The First Tree. This (and others like it) isn’t really like a regular game. A lot of your enjoyment will come from how much you can relate to the story being told. Ultimately I can only tell you that I had a great time with the title. The game looks and sounds wonderful and really masters the tone it tries to set. It’s a short experience that manages to take you on a much longer journey. It pulls at the heart strings like few other games can. A surprising twist ties the whole thing up. I found myself thinking back to my play through the whole day following. Not many games make it beyond the post game play bathroom stop.
If there’s an argument to be made for “Video games as Art”, then The First Tree should be up there with the best of them.