Firewatch (PC) Review

By Adam Riley 06.03.2017 8

Review for Firewatch on PC

There are all manner of intriguing experiences coming out of the woodwork nowadays, as developers strive to bring gamers something fresh and exciting, whilst smaller teams are finding the encouragement (and sometimes funding from various backers) to share ideas that may otherwise have been shelved completely or, if actually coming to fruition, simply overlooked because they were seen as being too leftfield back in the past. Not all of these turn out to be as impressive as hoped, sadly, with a recent disappointment being the gorgeously presented, yet ultimately weak in terms of story, All the Delicate Duplicates, but how about last year's much-hyped Firewatch? How does that stack up, looking back at it now?

There is a new genre being bandied about - that of the 'Walking Simulator.' It is a strange expression for gaming, making titles that fall under that header sound like tiresome treks with no real purpose. Firewatch is classified as that, by some quarters, but not here at Cubed3. In this team, Firewatch is actually listed as a true marvel in storytelling through the medium of videogames. That has a better ring to it, right? Well, it is not mere buttering up, it is indeed definitely justified. Those that delve into the prose that is dished out whilst wandering around a National Park in control of a newly appointed 'fire watch' park ranger, Henry - who, for reasons kept to himself, needs to get away from the distress of his wife becoming ill early in life and no longer remembering him - will realise how well written this tale is, and how engrossed they will become in the tale after just a short time.

Screenshot for Firewatch on PC

On his sabbatical from general life, all he has for company is the detached voice of his new boss, Delilah, spoken to via a walkie-talkie, and the vast expanse ahead of him that needs to be carefully managed. The game takes place over various days, sometimes skipping ahead after certain events have transpired, and those in control start to grow increasingly attached to Henry and his vocal companion, becoming embroiled in the "will-they, won't-they" aspect of the relationship with Delilah. How that pans out during the story is entirely user-controlled - or so it seems - with the option of whether or not to confide in her, all the while having to dealing with pesky kids littering the park, discovering underground areas that are blocked from access, coming across various mysterious events over time, getting attacked by unseen assailants, and more.

Explore, explore, explore, whilst uncovering sub-plots (like notes left by previous rangers, or potential deaths or disappearances that may or may not have occurred in previous summers) - that is the core gameplay element, with Henry able to gather only a few useful items throughout, rather than this being a point-and-click adventure style affair, with a massive inventory. Henry gathers the core essentials, such as rope for abseiling down steep rock faces, or an axe to clear away overgrowth, and that is all that is required. The majority of other 'stuff' found around the park is either there for inspection only, or to pocket and inspect later on. It is highly compelling work, and there is a temptation to build up your own version of how the end-game will play out, with it shaped by the gamer themselves, depending on how deep they want to delve into the world.

Screenshot for Firewatch on PC

So many conversational choices, such an open-ended world to wandering around in, many secrets to stumble upon - Firewatch is a tantalising prospect for anyone wanting to get away from the world and experience someone else's virtual existence.

Surely there must be a catch, though? Is there something that lets everything down? Well, it all depends on how you look at it, since the decisions made throughout bear no relevance to how the adventure concludes. None at all. Those that feel aggrieved in certain Telltale adventures when the decision trees actually prove to have no consequence on how proceedings unfold will realise that at least some of their choices mean something in those games. Here, however, there are a mere two ways that it can all go at the very end, and both options stem from the very final action, rather than from the plethora of decisions made during the hours of journeying. Major disappointment ensues, fits of rage undoubtedly from some sectors of the community, and there is the temptation to rip this apart and score it three out of ten, purely down to feeling like the developer just pushed you to the ground and gave a short, sharp jab with their collective feet to the midriff.

Screenshot for Firewatch on PC

However, taking a step back, the outcome was always pre-determined anyway - Delilah gives off hints throughout that although she is a little on the flirtatious side, she never wants Henry to venture too close to her Watch Tower, telling him in no uncertain terms to not find a way across…for the entirety of the summer they spend together. It is crystal clear - she wants nothing more than a close friendship to pass the time, and that becoming closer to Henry gives a feeling that something might happen, she keeps him at bay.

