Author Topic: [Video Game] Firewatch  (Read 956 times)


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[Video Game] Firewatch
« on: February 14, 2016, 11:16:38 AM »
"Walking simulator" is a tongue-in-cheek description of a growing fad in indie gaming, wherein game play is limited to walking around and observing the environment to trigger story progression. There have been several big games in this genre released over the past several years. Dear Esther, EVeryone's Gone to the Rapture, Gone Home... and now, Firewatch.

As boring as the premise sounds, the gimmick absolutely relies on an engaging story. This is where Firewatch stands out.

Firewatch features top-tier writing and voice acting, and may go down as one of the most mature, yet restrained stories of the year.

You play as Henry, who is introduced through a series of plot points displayed simply as text on the screen in the opening moments of the game, occasionally allowing you to make certain choices that does a fantastic job of giving the character emotional weight, and making you understand Henry's troubles. It connects you with Henry on a deep level in just a few minutes, with unvoiced dialogue and by forcing you to make decisions which, in many occasions, are different flavors of selfish.

Firewatch doesn't just let you be whomever you want - you are role playing AS Henry, a character with a predetermined character arc, you just get to choose certain specifics. In many games that allow dialogue choices or allow the player to make decisions over certain plot points, the aim is to make the player feel as if they ARE the character - this isn't the case here. You never feel like you ARE Henry, but that you're witnessing Henry's story through his own eyes, and even though you make certain decisions for him, it's written in such a way that it almost feels as if you're witnessing Henry's own internal conflict and decision making, rather than making decisions for him. That's a credit to the stellar writing and voice acting.

Henry takes a summer job at a Fire Lookout in a national forest, and his only other human contact is his supervisor Delilah, a voice on the other end of a walkie-talkie.

The relationship between Henry and Delilah is strengthened throughout the game. You don't realize at first what the story is playing at until your radio contact with her is temporarily cut off, and you suddenly feel desperately lonely, just you and the wilderness and absolutely no idea what to do with yourself. This ties in beautifully with the game's story, and there's a very complex system of using the story, Henry's isolation - both emotionally and physically - and his dependence on Delilah to really drive home the drama at the heart of the story, which I won't spoil here.

Game play wise, there's not much to is. There's no chance of dying or failing, there's no danger other than what's scripted into the story, and there's no real challenge. You walk and climb around the forest, occasionally threatening irresponsible teens who are lighting off fireworks, collecting litter, or investigating noises or plumes of smoke. Objectives are entirely linear, not radiant, but you are free to wander the map in any direction, to any section that is not blocked off, at any time. The game play is simply traversing the map and choosing dialogue options. There are optional collectibles, such as books, you can carry back to your Lookout Tower and stack on the shelf, but they offer no reward or inventive of any kind. Just something you CAN do.

The sound is very well done. The music is beautiful, tense at times, relaxing at others. The voice work, as I said, is phenomenal - absolutely top notch voice acting. It sounds and feels very natural and real.

The graphics are good. There's a cartoon, cell-shaded art style reminiscent of Team Fortress 2 that definitely makes the game appear more artsy than it actually is, but it doesn't detract from the mature themes of the story in any way at all.

You can finish the game in roughly 4 hours. Whether or not you agree to the $20 price tag is up to you.

I don't see much replay value here, but I was thoroughly engaged the entire time through. The story seems to fizzle out by the end, leaving a few major happenings totally up in the air - although there is an attempt to explain it, I just don't fully buy it. There may be some things I missed, the ending may be somewhat ambiguous for a reason, but it just felt strange to me that the story takes a major deviation from Henry's internal emotional conflict during the middle portion to bring up a completely unrelated mystery, then wraps that up rather bluntly and returns to Henry's conflict at the very end with little payoff. Maybe intentional, maybe not.

So while the story IS excellent in terms of presentation, the ending may be disappointing. It certainly does leave you guessing and thinking, and maybe that was the point.

8/10, rent, borrow, maybe buy if you want to pay $20 for 4 hours of engaging story with superb dialogue and then never play again.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2016, 11:17:00 AM by 00XJ »