In the last two years a genre has risen and grown faster than any other before. Some may call these games exploration games, others call them story driven adventures. Personally I call them Walkathons, games where combat is nonexistent and the title relies on exploration within what one hopes is a captivating story. The risk for developers creating a game in which the main hooks the story is note having a captivating tale that relates or one that evolves too slowly, losing the attention of the gamer. The latest Walkathon is the first release from eleven-person team Campo Santo titled Firewatch. So is the fire mesmerizing or is this new studio set to burn?
You play as a middle aged man known as Henry, who due to life’s twists and turns has taken up the role as a Fire Lookout in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. Considering the game relies so strongly on its story I will add little more to the premise, let’s just say that if Henry thought he was in for some tranquil alone time he is sorely mistaken.
Firewatch is played from a first person perspective, in which you walk, jog, climb and open things. There is no combat, no complex puzzles, your character is simply used to move around the forest toward objective positions that forward the games story. This doesn’t exactly sound enticing but this game lives and dies by its story, and equally as important, how the story is delivered.
Firewatch ‘s story is delivered via conversation between Henry and a fellow Fire Lookout named Delilah. This conversation is delivered via a walkie talkie, with the veteran Fire Lookout Delilah starting out as Henry’s supervisor/adviser, but quickly evolving to become his ‘confidant’, friend and at times psychologist. It is rare to feel a decent bond with characters, even rarer is it to develop such a bond to one that is not seen. It is close to impossible to not have some feelings toward both characters and fall into their bond. This is due to two things, some excellent writing and superb voice acting.
Throughout the game you are faced with choices, all of these are presented via a choice of discussion. Due to only playing through once I am not sure if these choices have much bearing on the story but there are times that I felt I could have made a better choice. Likewise, these discussion choices seemed a chance to strengthen or weaken the relationship between Henry and Delilah, with you being in control of how much Henry wants to share with his faceless companion. It is interesting, I mean would you trust someone you had never actually met enough to share your past?
The forest itself is quite gorgeous. The art style is hand drawn/painted, that sits somewhere between cartoon and cell animation. It is quite striking and I found myself often simply admiring the views and saving many screen shots. The map seems large enough but due to the need of keeping you engaged in the story the game is quite railroaded. It is short too, I finished the game in a touch over four hours, in one sitting. I played this through on PS4 and there were more than the occasional frame rate issues within the game, which was disappointing. In a game that relies on you being immersed in the story and the environment, which it does well, frame rate drops hider the experience.
Overall Firewatch was really enjoyable though. I got them feels again, as I do when a decent story is written around strong characters that are so easy to relate to. This was heightened with the exceptional voice acting by Madman’s Rich Sommer (Henry) and Cissy Jones (Delilah). Visually it was fantastic and although most will find a few plot holes, the story was one worth playing through. If you like this genre of games then I think Firewatch is well worth your time.
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