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Hope. Despair. Laughter. Tears. Firewatch is a game that is going to make you feel something, but what you feel will depend on how forgiving you are.
Firewatch is a first-person experience game that puts you in the middle of the Wyoming forest as Henry, a fire lookout. Your only connection to the outside world is a handheld radio and on the other end of the radio is your supervisor Delilah. You can chat with Delilah at almost any time, and the two of you work together to solve a mystery going on in the forest around you. There are a number of dialogue choices as Henry, and no matter what I chose, the discussions between the characters was authentic and genuine. Indeed, Firewatch has some of the finest writing I have experienced in a video game.
A big reason the writing feels so natural is the excellent voice acting. Rich Sommer (who you may know from Mad Men) and Cissy Jones (who has done a number of other video games) deliver memorable performances. I immediately liked these characters, and before too long, cared about them. I was able to finish Firewatch in two sittings, and the driving force behind this was the desire to know what happened to these two characters. The time I spent with them felt like two friends telling me a story, and I wish they had another story to tell me.
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Visually the game is stunning. Olly Moss was able to create a world that I wanted to spend time in. I would occasionally wander the wrong direction when I started the game (the map and compass can take a bit getting used to) but I didn’t care. I wanted to fully explore wherever the game would let me go and take in the beautiful landscape around me. The only thing that stuck out to me was how little wildlife there was in the game. For being in the wilderness, there were not many animals. I do not know if this was intentional to increase the feeling of isolation (if so, it worked) but I would have enjoyed a few more furry friends.
From a gameplay perspective Firewatch was solid. Navigation was a bit hard for me at first, but by the end of the game I rarely needed to check my map and used landmarks to find my way. Otherwise everything else worked well and I was able to complete most any task with ease. There is a decent amount of backtracking, which I didn’t mind, but I would have preferred additional wilderness to explore. As the game progressed I was able to open up alternative routes between areas, which was nice, but I was so hooked by the narrative at that point, I only wanted to do activities that pushed the story forward.
The largest downfall for me was the game chugged quite a bit on PS4. The framerate drops were regular and noticeable. Campo Santo said they are aware of the issue and working with Sony and Unity to get things smoothed out, I just wish that had been done prior to launch. I also had one instance of the game locking up and having to go to the home screen, quit the application, and restart the game. Firewatch has regular auto-saving, so I only lost a few minutes of progress, but it happened at a very critical point in the story, which really took me out of the experience. Another small nitpick for me is the trophies. While I am not a trophy hunter, the list in the game is pretty disappointing, especially since there are so many cool, unique things they could have done.
Overall, I liked my time with Firewatch. It has a few technical problems, and the end of the game is a bit divisive. Still, I would be happy to go on another adventure with Henry and Delilah, or whatever Campo Santo chooses to go next.
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