Home is where our dog is
Our first pet always holds a special place in our hearts no matter how much time passes; my beloved childhood cat passed away over six years ago and I still reminisce about his sweet little personality. But what happens when some of our most treasured memories with a precious friend contain a dark past — a deep trauma — that must be forgotten in order to continue functioning? It’s this interesting question The First Friend aims to explore, players walking down a picturesque repressed memory lane to recall the life-changing events that dictated decades.
Developed and self-published by London-based solo indie developer Alexander Westwater, The First Friend is a peaceful walking simulator available on Steam and itch.io for Mac, PC, and Linux. Priced at only $4.99, The First Friend is as affordable as a cup of coffee and, depending on your item-hunting skills, will take you much longer to find all memories than to finish the aforementioned brew. Although The First Friend is slated as a short playthrough of about one to two hours, I found it took me double the time to find about two-thirds of the memories scattered throughout the levels, meaning there’s more here than first meets the eye.
The First Friend opens up on a nameless protagonist who lives in a quaint home surrounded by wilderness. He’s just woken up and feels the urge to get out of the house, deciding to check up on his dog, Zack. Upon opening the front door, he finds that Zack has run off, his doghouse empty and pawprints leading off into nature. Determined to locate his furry friend, he sets off, following the pawprints to hopefully find Zack. Along the way, he notices certain objects that trigger long-lost memories, such as his dad taking him fishing or a bike incident. Interested by this sudden memory jog, he wonders what else he might remember while searching for his canine companion; and so, another quest is opened up — relive memories, both good and bad, to work through some painful truths long-forgotten.
Controls are very simple, with WASD moving the protagonist, space jumping, mouse acting as camera controls, and shift for running. The level design is also very intuitive (save for one area which made me want to tear my hair out); every time I thought to myself “I bet there’s an item over there,” and walked all the way over to said area, I was nearly 100% of the time rewarded for my efforts. The walking pacing itself seems a bit slow, but considering the nature of the genre the speed is certainly forgiven.
The aesthetics of The First Friend are what drew me to the game in the first place. The bright, vibrant environments are so warm and inviting that exploring every nook and cranny is a delight. I have so many screenshots of these gorgeous visuals, feeling like the images weren’t truly capturing the best angle of the beauty I was experiencing. I also greatly enjoyed the soft piano soundtrack, which was so soothing and comforting that I honestly wish it could be made available as a DLC purchase. The aesthetics are definitely my favorite part of The First Friend, a world I wouldn’t mind getting lost in.
The First Friend touts a deep, personal story that offers players an insight into a trauma pushed down and all-but-forgotten, and to an extent, this is very true, on the condition that you actually find the items that trigger said memories. After 3.7 hours, I was able to find a good portion of them, but not all, meaning the story held less of an impact for me than it otherwise might have. Of course, that means there is hidden replay value here, but I do wish there had been more obvious markers for perhaps the most important, hardest-hitting memories to really drive home that meaningful ending. There were also a fair number of typos, which don’t really impact gameplay per se but, due to the text-heavy nature of the game, they were noticeable. None of this should be a deterrent for getting The First Friend if this genre is of interest, however, as it really is a delightful little title that aims to please and absolutely delivers.
I quite enjoyed my peaceful afternoon with The First Friend, seeing life through someone else’s eyes and discovering meaning in both the traumatic and the mundane. The First Friend acts as a lovely palate cleanser in-between longer titles, a wonderful reset button to recharge the spirit. With gorgeous visuals and a calming soundtrack, The First Friend is a beautiful walking simulator that makes wandering around aimlessly an enjoyable experience. If you can relate to the powerful bond between a child and their first pet, be sure to check out The First Friend today.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Alexander Westwater; Developer: Alexander Westwater; Players: 1; Released: December 10, 2020; MSRP: $4.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of The First Friend provided by the publisher.