Firewatch

Firewatch is a good debut with a wonderful atmosphere but, perhaps, a bit too many loose ends in the narrative department.

By Woozie, Posted 08 Feb 2016

I’m sure we’ve all had moments when we’ve felt the need to distance ourselves from what’s going on in our lives and yearned for an isolated existence somewhere in the depths of the woods. Literature has bestowed nature with regenerative properties and it’s easy to see how solitude and fresh air can help you move on, or clear your mind. Henry, the protagonist in Campo Santo’s debut title Firewatch, is in a similar scenario.

Firewatch, Screenshot, Review

Although the trailers can lead one into uttering the words “walking simulator”, Firewatch is more of a narrative-driven adventure title. For starters, there’s a sprint option which automatically rules out the walking simulator theory. Joking aside, the narrative is almost exclusively based on the interaction between you and a fellow firewatcher called Delilah. She will regularly contact you via your radio and, in most cases, you’ll have to select a reply from a set of three or decide to not say anything. You do all this while completing tasks that befit a person of your profession: checking telephone lines, warding off pesky teenagers and checking and protecting the forest from fires.

Hiking through the forest is especially pleasant as the visuals are simply gorgeous. The people over at Campo Santo have done a good job of representing a forest experience. Monochrome caves, a rich colour pallette alongside an exceptionally well designed sound automatically transport you into the game’s world. Music is used in a minimalistic fashion, appearing rather rarely but just in time to accentuate certain moments in the story. When the story doesn’t urge you on, Firewatch provides the most authentic first-person hiking trip I’ve seen in a while and a calming one at that.

Firewatch, Screenshot, Review

Gameplay-wise, you’ll spend most of your time hiking and exchanging words with Delilah, a woman from another lookout. You’ll do certain activities that involve preventing/spotting fires but at the end of the day, the gameplay revolves around finding objects or reporting in certain events. One very interesting feature is found when discussing navigation. You need to orientate yourself using a paper map and a compass. You can opt whether or not you want your position to be on the map at any given time and whether or not you want a constant reminder regarding your current objective at the top of the map. As you find landmarks, you note them down with a pencil, just like finding supply caches allows you to update your map. This feature helps with immersion, but, at the same time, I got the feeling that in order to avoid it being a nuisance, the map was a tad too small. Now, I reckon it’s natural to be responsible with a small area around your post, as you’re just one man, but by the end of the 6 hours I spent with the game, I had seen every available location at least twice in my wanderings, be they on or off path.

There’s some attention to detail given to the actions your character undertakes. Rappelling down a cliff is done in a slow and careful manner. The same can be said about hopping over logs on the ground. Movement and the various actions you undertake, feel very natural. At one point in the game, you stumble across a camera which can be used to take photos of your surroundings. Once you finish the game, you’ll find all of these photos on a website where you’ll also be able to order framed, physical versions of theirs. Given how Firewatch wants to be a personal experience, it’s a really great feature for those who’ll enjoy the game.

Firewatch, Screenshot, Review

Firewatch’s narrative is a mixed bag. It takes on different themes such as loss, desire for mending and isolation and human interaction. All communication is done via a radio. In fact, the radio is the sole thing through which you keep ties to another human being who, in turn, is your only way of keeping ties to the outside world. Throughout your playthrough, it’s worth to pay attention at how your character and, perhaps, even you as a player will feel towards Delilah, keeping in mind that you only know her voice. You can choose to react differently to her lines or stay silent; however the game won’t allow you to play a Silent Joe through its entirety. There is also a mystery undertone that pops up through the story. For a while, its presence is felt quite strongly and, given the location, it makes you feel helpless and lacking control. The conclusion of this subplot feels disappointing, though. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of a concrete reward at the end of Firewatch. Everything is self-contained within the narrative and, the ambiguous ending which, by all means, fits what is going on with the characters, will leave some with the impression of too many loose ends. Looking at it differently, though, it is a testament to how attempting to run from certain things may backfire given life’s innate uncertain nature.

Firewatch, Screenshot, Review

Firewatch is a good debut that shines in some places and doesn’t in others. It definitely has a charm of its own, however it leaves the feeling that it’s not quite as refined as it could be. Going through it once will prove a pleasant trek through a beautiful patch of Wyoming wilderness with relatable characters who have great chemistry between them. The story moves at a steady pace and the mystery undertone ruffles it up just enough. Said undertone fizzles out when the final reveal is made and the way the story ends, though natural, will not please everyone. There doesn’t seem to be much replayability aside from finding out what answers you get for different responses. As a narrative-driven title, it could pave the way for a great tradition if Campo Santo limit themselves less. Be this as it may, the 6 hours spent with Firewatch were undoubtedly pleasant, making it a game worth picking up, if not now, at least when it is on sale.

MateÈ™ Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Firewatch

80/100

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Panic Inc., Campo Santo
Developer(s): Campo Santo
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Action
Release Date: 2016-02-09

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