By The Colonel
When you initially come across Firewatch, it will probably stand out to you, like it did with me. What with its beautiful and charming aesthetic, and its mysterious teaser trailers that hint at the story to come. So, you’re interested, but do you continue and make the choice to buy the game? Well let me explain if you should or shouldn’t.
2016’s Firewatch has a world that is something to behold, but only at first glance. It’s a work of art on the surface and holds some mysteries and secrets underneath that artistic, lush frontier. But how deep does it go?
You play Henry, a character with a past, and come into contact with few people along your journey in your new summer job. What happens along the way, is not really up to your in-game movements but rather your dialogue choices. You play through the eyes of a single character, you feel lonely, you feel connection through technology even out in the middle of the wilderness. While the element of choice is a modern staple in today’s games, some games only provide the illusion of it, for the sake of offering a better story. Firewatch’s story pulls you in, but abruptly pulls you out.
But don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like about Firewatch. The characters, if even for brief moments, offer its shining moments. It does build tension and mystery through character, which is hard to find in gaming and movies nowadays. Dialogue drops interesting ideas of what you think the direction of the plot is going, or relationship tension under the stress of isolation and real-life themes of growing old and falling apart. I found the introduction to the game to be the most emotionally heavy. Overall this game may warrant at least one more playthrough with its limited choices.
Gameplay wise, is nothing special, and pacing of the game is mostly hand holding with linear missions. You are left to explore things to a degree and make decisions as you want within the confines of the plot, but there are no plot altering consequences as like The Walking Dead TellTale series does, something that this game could’ve been more like.
Firewatch does well to establish setting, but backtracking and repetition in environment leads to finding myself drudging on, like a hike that has gone on for too long. Interaction with the world can be narrowed down to disguised QuickTime events, and freedom to take pictures using a camera.
You never feel lost in Firewatch; which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Game design shows you where to go so you don’t go in circles, but modern open world game design now encourages the player to go out and get lost in the world, something I didn’t find myself doing, but wanted to do. Branches and stones block the paths I wanted to travel, which is a symbol in how the game is carried out – stay on the path, because nothing else is really offered.
Like a lot of games out there, Firewatch made an impact in what it got right, and that is mainly its setting. Awe striking visuals oozing with unique aesthetic, sounds off in the distance that make you feel like someone is following you, and a true feeling of being vulnerable, alone, and connected with nature. Walking around in the open world is a treat which you unlock by completing the story. And with that one initial feature alone, the setting hooked me in and grabbed my attention, but not for long.
Firewatch hooks you in with its mysterious teaser, quirky dialogue, and beautiful aesthetic, but what you get feels like a rushed, hand holding, and unfinished game. Overall it ends to quickly in a world that should’ve allowed you to explore on your own, instead you’re left backtracking with only new dialogue choices to spark the variety. Instead of exploring and finding your own path, you move the narrative along through a hiking simulator. If there were more subplots or additional “chapters” like the standard of games like these, this would have been forgiven.
You can wrap things up in a nice package by add emotional music and touching themes of contemporary issues to hide the lack of content, but at the end of the day, gamers want content content content and more content. Firewatch could’ve been so much more. With more thoughout puzzles, more open-ended plot discovery, and even a coop mode where one player is in the supporting role. Now if there was a promise of more chapters to come, or even DLC, it would be worth paying what you did, but $10 for 3 hours is simply not enough to warrant that purchase.
As a first outing for an indie game studio, Firewatch is ok, but nothing special. It’s a few hours and a good play for those gamers on a tight schedule, but only worth it at max if it drops to $4 or $5 dollars. Even if you feel that was a waste, you might feel better if you think of it as supporting the devs to iterate and expand on what could’ve been. Overall, I’d say don’t buy it.
Watch out for Firewatch on sale in a year or so, otherwise don’t waste your time.