Sunnyside Game’s The Firm is a trip. Three seconds of confused swiping and it’s already over. My trader has been fired. He’s also flung himself from the monolithic business center of his former employer onto the waiting asphalt. It’s raining on street level. A line of trench coat clones snakes out the door without so much as a glance at the splattered man. It’s like they already know. The $10 I had accrued is added to the company profits and a fresh face unpacks his box of belongings into the newly abandoned office and begins working.
Some time later, I’m with my new trader and reaching for the coveted status of chairman. The entire cycle lasts about 5 minutes during which I’m a machine, sorting stock profiles with a stoic efficiency. The pile is your unending opponent, a stack of growing stock cards climbing towards a your demise.
It is an evil weed, creeping slowly at first, which despite your best efforts, grows faster and faster. Right before the pile breaches the failure line, I unleash a cocktail of power-ups. Between time-slowing pills, called in favors and a computer controlled auto-trader, the pile sublimates straight into the company’s pocket. The rush quickly fades, however, and it’s back to the battlefield, your rival ascending with a renewed vigor. Unfortunately, your weapons are limited in quality and your trader is soon just another smear on the street. At least he made a hefty profit. It was a good run.
Capitalist Nihilism at it Best
The Firm does a good job of conveying its attitudes towards the business world both visually and mechanically. Themes like dehumanization and alienation, the cost of monetary success, nihilism and company-first policies are all subtly developed. A lot of it is in the small details like the macabre little card of a man hanging himself on your desk, the sole light on the top floor corner office after you’ve achieved chairman rank, the firing sequence, the score tallied as company profits; I have to commend the developers for their skillfully integrated symbolism and imagery.
Firm Themed Gameplay
The gameplay also contributes to the thematic weight. The concept is kept simple, as green stocks going up and red ones going down are bought and sold. Initially, you notice the myriad real-world references in the company names as you causally sort through cards, cheery chiptune blaring in the background. But as you get better and better, you begin to swipe mindlessly, as the color and profile of the card become the only things in your narrow world. The 8-bit beats transforms into a nightmarish soundtrack, a ghoulish accompaniment to your mechanical plodding. The weather changes around you as time in your virtual office flies by.
The game is much like, Papers Please, using atmosphere and aesthetics to transform a menial task into something more. After 5 or so minutes of stressfully sorting 500 cards to attain some arbitrary rank, you really can start to appreciate the continuity between themes and gameplay in The Firm.
Brilliant Storytelling Good Gameplay
That being said, The Firm is clearly not for everyone. Those looking for a challenging gaming experience, for example, will be disappointed. It is more of an artistic creation than your average Android game, and its commitment to creating a unique aesthetic comes at the price of a lack of depth and complexity in gameplay.
While a game like Papers Please was able to weave layers of challenge into gameplay along with a beautiful and moving storyline, The Firm succeeds at neither of those things. Those looking for a challenging or engaging gaming experience will be disappointed at the lack of gameplay diversity. While it gets difficult, the breakneck pace of late stage progression is meant to be impossible. The base concept isn’t bad, but adding different gameplay challenges in layers to create a more satisfying and engaging game would probably add more substance without losing thematic momentum.
The Firm is a well-executed and poignant experience. It’s rich, the pixelated imagery and unique aesthetic represent a high content standard in mobile gaming. While the actual gameplay could be more interesting, it cements itself and a shining example that such games aren’t necessarily doomed to be banal amusements, but can stand on their own as textured and meaningful experiences.
Thematically brilliant with a wonderfully oppressive atmosphere, The Firm puts you in a high pressure job where the only exit is the window