Firewatch (PC) – All that Glitters is not gold

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Initial release date: February 9, 2016
Genres: Adventure game
Developer: Campo Santo
Firewatch was one of the more anticipated indie games of February, and I was one of the many people who got caught up in the hype. It’s hard not to, when screenshots and gameplay footage keep popping up everywhere. The trailers were gorgeous, and the dialogue in it was almost perfect. This world which the developer, Campo Santo, presented to us was filthily beautiful.

Firewatch is a mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio. The year is 1989. The person your character converses with throughout the game is a woman named Delilah.

Once I saw all the trailers and heard some of the dialogue between Henry and Delilah, I became quite enamored with the game. I went and preordered it a week before its release, which is something I usually don’t do. Something about pre-ordering games just strikes me as dangerous, since the buyer doesn’t really know whether the game is going to turn out good, or a steaming pile of horse shit.

Fast forward a couple weeks later, and here I am, typing out this review of Firewatch which I desperately wanted to be good. I’ll be brief.

It was not what I expected.

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Let me be frank and state that this game is short. Like really, really short. I managed to finish the main story in 4 hours, which is bloody ridiculous if you think about it. One thing which fell short of my expectations, was the plot. This failing can be attributed to the fact that Firewatch was marketed as a something similar to ‘The walking dead’ series, in which your choices have consequences. And once you were done, you could go back and play through albeit differently.

That was what they said. But none of those things even made it into the game. The choices presented to us didn’t affect the story whatsoever. Despite all the promises about branching choices and alternate endings, the game turned out to be horribly linear and only had one ending. There were some complaints about how the game ended as well, some stating that it was ‘stupid’ and ‘lame’.

Personally, I liked the ending. It reeked of resignation and bitterness, and considering that you spend the entire game listening to Henry and Delilah talk about everything bad that’s happened in their lives so far, I would be surprised if the ending had been anything but.

But $20 for a game with little substance, is really asking for too much. Some may argue that it was worth the experience, and I have little to say to that – because everyone wants something different out of their games. Firewatch is in the category of ‘Walking simulators’ and I think that there are far better games with better payoffs and more gripping narratives.

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The two things Firewatch has going for it is the characters and the visual style that made the forests of Wyoming seem vibrant with life. The banter between Henry and Delilah was a constant source of enjoyment for me, and helped me to forget about the lacklustre plot at several points. Despite never seeing a hide or hair of her, she becomes more than just a disembodied voice – she becomes a companion, a friend that Henry can confide in with his cynical, dark thoughts. The humour in the game was also something I particularly enjoyed. It had me chuckling at times and snorting with laughter at others.

The beautiful visual style we see in screenshots and trailers is thankfully, undoubtedly true. There were countless times where I just stopped in the middle of nowhere and admired my surroundings – the trees, shrubbery and small cliffs which I would race by or scale down as I made my way toward the next destination. Unfortunately, despite how pretty everything looks, I didn’t feel the need to explore every nook and cranny of the world the game provided. There is just no sense of adventure in the game, like one is supposed to have in a semi-open world.

Overall, the game was lacklustre and despite the 9/10 steam reviews, I can’t recommend this game to anyone at its current price point. While it’s not a horrible game, the cons take away the enjoyment which the pros provide. Firewatch costs a pretty penny, but doesn’t offer anything substantial in return.

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6/10 – Decent

 

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