As the credits roll, taking that step back and letting the weight of the story wash over you - the actuality of it all - it suddenly becomes apparent how smart the writing was to even invoke such a knee-jerk reaction. Campo Santo catches everyone that plays - grabbing them hook, line, and sinker - and it is the sort of experience that will be talked about long after completion, which is, ultimately, 'objective complete' on the developer's part. Well done, well done indeed.

Screenshot for Firewatch on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Do not let the ending put you off Firewatch, nor let the talk of 'Walking Simulator' give any sort of preconceived notion of this being boring. What has been delivered is one of the most engaging narrative experiences in recent times, draped beautifully over a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, with plenty of scope for going back to uncover more details, finding new conversation avenues, and stumbling upon all manner of intriguing information not seen the first time round. Yes, it may be disappointing that decisions do not affect the actual ending, but they affect how the story pans out during the journey, and it will indeed leave a long lasting impression on all who play through, something that many 'normal' games cannot boast.

Developer

Campo Santo Games

Publisher

Campo Santo Games

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Loved this game. Another one of those short and sweet ones I'm glad I experienced. Have to admit I was one of those disappointed in the ending. Just like Life is Strange (which I was heavily emotionally invested in, and hurt me more in that one), you're planted with two decisions in how the ending plays out, which are presented whether you like it or not, disregarding all other options you made. It left a bitter taste there, and it sort of did here too, but the actual game and writing itself, including the voice acting, was excellent. Henry was such a likeable a guy. Glad I made sure to play this one.

Seriously, after the ending, I was in rage mode and wanted to rip this to pieces...but I came back a few days later, calmer, more reflective, and scrapped the original review. You can still sense a slight touch of bitterness in it, but I tried to think back to why I'd been so bothered by the ending...and it was because I'd enjoyed the rest of the game, the writing and acting, so much.

It'd be disappointing if they don't plan to port this elsewhere. It would be great to play in portable mode on Switch, for instance.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Same thing with Life is Strange. I was so damn invested in the characters that it was difficult not to be pissed off after it all. I gave myself time after LiS too, and I actually gained solace from the fan theories and comics some were producing that let us take the post-game story to good places. Helped to appreciate what I did love about the journey then, and how it took something special to get me in the emotional state I was with it. Same sorta thing with this, I guess.

Would be nice for an adventure choice-based game to get things spot-on in the finale for once tho lol.

Yeah, seems odd that newer games are missing the mark with endings. Maybe devs are getting lazier, or perhaps they think gamers either don't care, or won't really notice. Maybe you and I are in the minority group, and for devs to spend extra time making different avenues in games just to please the few isn't worth it Smilie

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

I think LiS had a few issues in the end, rushing to get that last chapter out, and it impacted things. It was supposedly leaked that a third ending was gonna be in place, and the devs said they couldn't put in everything they wanted in the end. But I would have to look more into that to be sure.

I just think it's actually difficult to create something where all your actions have a major effect in the end, and devs are just preferring to go with the illusion you're having an influence.

To be fair, throughout some of these games, choices do affect what happens on the journey, but they still follow a core path, so results are limited, especially when it comes to endings. I can't imagine the work involved to account for all possibilities, but I would prefer more choice in endings if that's the case, with core decisions affecting how we get there and what happens, even if we have to skip over a few minor things. Hell, with LiS, I would have settled for artwork stills for the results of my decisions on top of the fixed endings in the end.

I often wonder about games that boast multiple endings. Do gamers really go back and play through multiple times to find every different version of the finale? I know the answer is "yes" some do, but I wonder about the ratio between those that will invest the time sink into trying everything again, but in a slightly different manner, and those that just go "Meh, done now, onto the next thing!" because of their busy lives / short attention span / etc.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

I guess that depends on the game, the story, and the sorts of potential endings offered. If it was known that choices could drastically affect the outcomes of endings, I think many would replay to get the ones they want. Probably not the majority, mind - I think it's standard that most people don't return to a game once they're done with it.

However, LiS has and still is advertised as having "multiple endings depending on the choices you make," which is frankly bullshit. I wouldn't mind if they were clear about it, but that is quite clearly false advertisement. I'm surprised that's still up there on the game page on the PS Store.

Ah, I didn't realise that. At least with Firewatch, for instance, the developer has come out and been as clear as possible about it.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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