Firewatch Reviews

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The outstanding success and popularity of Firewatch seemed to come out of nowhere when it released in early February of 2016. The game itself seemed to just one day exist, and then it became some magnificent indie hit; just one month after its release, the title has sold over half a million copies. With many worried that the game is nothing more than a cash grab, and an equal amount of folks skeptical about paying $20 for a proposed walking simulator, what is it exactly that has so many people enchanted by Firewatch?

Without a doubt, it is a combination of the captivating storyline, ensnaring characters, and superb dialogue. Yes, it is true... FIrewatch is little more than a glorified walking simulator set in a national park of the Wyoming wilderness. However, the aforementioned attributes make the experience worth every penny of the pricetag, although there are a few things that could've made the game even better. Set in the late 1980's, you will take on the role of Henry, a man who has taken a job as a fire lookout to escape from his troubles at home. Throughout the game, you will have your choice of dialogue options, each that will impact your immediate relationship with your supervisor, Delilah.

Things start out good enough, lazy summer days that quickly escalate into a bizarre mystery which will keep you from putting the controller down for the entire 4-5 hour length of the game. Sadly, Firewatch does only last for a few hours, and that is one of its major drawbacks. Even with getting lost as much as I did (I really suck with maps), the event will only last a maximum of 5 hours. However, in defense of the game, I do not believe that the mystery could've been prolonged much further. While it lasts, the air of suspense and undying necessity to find out what is going on is unrelenting. Likewise, each interaction with Delilah is deep and connective; there's an undeniable chemistry between her and Henry that lasts right through until the end.

The game is filled with sarcastic and crude humor, spontaneous wit, and even the occasional bout of depravity that makes us all human. The voice acting is the best I've ever heard for an indie title, and the soundtrack is just as impressive as it is immersive. The graphics are simple, yet somehow amazingly detailed; even when you get turned around or lost in the wilderness, you won't mind since you'll be taking in some astonishing views, be it deep in the forest or on a ledge overlooking the horizon. However, do not expect to explore a plethora of areas; Firewatch is incredibly linear, and while the game might look like it is open and spacious, there are narrow trails hidden within the sandbox illusion.

While I didn't encounter any game breaking glitches or bugs, I will note that my framerate dropped from 60 FPS (the games cap) to the lower 40s at some points; now, this could've been due to the fact that I was streaming on Steam for some friends, so take this for what you will... it was a mildly rare occurrence. There is also one particular place on the map that if you stand in a certain spot, the ground textures from the previous area disappear. I played the game using an Xbox One controller, and with that you use down on the D-Pad to pull out your compass, and left for the compass and map; this function did not work and left me to rely on the keyboard, but pressing up to bring out the in-game camera did work. All minor issues, but they are still present nonetheless.

Firewatch has not only set the new bar of standards for walking simulators, but for indie games overall. It's hard to explain in a review just how captivating and immersive the character interaction between Henry and Delilah becomes, and the player will find themselves emotionally invested in each one as backstories are learned. There's a slight replayability factor, in that there are a few dialogue choices to pick from for almost every interaction. While the story is a great mystery that will keep you guessing, the ending is sadly lackluster and feels close to being a cop-out; but don't let this deter you from taking on the experience. The graphics are extremely pleasing to the eye to boot. If you have a spare $20 to throw at a game, lay it down on Firewatch; if you get it on sale, that's even better, but Campo Santo are one indie developer you should consider funding in full.

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Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 131
Posted on 27 December 17 at 13:00
This review has 2 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Firewatch is a walking simulator which uses some video-gamey elements to try and make it seem more interactive. Unfortunately, like all walking simulators, it is critically important that the story that the simulator is telling is actually interesting.

And Firewatch fails at this.

This isn’t obvious at first, though. The game actually has what seems like fairly decent moment to moment writing; while it starts out with a sort of text adventure thing that unfolds as you’re hiking, it quickly starts going into actual dialogue as the protagonist (Henry) talks with Delilah, his supervisor.

Henry has taken a job watching out for fires in a national forest as a means of getting away from his problems; his wife has early onset dementia and Henry himself is something of a mess as a result, and it is implied that he might be an alcoholic.

The problem is that we get this at the very start of the story; this is the setup. But the game ends up spending a lot of its length having Henry reveal all this to Delilah, meaning that a lot of Henry’s “character development” is stuff we already know. While his conversations with Delilah are solid enough, they lose their oomph because we, the reader/listener, already know this from the intro.

And this is the real flaw of Firewatch – it constantly undercuts itself. There is a mystery early on, which then links into another (greater) mystery… which is a solid way to present a plot. But the solution to the mystery is an anticlimax, and as a result all of the tension it tried to build up was utterly pointless.

The plot is, thusly, a mess, and so from a macro structural standpoint, so is Firewatch. Without a really meaningful plot, the game is nothing more than wandering around in the forest while talking over the radio and doing slice-of-lifey stuff. And if the game had just been a slice of life drama, it might have worked. But its attempt at mystery, and its attempt at a story arc, utterly fall flat, and in the end, nothing we spent all that time doing really meant much of anything. It is a story we experience rather than interact with, and the story itself is not very good, so there’s not really anything there.

The game itself is pretty enough – or at least, the environment is, with a nice aesthetic to it. I took quite a few screenshots, and there’s some nice little details in there, such as the protagonist writing notes to himself about what has been going on. The voice actors are both solid and deliver their lines well on the whole, though there’s some slight inconsistency in a couple scenes as a character who is supposedly getting drunk immediately sobers up a few lines later.

But without a good story to go with it, the whole thing is an empty experience, and you will spend 4-5 hours wandering around in the forest without ultimately being led to feel like your wandering mattered.
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