Firewatch: A quick review.

Warning: Here be spoilers!

I’ve had somewhat of a gaming renaissance lately — and i have Firewatch to thank for that.

You see, as with life, i’ve never really fit into one category of gaming. RPGs like Skyrim took too much effort — who wants to spend all that time beating up shitty little enemies for points so you can buy a new jacket?! I’ll never get that (although i use Skyrim as an example, i will admit i’ve never played it, so i might enjoy it, who knows!).

First person shooters have been my thing since the first Halo. I remember a friend of mine having a rented (first) Xbox console, and Halo on it. Wow, this thing had a story, and if you look down at the grass, it looks so freakin’ lifelike! Nuts. I never bought an original Xbox, i was still a playstation kinda guy back then (SILENT BOMBER FOR LIFE). But it started my lust for story driven games.

Nowadays, i’m the guy that gets a new game when it comes out, and plays it on ‘Normal’ so that i can enjoy the story first, then i’ll turn it up to hard and (try) to get some more challenge out of it.

The start of a game shouldn’t make me want to cry so much!

Dammit, this is Up all over again!

The opening, despite being a series of text screens — which i’ve never really encountered as the introduction to a game before surprisingly, still manages to be quite heart-wrenching. You feel for Henry. I found the tense they chose to tell the story in a little bit distracting, but it works for the game.

Story

The story clocks in at about 2–3 hours worth of gameplay if you play it start-to-finish without wandering off too much, this is fine by me — i’d rather have 2–3 hours of great story than 6–8 of wandering around trying to find things.

You are Henry, a man who has escaped his trouble-laden past by volunteering to be a fire lookout in the remote Wyoming wilderness. You arrive at your tower, get settled in, then watch as a series of super-strange events unfold that unnerve both you and the other lookout in a tower north of you — Delilah.

A relationship builds between you and Delilah despite having never met or even seen what each other look like, all through the magic of your handheld radio — random conversations, dry humour, touching moments — they’re all in there, it’s a pleasure to follow along and listen to them converse. Having some control over what Henry says back is just the icing on the cake.

Over your time in the wilderness, a mystery unfolds that drags you in, and affects both you and Delilah profoundly. I guess isolation will do that.

The story is fantastic, immerses you, makes you feel for all the people involved, and makes you question what you would do in Henry’s situation. But not only that, it makes you question the morality of everything surrounding it. It’s subtly brilliant, hats off to the writers.

Visuals

The game doesn’t go for realism, the characters (of whom you never see another, ever) are represented in pictures and sketches as almost pixar-like cartoon characters, but they’re adorable. I love that the look of Delilah is left up to the imagination throughout the game — because that’s all Henry has to go on too.

The entire visuals of the game are based around Olly Moss’ brilliant work, and if you’re interested in how they achieved such a stylised look, there’s a brilliant GDC talk from the game’s art director here. It goes over translating Olly’s style to a game ,including some new tools they built along the way to help achieve that.

The game is just stunning in every way, from the sky to the grass. They even give you a little in-game camera so you can take photos of some of the more beautiful moments, and campo santo will even print those onto physical photographs for you and send them to your house.

Gameplay

I played this on my newly built gaming PC, and oh boy had i been looking forward to it. So my experience of the controls and things might be a little different if you’re on a PS4.

Controls wise, the game plays like all it’s first-person brothers and sisters before it, movement is smooth and basically what you would expect — there are a few hiccups with moving past certain terrain features that look like they should be passable but aren’t, but you get used to seeing the path you’re supposed to take after a while.

The compass and map are nice — they’re little tools that help you get where you need to be, and the addition of the map information from the cache boxes are a welcome extra, little routes that you know are safe to take and won’t get you stuck behind a rock formation peering over it wondering what you’re doing with you life.

The rest of the gameplay is pretty standard — climb over this, jump over that, interact with this, pick up this, read that, but it’s nice — you do feel like you are Henry sometimes, and that goes a long way to immersing you into the story.

The radio is by far the most fun though — pick out which response you want to say to Delilah, and her response will change in kind, along with the feel of the game. I chose to go all-in with the conspiracy theories that she spouts at you, but you can choose to be more level headed, or even crazier than Delilah if you want.

There were a few mechanics that annoyed me — the shale scrambling with ropes felt a little slow and unwieldy, but i think they were necessary to prevent you from accessing areas that you weren’t supposed to yet.

Overall

Firewatch is a bit of a game-changer for me (no pun intended). It kinda showed me that games can be beautiful, story-driven, and yet not have to be about shooting everything that moves. I know there are other games out there that do this too, but none have struck such a balance and a chord with me like firewatch has.

It’s not a perfect 10 — mainly because it left me wanting more! But it’s damn close.

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