Review: Firewatch

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By Nicole Pryde, @xnikkipryde

 

As much as I enjoy grand scale action-adventure and role playing games, I usually don’t like to pick them up unless I have enough time for a two or three hour sitting, otherwise it can feel like I’ve made very little progress. This is exactly why in the past few years I’ve really been taken by shorter, story-focused games. They feel like interactive novels, fully immersing you in a fictional world that you help control the fate of, while being spit into chapters that allow you to start and stop at your convenience. Since this was a particularly busy week for myself, but I still wanted to play something new, the newly released Firewatch was recommended to me.

 

Firewatch is a first person adventure game by Campo Santo Studios. The player takes on the role of Henry, a man who takes a job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming forest to help distract himself from an extremely difficult and heartbreaking time in his life. I won’t get into the backstory, because it’s covered in the very emotional introduction and I feel like anything else I say about it would be spoilery. The lookout job is a solitary one – Henry spends all of his time in the watchtower he lives in, or out in the wilderness. His only companion is his new boss, Delilah, who he only communicates with via walkie talkie. She assigns his tasks and offers him guidance, but they do end up talking frequently. It’s all very lighthearted and humorous until trouble starts in Henry’s neck of the woods (sorry, couldn’t resist), including the disappearance of two teenage girls and a brief random encounter with an unknown man. Henry and Delilah soon find themselves dragged into the mysteries occurring around them, and decide to investigate.

 

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The controls are fairly easy to learn, though I thought that some features, such as having to repeatedly hit R2 to scroll through conversation options, did not feel “natural.” Also, this is a game where the player does a lot of exploring, and finding your way around can be a challenge at times. Henry carries a compass and a map with him to help the player get their bearings and head in the direction they’d like to travel. The map can be updated with more details at cache boxes found throughout the wilderness. There’s absolutely no combat in the game – most of the actions involve exploring (running, jumping, etc.) and collecting or interacting with objects in the environment.

 

One of my favorite aspects of this game was the imagery. It’s a great example of a game not needing elaborate and realistic graphics to be breathtakingly beautiful. The spectacular use of color and light is enough to draw you in and make you feel like you’re exploring the meadows, canyons, and forests under Henry’s watch. Combined with the ambient background music and frequent dialogue between Henry and Delilah, the mood always feels just right for that moment in the story.

 

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The strongest aspect of this game is, of course, the story. From the tragic introduction, to the lighthearted conversations with the witty and wonderfully sarcastic Delilah, to the suspense as events turn dark, it is emotional, humorous, and thrilling all at once. Furthermore, the writing and voice acting are just wonderful (kudos to Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones for their awesome performances). For me at least, there were none of those moments where a poorly written or delivered line “pulls” you out of a moment. The conversation flowed so naturally. I feel like this is especially impressive in games where actions and dialogue are heavily decision-based, because the relationships and personalities can play out so differently that it’s like the actors have to play several different characters instead of just one. And when you factor in that they have to portray emotions between two characters whose faces we don’t see, and who have never interacted with each other in any way other than through walkie talkie, it makes you appreciate their talent even more. I loved watching the relationship between Henry and Delilah develop, though I went for the route of having her as a friend but keeping her emotionally at an arm’s length.

 

I definitely plan to replay the game and try pursuing a closer relationship between the two. My only complaint about the story is that the ending felt rather abrupt and lackluster. There was such a buildup of emotion and suspense, and then it felt like…nothing. I’m not talking about a cliffhanger, either. It was just suddenly over. I stuck around through the credits expecting there to be an explanation or some sort of epilogue, but there was nothing. I’m hoping that this means there will be a sequel of some sort, because I really want to know about the fates of our two such wonderfully developed characters.

 

Though this game does have its weaknesses, the beautiful visuals, heartfelt story, various outcomes, and short length make it highly enjoyable and replayable. I would highly recommend this to gamers and non-gamers alike.

 

Rating: 4.5/5


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