Firewatch Review

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Posted February 18, 2016 by Cody Rostron in Video Games

Firewatch

Developed by: Campo Santo

Published by: Panic

Available for:  PC, PS4 (reviewed)

Cost: $20 USD

After a long drive and a two-day hike, you find yourself in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness, where you’ve taken a job as a fire lookout living in a tower above the seemingly endless wilderness. Your only contact is a woman on the other end of your walkies-talkie. Firewatch uses your tense expectations to its advantage as you wait to see what comes next.

You play as Henry. He doesn’t dress up as a rodent and fight crime, nor does he have to save the galaxy from falling squids. He’s just a guy going through some tough times. The opening 15 minutes illustrates how Henry arrives at the present, setting everything up using text. This ultimately seems like a strange decision seeing as the rest of this game has been art directed within an inch of its life. Why not put Olly Moss’ art skills to work?

Each step you take could lead to the next picturesque shot of mountains off in the distance or a far-away bloom of smoke just out of reach. Olly Moss’ artwork is all over the internet, and it’s also all over this game. Minor hitching and occasional bugs distracted me from it at times, but for the most part, this world is unique and cared for. Clouds in the night sky are a mere lighter shade than the dark blue that covers the starry sky. Shadows and light are so sharp and clear that when it peeks through the trees, it illuminates everything around you.

I can say so many nice things about how good this game looks. Even the animation, which are a step above most first person games, have a cared for approach.

Most FPX games have you wander around as a simple camera, opening doors with no hands and picking up objects using your mind. In Firewatch, every little thing Henry does is animated. This adds to the immersion in a way that that few games accomplish. Opening a locked cache, climbing down a rockslide, listening to the boombox, it all has a place, and it all deserves some recognition. Coupled with that immersion come performances, and Rich Sommer (Mad Men) and Cissy Jones (Walking Dead Season 1) are a tour-de-force. Other than a few other voices, it’s all them for close to five hours. That means you have to care about them and only them for an extended period.

While you can choose your dialog as Henry, it’s more of a coloring book than a choose-your-own adventure. What you say affects the game, but the overall outcome is ultimately the same with several different shades at the end.

Firewatch with less orange.

The plot itself leaves a bit to be desired. The third quarter of my playthrough had me tightly gripping my controller and contemplating the horrible outcome that might be around the next corner, and while that’s great for the first playthrough, it leaves little room for a second one. And while the pacing is excellent at leading you down this road and picking up clues as you go, the ultimate payoff feels a bit soft. I won’t give any specifics, but something begins to happen to you and Delilah (the other…Firewatcher?), and it pulls you closer and closer until your met with a somewhat-satisfying conclusion.

Henry is a likable guy, as long as you write him that way. And Delilah is a smart-mouthed woman who has been doing this for awhile. The banter and charisma between the two are undeniable. It’s not even a romantic chemistry if you don’t want it to be! I just wish they had more time to be playful with all that time wondering what’s going on in these mysterious woods. The game starts to get serious at a certain point, and that playful banter becomes distant.

The gameplay is what it is. It’s not perfect, but it certainly isn’t bad. Climbing up and down rock slides would have become tedious if the game had gone on longer or taken me down the same paths too many times. And cleaning up every last beer can is something my OCD brain took full advantage of. The cache scattered all throughout the map are mostly just there to plot points; nothing exciting is in them except notes from past Firewatchers, which ultimately seems like a missed opportunity for more.

Very few games tell the story of some guy at middle age. Henry heads to the forest to get away from it all, only to find something even more awful out there than the life he is fleeing. So while taking into consideration all the things Firewatch does well and does interestingly, it does fall into predictable holes: a soft payoff, a slightly convoluted story, and some connective tissue that doesn’t go anywhere. But with all of those things accounted for, the things enjoyed, like the art direction and characters, stand above it all.

I liked Hank and Delilah. I even grew to like one of the characters you never meet.

That’s what makes Firewatch memorable.


About the Author

Cody Rostron

Writer, Graphic Designer, and Artist, But most importantly a huge nerd.