Firewatch - Review
Looking for games other than ones focusing mainly on cool fights and action sequences led me to one of the most beautiful looking game with an experience that lingers long after it is over. Firewatch developed by Campo Santo is an exciting expedition which plucks the right chords with its great appeal in every aspect of a game.
You embark this power journey with a splendid array of dialogues with occasional decision making choices which though takes a different route, end up on the same note. These set of questions are inter-cut with scenes of you walking up the forest and introduces the basic mechanics fairly well. This sets the premise of the game and the characters, making me feel connected to the protagonist, with the music and visuals only accentuating this feature
You are Henry living a happy life with your wife Julia who develops dementia. Circumstances make her move in with her parents or to a care facility depending on the choices you make. She starts recognizing you less and less and you continue to go in a downward spiral of sadness. You take a job as a forest fire lookout in Shoshone National Park, Wyoming for some alone time in your watch tower which is the starting point of the game. That idea is short-lived as you find out the mysteries of this forest surrounding you and your boss Delilah. Your only means of communication is through a walkie talkie radio which suffices for the time being but gradually made me want to go beyond it. The conversations between you and Delilah is powerful and engaging leaving me wanting for more. The dialogue choices let me choose the way I wanted Henry and Delilah’s relationship to be. Delilah is friendly and approachable from the beginning which provides a great fit for the initially grumpy and serious Henry. The game gave me ample events to shape out the protagonist’s character and his relationship with Delilah. Simple events like forest fire or even a great vista prompts up the radio icon on screen to interact with your only companion. I slowly started craving more of such prompts as each one of them expand on the character, their back-story and the game. You ultimately discover the reason for the weird happenings encircling you and Delilah. The amazing build-up that it creates ultimately fails to pay-off as the ending is anti-climactic (not in a good way) and certain things just don’t add up. But after you remove the expectation of something big, then the ending doesn't seem that bad at all. In fact, it made me feel sad and disheartened. The brilliant voice performance makes it an empathetic and plausible experience. The disparate choices made me replay the game just to see the difference that it will bring into the life of Henry. Except the questionable ending, the writing of this game is at its best.
The gameplay is quite simple and there are not a load of mechanics to choose from. Simple mechanics involving hiking like climbing and rappelling are introduced aptly. You explore the forest with the help of a map and a compass. You also find a flash light, camera and an axe later in the game, but their use aren't quite as extensive. Although it gets a bit difficult to navigate in the national park due to the lack of clear pathways but nothing which frequent map references couldn't fix. Things like a different path which can easily be accessible just by simply climbing a rock are not possible which makes it feels a bit rigid. The movement seemed awkward to me on certain rocky terrains. These are insignificant compared to the pros of this game but worth mentioning. Almost all the destinations have multiple paths leading to it which blends well with the genre. Radio is frequently used as the icon prompts up in most of the things around you giving you ample opportunity to make conversation. The gameplay is simple, intuitive and does justice to the player.
The complete game has a stylized look with the character's fingers reminding me of various Disney film's protagonists especially ‘Up’. The colour palette chosen looks and feels great and I often found myself glaring at the setting in awe. The environment is lush with different kinds of trees and bushes. They could've certainly added some wildlife other than the deer making once in a blue moon appearances. But come to think about it, this certainly adds to the sense of isolation that the game is based around. The game has a night-day cycle and tasks are performed in almost every time of the day though most of the game was in tones of orange – yellow depicting sunset/sunrise. They have made sure to not let the player miss out on one of the strongest aspect of the game, its immensely pleasing aesthetics.
The sound design of this game increases its capability to be evocative of the feeling it aims for. It is subtle and does its job on spot. It would be injustice to this game to not talk about its voice performance. It has undoubtedly one of the best performances in the history of video games. It feels natural and believable so much so that I found myself deeply immersed in the game as Henry growing fond of Delilah. The exceptional performance and the simple yet effective dialogues of this game is what leads to the suspension of disbelief quite convincingly.
All in all Firewatch is a fantastic well-rounded game delivering what a game promises to and that is a powerful experience. With its grasping storyline, stellar voice-acting and appealing visuals, this game has the traits of one of the best games of 2016. I give it a solid 9 out of 10 for its impressive repertoire.