Being from New England, going on long hikes isn’t something unfamiliar. Playing a game where you go on a long hike? That’s new. Campo Santos’ new game Firewatch is beautiful and refreshing. Its simple gameplay makes the casual experience feel very much like a walk in the park and its stylized environment as well as its impeccable character acting make this a must play for anyone looking for a change of pace. However, though beautiful, the simplistic setting can sometimes come off as unpolished and the lack of things to do when getting from point A to B makes the game feel easy and flat-out boring at points.
You play as a ranger who has just undergone dramatic life changes and is looking to get away from it all. The narrative is very well done and you are pulled into the story quickly through some immediate tough choices. From the start its hits home with some emotional stuff. By the time you take on your first day at Shoshone National Forest your understanding of what your character has been through helps guide your decisions right away. Most of the decisions you’ll be making are how to communicate with Delilah; she helps guide you through your time at the national forest over a radio and is the only company out there in the wild. She is also the best thing about this game.
Because of how little there is to do, communicating with Delilah becomes one of the main sources of enjoyment you get out of the game. Slowly uncovering what it is she’s about and helping to build your character’s relationship with her quickly becomes more fun than the objectives themselves and vastly more interesting. There seem like so many missed opportunities for simple things. In the game there are supply boxes spread throughout the map and they each have a lock. However you learn almost immediately that they all have the exact same combination. While amusing as a one-off gag, it comes at the cost of there being literally no challenge and you’ll find yourself questioning their necessity. Finding them wouldn’t be the proper word – they aren’t hidden at all and you find them along the path that will wind up progressing the story anyway.
Traversing the terrain also quickly becomes dull as you realize there are not very many obstacles to overcome and it’s basically just one long walk. Even items don’t seem to have much purpose other than being able to pick them up and look at them. This game could have benefited hugely from even just a small and simple crafting system – possibly using items you can find in the wild and fashion into medicine and supplies.
What is holding this game up is its story and voice acting. You care so much so quickly about the main character and find yourself really just wanting him to be happy. There is also plenty of mystery as you try to locate rowdy teens whose camp you find destroyed and have an odd encounter with a random man out in the wilderness. The mystery is driven even deeper when Delilah sometimes seems as if she is not telling the whole truth about the park and everything that goes on there. The game does a great job at keeping up conversation between the two and the dialogue is always witty and light. Just don’t start to pry to hard to find the truth or get too sharp with her – you might find yourself cut off for a little while as she’ll get annoyed with you.
Overall Firewatch is a great game if you are looking for a change of pace to the AAA games being published right now. It deliberate in its message, unique in its look, and has an immaculately written story. However, its lack of depth in gameplay and sometimes-unpolished look and feel make it hard to get through at points and truly boring in others.