Why you should probably(?) play FireWatch

First a little background.

I’ve recently moved from Auckland, New Zealand to Berlin, Germany and have a little time in between intensive German courses, job hunting for a Product Management position, and learning how to make calculator apps in android that will never be useful to anyone (gotta start somewhere, right?).

This is my second game review. The first was penned nearly 15 years ago as a teenager on my geocities site, Bennernet.tk.

If your idea of great design is fluoro-green ‘The Matrix/hacker font’ on a black background, a text flag that follows your cursor, and a midi version of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ playing in the background, Bennernet.tk was the shit.

I praised Haegemonia: Legions of Iron for it’s impressive graphics and decent gameplay. The thing is, I can’t even remember what it was really about.

What it lacked was the ‘why’.

The classic, and oft compared-to Homeworld on the other hand, still manages to stir up my emotions. Once Barber’s Adagio for Strings comes on — goosebump’d all over. I’m immediately transported back to that story of an exiled people’s lonely journey into the dangerous and ink-black unknown.

So why am I here right now, writing you a review about FireWatch, the game that everyone’s (maybe) been talking about?

And by that I mean FireWatch, the game I know literally nothing about. Not even the genre. It showed up in my library on Christmas day, a gift from my beloved brother and aspiring indie game-developer. Perhaps my third review will be his first release :)

In any case, the usual way I go about deciding on adding a game to my collection, which restaurant to visit, movie to watch or which type of off-brand blender to buy off Amazon is of course…

… the HIVE MIND!!!

Metacritic, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Amazon reviews, Rotten Tomatoes. The vast majority of my experience selection is now outsourced to the cloud.

Who needs to actually venture forth into the unknown or, dare I say it, ask a real, actual human being from your life (presuming you’ve got a few of those left over from the pre-Facebook era).

Now that you know why we’re here, let’s get down to business, and see if FireWatch ‘delivers the why’.

I will do my best to chronicle my train of thought as I venture forth into the unknown.

My super-short, not-spoily review

Firstly, if you want to be as delighted by not knowing what it’s all about, I’d highly recommend simply picking up the game and jumping in. You might not be one of those people, however :)

I started writing this as I was beginning to play it, with no idea what it was about or what genre it belonged to.

I will try to keep this review brief and to the point, then provide a more spoily one later.

How to define Firewatch…

I spent my first half hour trying to figure out if this was a non-game, then I lost track of my surroundings and fell deep into the rocky canyons of Wyoming.

With a gun to my head I would say:

This is a story-driven adventure/exploration/mystery.

This is no Starcraft, so it’s not that easy to describe it in depth without giving away some things here.

It had me in tears in the first 10 minutes, and laughing out loud in the next 20. The writing is on point and I love the banter between the protagonist and his mystery companion.

The game gives you a lot of options, but it’s not clear how much impact those choices will make in the long run.

It doesn’t go as far in stripping down gameplay as some of the ‘Interactive Story’ genre e.g. Dear Esther. There’s a decent amount of environment interaction to separate FireWatch from one of “Those games”.

There is a tres cool orienteering mechanic that gives you the feeling that you’re actually navigating around this place instead of simply ‘Press X to see an arrow showing me where to go’.

I could see some struggling to orient themselves with some sections being up to the player to explore. There were one or two points where I was expecting to be spoon fed, but then found my own way around the problem. That had the effect of flipping me into the mindset of actually putting myself into the situation, and spurred me to continue exploration and felt a whole lot more rewarding.

I loved how the game creates space and a feeling of isolation with it’s careful use (and lack) of music. I noticed this several times, with only the sound of my footsteps and the wind, really feeling like I was there, and no one could save me if I needed it.

In terms of length it’s certainly not drawn out, and you could potentially finish it in one long session if you can stand sitting down for an entire afternoon.

I think you should probably play this game if:

  • You enjoy solo ‘experiences’
  • You don’t need to always be melting the faces of demon-spawn at the pace of a million miles an hour

It made me care about what was happening, and my role in it. I felt compelled to unravel the mystery and delve deeper into the caverns, climb the mountains, and take glorious snaps with my in-game Kodak.

Firewatch earns a Recommend/10

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