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Firewatch Review

publisher: Campo Santo
developer: Campo Santo
genre: Adventure

OS: Windows 7 or higher 64bit Processor: Intel Core i3 2.00 GHz or AMD equ
ESRB rating: T

release date: Feb 09, 15
» All About Firewatch on ActionTrip

February 15, 2016

Firewatch has had considerable hype since the game was announced, as like The Witness or even No Man’s Sky, much of it has been clouded in mystery. The game’s developer, Campo Santo, even created a hashtag for #WhatisFirewatch to keep the mystery and the excitement growing. All that was revealed was that it starred a protagonist, Henry, as he mans a fire lookout in the Shoshone region of the Wyoming Rockies. His only form of communication is through a hand radio to his boss. We’ve never been sure if he fights fires or simply watches for them, but the game did hint that Henry would have to solve a perplexing mystery in his Two Forks lookout while exploring the woods. I love exploration games involving a mystery, so where can I sign up?

From the beginning, the player is treated as to why Henry is watching fires in the first place. It doesn’t sound like the most entertaining job now, does it? The story is presented as a text-based game where the player chooses how Henry responds to different situations. The end result is practically the same no matter which route you choose, which, given the gravity of the backstory, makes you wonder if your decisions even matter. However, the first time playing it through will undoubtedly form a small lump in your throat as Henry’s life pushes him into solitude in Wyoming. And yet, as heart-squeezing as these first few minutes are, they almost seem irrelevant throughout the game, even at the very end when Henry’s summer excursion comes to an end.

After the tugging at the heartstrings, Henry gets acquainted with his new summer job as a fire lookout. His boss, Delilah, talks to him over his hand radio and teaches him everything needs to know and sends him on little errands. For example, on his first day, he has to go stop some drunk teenagers from shooting off fireworks and potentially causing a forest fire. All Delilah tells him is that he has to go to the lake, and he has a map and compass on his possession. Players will constantly check the map and compass to ensure they are going in the right direction, as the paths twist and fork and it’s easy to get turned around in the woods. Even though the map unrealistically marks Henry’s location like a good little video game should do, players will use both the map and compass as navigation tools often as if they were, themselves, hiking around wilderness. If nothing else, one cannot deny that Firewatch deeply instills that feeling of hiking in unfamiliar woods with no cell phone or GPS unit to help you find your way.

At the end of Henry’s first day, the big mystery starts to reveal itself. Someone else is in the woods, and he’s watching Henry watch for fires. He’s following him, stalking Henry’s conversations with Delilah, and then there’s a matter of a random chain-link fence blocking of a substantial area that shouldn’t be there. It has all the makings of a great mystery, even though it unfortunately takes awhile to pick up enough steam to grab the player’s attention. Also just as unfortunate, when the big revelation behind the mystery occurs, it’s not half as dramatic as it was led on to be. My exact response to the climax and the following ending was, “That’s it?” And then I started to wonder what the point was for the beginning backstory, as none of that mattered in my playthrough.

That said, however, I can see how the game will shift in tone and perhaps make that beginning more meaningful, depending upon how the player chooses to speak with Delilah. Whenever she hails on the radio, Henry has a few options for how to retort. He can be witty, he can be flirtatious, and he can be a complete asshole. He can pour his heart out to Delilah about his life story, and he can wall her out completely. As such, he can work with her to figure out who is messing with them and why, or he can simply use her and discard her to fend for herself. Many times, he can opt to not speak to her at all, and he can ignore her entirely if she tries to spark a random conversation. I played the opening backstory a couple of times to see if what I made Henry do change his reason why he joined the fire watch, but I did not play the game in full more than once. From how my own playthrough went, I can see that how Henry talks to Delilah and how much he opens up to her can alter a bit how the tone of the game runs as well as how the final conversation goes. As such, these conversations with Delilah are most likely rather crucial to how the game flows overall.

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7.0   Good

Gorgeous setting, captivating atmosphere, and a fairly large world to explore;

Mystery not as deep or dramatic as suggested, story takes too long to become intriguing, intro doesn't seem necessary most of the time, and choices made will affect most of the necessity and sense-making of the overall story.


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