FireWatch: A Burning Beauty

I’ll be honest, I’m not a hardcore gamer. A lot of that sadly comes from being a Mac user, my iMac may be incredibly powerful for its age but sadly it lacks any real graphics grunt. My Xbox 360 is seldom used and I can’t remember the last time I actually bought a game for it.

That means I’m relegated to older titles that don’t require a water-cooled rocket-ship of a graphics card. In reality, my gaming time is spent playing both Portal games and Half-Life from scratch about once a year as well as the odd bout of Kerbal Space Program. I’m not counting the various iOS games I’ve purchased, as they really are like the Minesweeper of yesteryear.

When FireWatch came out a few months ago I was excited to play it, the reviews all praised the storytelling and that was the bait I needed.

That excitement quickly fizzled away when I read the minimum specs and realised my iMac’s diminutive 512mb of video RAM didn’t make the grade and I put thoughts of indulging in some fire based action to the back of my mind.

Fast forward to last Satruday, Steam alerted me that there was a sale on the game and I took a second look. After reading a more detailed spec guide I had hope that I could indeed play this gem of a game on my system.

You see, the wonderful team of Campo Santo and Panic, Inc. took a forward thinking view of what minimum specs for a game actually mean. They spell out the system requirements that they believe will give a good customer experience without lots of fiddling with settings to get an acceptable frame rate.

So, I paid my money and took my chances. After aforementioned fiddling with graphics setting I got what I considered a passable frame rate and experience and started my adventure.

The first thing got me was the beautiful opening story, the interactive text was well thought out and set the scene along with beautiful interludes to actually see the game world and move around a bit.

Then, it began – four and a bit hours of playing a game. Actually, scratch that, it was really four and a bit of hours of falling into a story that just happened to be wrapped in a game.

There’s no shooting, no weapons to collect, ammo to run out of or health bars to monitor – you can’t actually die in this story. Instead, your main items are your radio, a compass and a map as you explore a beautiful forrest environment as a fire lookout.

The story progresses through wonderfully scripted and voice-acted radio conversations that play like dialogue in classic point & click adventures such as ‘Beneath a Steel Sky’, ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’ or the recently remastered ‘Day of the Tentacle’.

You spend your time finding locations, solving mysteries and uncovering what can only be described as a truly heartbreaking reason for some creepy goings on the likes of a Taken movie, except without all the Liam Neeson.

I can’t go into more detail on the actual story, it would be far too easy to risk spoilers and ruin your enjoyment of a true gem in the gaming world.

The graphics are beautifully crafted, not overly realistic but they draw you into the story enough that you forget any need for photo-realism at 40,000 FPS. My first thoughts were that this would make an amazing VR experience, elements of the story would certainly lend themselves well to strapping on a Rift or Vive headset and loosing yourself in climbing and adventure action.

The soundtrack is perfect, it sits there and underscores the story without getting in the way or making you want to mute the music like so many other games do.

I’ve had thoughts of building a gaming PC before now, because there are many titles I want to play but know I can’t, and FireWatch has rekindled (I’m sorry, I know) that idea. Windows will never be my daily driver OS, but for a gaming system I know it’s where I have to go.

It’s also got me excited about writing for pleasure again, my current role means I spend most of my time writing proposals and agreements and whilst I get to have a lot of fun with them I can’t get my own opinions across in those pieces.

So, expect to see more posts here on a wide range of topics and I can report that a new podcast is in the works with a good friend of mine, more details to come once we have them!

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