+Beautifully crafted story and characters
+Graphics used are perfect for the game offering a departure from hyper-realism
+The use of colors is a superb choice from lush greens to vibrant oranges
+Story will break hearts and cause tears
–Only characters actually seen in the game? Are a body and well your own character
–Very, very short for 19.99 USD
There’s a point where I’ve begun to tell people that games can’t connect to us on a singular emotional level. That we are bound by our human nature into letting our minds play the tricks on us that we need. Want a good scare? Good. Go play games like Slender, Dead Space, DOOM 3 BFG, Outlast or any other disturbing game out there on the market. You’ll get the few cheap thrills you need to make your skin crawl. While being fearful is a natural emotion for us, so is the idea that it derives from our brains impulses to be scared. In ways, that is how we connect to some of the games we do. But the game I’ve decided to take on through my own wallet is not a game that derives from the use of fear or even the subtle hint of violence, but instead it derives from the heart. For me, it is rare that games can connect on an emotional level. Sure the death scene of Sniper Wolf in Metal Gear Solid worked up a few solid tears. If you’ve ever seen movies like Disney Pixar’s UP! or even the same companies film Inside Out, you already know the opening is going to hit you with an emotional punch. That’s what happened with Firewatch.
For many of you, you know the game just came out on Steam and PlayStation 4. You also know that the game is a rather story-driven, first person title, set in the year 1989. The game was developed by Campo Santo, and published by Panic. Panic being a Microsoft Studio, makes it interesting to let us even see the game hit PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One. In this title by Campo Santo, we take on the role of Henry, and overweight, bearded guy who is running away from his life. His problem becomes very real and one for many people to easily touch with. His getaway from these problems? A fire watchtower in the middle of the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. Henry isn’t the guy you’d expect him to be, with the voice talent of Rich Sommer in the place, we get a character whom has a deep,but gentle voice, one that is emotionally touched and leads us to believe Henry could be a very real person. For many of you, you may be stating in the back of your head that there is no way this could be your typical video game lead character. In truth? I’d agree with you to some extent, but not all of it.
For many of us, we get to take on the knowledge that Henry is a white, able-bodied, and male lead. One that has a bit of extra meat on him, but likes to take his long afternoon and morning hikes while doing his job as a Firewatch. At his side? We get his Firewatch leader, Delilah. Henry fortunately isn’t a character we can attribute to characters like Isaac Clark of Deadspace or even Jason Brody from Fallout 3. Instead? He’s just your average Joe, which lets us feel like we could know him in person. That’s where this games charm takes place.
Firewatch’s true charm isn’t the fact that our character is just running from his problems outside of what he is doing. It’s the fact that Henry is story driven when working with Delilah while exploring the National park. With the graphics being as stylized as they are, it didn’t take long to see why almost anyone could play this game, even people with a moderately low end PC. If you have either or just a PS4? You’ll be getting the maximum capacity out of the title when it comes to graphical prowess, which helps feed the games experience. The experience is unique as we trek through the woods, one where we find our characters discussing the reasons as to why they are even doing their job. Why the forest is the way it is and even discussing as to why Henry isn’t back home with his wife. While the narrative is rather immersive, the real charm as stated isn’t just our character development we get. Sure we have two very realistic characters, both featuring amazing voice talent and even chemistry, but we also get the idea that these two could be people we’ve known all our lives and just never really got to know.
While there were moments I found myself chuckling at the snarky conversations and the plot twists, I did find myself commonly wandering the simple thing – why didn’t we ever get to really see Delilah, but instead wandered mindlessly through the forests while trying to stop people from starting fires, uncovering age-old mysteries, and even finding missing persons letters? While the different landscapes are charming, and beautiful, the wildlife itself seemed lonesome; fire watchers must be a rather lonely bunch. If it wasn’t for the radios they keep on their person in order to communicate.
As stated, much of our story comes to life through our characters Henry and Delilah, Delilah being voiced by Cissy Jones (Fallout 4’s Doctor Duff, The Wolf Among Us). We get the idea her character is a veteran fire watcher. One that has been there for some time and has even gotten to know the other watchers that have come in and out of the watch tower Henry has been assigned to. One that offers a very different scenery than his home back in Boulder, Colorado. While one would expect to see other people, our only human contact comes down to Delilah outside of the set of girls we get to rudely interrupt while they are swimming in the park causing trouble as usual. While the two girls offer a few chuckles, both Delilah and Henry (sometimes called Hank by Delilah), offer us an emotional spiral as the story tension begins to spike due to the events taking place. Some of it can be from her being genuinely upset by the choices made or even the fact that she has completely stressed out. Regardless, the game gives players a genuine since of anguish as we tug at her emotional strings. This is where the game finds its central lifeline anchored in; it’s only then do you realize just how important Delilah is to the Firewatch title.
When it comes to interaction choices with Delilah between each day on the radio, players are given a chance to pick their responses. These responses do matter and are critical to the character development, but also as to how Henry and her get to their endpoint. So time does matter as do your decisions. Miss something that may be an important part? Your conversations can change drastically as she may take your version of Hanks silence as an insult. Even then there is a chance she could just sign off her radio, and go silent for the day. This time leaving you to your devices. Like any game, however, it’s hard not to see that Firewatch starts off normally. Delilah works as your supervisor. From there she gives you a few tasks at hand to help clean up the park or patrol, only to eventually have you move carefully across the park in order to investigate things going on while learning both characters back stories all the while.
Viewing past this trailer contains spoilers. Reader discretion advised.
Firewatch – PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC, and Linux
Developer: Campo Santo
Cost: 19.99 USD
Release Date: Now Available
What makes Firewatch unique isn’t just how the game deals with love, loss, and new friendship; instead it deals with being human. Making human choices. These choices are kicked off by us finding out that Henry’s wife is sick with Alzheimer’s. She has gotten to the point that she barely recognizes him. So to escape from her worsening condition he has taken up the job to help out at this park. In turn our character development takes the biggest twist when two young women go missing. Fires start and Delilah becomes Henry’s new interest based upon the choices you make. All the while she helps him come to terms with what is happening and giving him the idea that maybe, just maybe, he should stop running from his troubles in order to take care of his ailing wife. While many could frown upon the idea of infidelity towards his marriage, we are given characters that are unique, human, and are flawed instead of perfect. Their flaws are what makes their story twist around so perfectly as both characters secrets get flushed out closer and closer to the end. While the ending itself, based upon your choices, may offer a bit of an emotional punch to the heart as players find themselves in Delilah’s watch tower awaiting rescue as a raging fire tears through the park.
While the game does offer unique twists upon missing teen girls, the last firewatcher who was in your tower that just suddenly disappeared, and even the notion that the park in Firewatch truly has the mysteries it does. That being said, Firewatch is a gem, one that Campo Santo has carefully crafted to give players a taste of what true gaming can be like when stepping away from all the blood, the gore, and violence in order to tap into a true human existence. It’s hard to say that I’m not one that hasn’t played games a few times over. In truth I found myself sucked into for more than one playthrough just to see how diverse Delilah and Henry could be and I wasn’t shocked to see that the choices change their dynamics tremendously. If there is an appraisal, it’s the fact that Firewatch is unique, it is carefully crafted, and offers a very real human interaction through emotional aspects. This leads Campo Santo’s Firewatch to be one of the best stories I’ve played in years.
Firewatch is out for Windows, Mac, LINUX, and PlayStation 4 at an affordable 19.99 USD.
Our review is based upon the final version that the publisher provided us with. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter, Google+, and or you can find him on PSN with RaivynLyken.