Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Microreview [video game]: Firewatch by Campo Santo

Controlled Burn

I was going to buy Firewatch no matter what it turned out to be. I've been a listener of the Idle Thumbs podcast since shortly after it started, following Chris Remo from when he was an editor at Shacknews. I love the insightful discussions the Idle Thumbs crew has every week. When the bulk of them joined together to form Campo Santo, I was instantly onboard for whatever game they would make together. "What is Firewatch?" was never a relevant question to me. I'm glad to report that, now that I know what Firewatch is, it's rather good, if a little pedestrian.

You play Firewatch as Henry, a volunteer fire lookout in Wyoming in 1988. You're in Shoshone National Park to look out for fires (obviously), and get away from your life for an indeterminate amount of time. Your boss, Delilah, is in the next tower over, and you communicate with her through your walkie-talkie over the course of the game.

Let's get this out of the way first: Firewatch is a first-person, narrative-driven adventure game. A "walking simulator", if you must, comparable to Gone Home, but set outdoors with more walking to do, but not necessarily more to see. The game is to listen to and talk to Delilah, "solve" a mystery, and get lost in the woods. You have a map, so getting lost is on you, and the mystery is revealed in whole by the time you get far enough in the game, so the bulk of the game rests on Henry and Delilah.

What it does best is that interaction between Henry and Delilah. Over the course of the game, you learn a lot about each other and it's wonderfully voice acted and well written. As Henry, you have a little bit of control over your voice. Many of your responses to Delilah are multiple choice, some with wildly different tones. There's a multiple choice prologue that sort of acts as a mad libs for your own Henry, but your choices don't necessarily change the story in radical ways. Some dialog might be a little snark-heavy, but that's also a choice of the player. Delilah and Henry are great, and Firewatch is non-existent without them

Though it's a short game (3.5 hours by my count), it's difficult to put down once you start. I didn't intend on playing through it all on release day, but as soon as I stopped, I would think about getting right back in to see what the next day brings. The game parts are a little anemic, and the ending abrupt, but the storytelling, character building, and the environments are all fantastic. It's a game that will give you something to think about for at least as long as it takes to play.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 Henry and Delilah's complex relationship

Penalties: -1 don't expect a lot of puzzle solving or action

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 (well worth your time and attention)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Campo Santo. Firewatch [Panic Inc, 2016]