The cracking embers and hazy smoke is surrounding us as we march diligently to our escape chopper. We’re not sure exactly what’s happened or what’s at stake, but we are certainly sad to be leaving this serene national park. That’s an achievement in and of itself considering the game only had about four hours to impress us before its conclusion. Here’s our review of Firewatch.
So far 2016 seems to be the year of the “Walking Simulators.” In January we saw the release of the much anticipated and wildly disappointing Witness which allowed you to walk all over a pristinely designed but ultimately nugatory island. Recently we reviewed a new horror game, Layers of Fear, that allows you to wander all over an unreliable haunted house that was visually surprising albeit replete with game breaking bugs and limited interactivity. Firewatch is yet another entry to this genre that focuses more on storytelling and the captivating artwork of Olly Moss to deliver its experience rather than gameplay, puzzles, or scares.
The story picks up with Henry, a man in a tragically failing marriage due to Alzheimers in search of an escape from his reality, as he takes on a summer job at a fictional national park to, well, watch for fires. Equipped primarily with a radio that allows him to contact his one and only friend in the game, Delilah, in her central watch tower, you’re tasked with patrolling the woods and reporting back anything you find.
Gameplay is restricted primarily to wandering and basic interactivity with game objects; the same fumble core mechanics you’ve seen in other Unity games like Surgeon Simulator or Octodad although it’s just a small byproduct of real time physics in Unity and not the core idea. Story takes center stage though as Mad Men’s Rich Sommer voices the reluctant Henry who is clearly as uncomfortable with the increasingly more bizarre events happening in the park as he is with his own personal life. Most of it works however you’ll no doubt feel let down by the final reveals that are both hard to hear and overall underwhelming.
Regardless, compared to some other recent games in the genre or the unbearable Everyone’s Gone to Rapture, Firewatch is actually a good experience we’d recommend.
The game starts out stronger than you’d expect. We found the text-based introduction to be captivating and heartbreaking at once and Henry’s early experiences in the park confronting skinny dippers and encountering the mysterious hiker hold so much promise. Olly Moss’s colorful and full forest also makes a treat to wander around the wilderness.
What Doesn’t Work:
The game can’t deliver on the mysteries it presents early on. We can appreciate misdirection and a simplistic antagonist, but with no confrontation or ending to speak of, you will inevitably be disappointed when you realize you’ve hit the ending.
Overall: Good But Skippable
- You Should Buy It – Not to be missed, grab it now at any cost!
- You Oughta Rent It – If you got money to burn, go for it, otherwise seek ye a Redbox
- Good But Skippable – A quality title but not unique enough to merit your hard earned dollars
- Fun For a While – Buyer beware, this game may disappoint you
- Not Worth Your Time – Oh dear God how does this thing exist?
Disagree with our review? Let us know in the comments below!