In space, no one can hear you scream, but in The Last Campfire, everyone can hear you squee. Hello Games' new puzzle game is a world away from No Man's Sky, as The Last Campfire is an exploration game that looks like a children's storybook and plays like a workout for your brain. Throughout it all there's a sense of loss and melancholy, but also giant pigs that eat TVs.
You play as Ember, an adorable little creature who - after a serious case of butterfingers while boating - ends up separated from its people and lost in a strange land. Most of us would find a dark corner, sob, and keep desperately praying for cell reception so we could Instagram about it, but Ember decides to help others who are lost too, as they search for a way out. As you explore, a soothing voice-over gives details and voices to the world, which just adds to the dreamy, storybook feel.
This little piggy
The world is split into sections like the forest and the marshes, and dotted around it are puzzles. Some will open the way to a new area, some are a way to save other Ember-like creatures that have become forlorn, turned to stone, and trapped. You might need to push a series of blocks to create a path or move a brazier to light all the others in a room without it going out, or use cute little pigs to take down a dangerous plant with the help of stinky green fruit.
The puzzles aren't easy, but they're all satisfying, the sort where you'll keep pushing and prodding until you get the solution. None have that frustrating, utterly incomprehensible logic that makes success more a case of luck than judgment, and the game's structure means that you can always walk away and explore somewhere else if you need a break. The few I couldn't solve were all definitely just broken (this might be a lie) but even for me, a person with the spatial awareness of a sea cucumber, the mechanics and learning curve felt right.
A world apart
This isn't a game I've binged, but one I keep going back to, a chance to get lost in the dreamy narration - delivered by Rachel August with such a soothing voice I keep desperately searching for their name in the hope they have an ASMR YouTube channel - and to find new hidden paths. The game is built for exploration - once you've solved a few puzzles you can move on to the next section, a mercy to those of us that just can't figure out that one puzzle, and every detail is a delight. The way Ember's clothes get muddy, the little pigs snoozing on their backs, even the frightening bird creatures that bring to mind something from Jim Henson's nightmares.
I played on PC, but the game is available on Apple Arcade too, and I'm thinking about re-upping that subscription just to carry it around on my iPad, a little window into another magical world when I'm not at my desk. Hello Games might have taken us to the furthest reaches of space in the past, but its greatest achievement might be this weird little world of lost souls.
The Last Campfire is out now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Apple Arcade.