After a wait of over two years we finally have our hands on the final build version of Campo Santo studios Indie title Firewatch. Drawn in by the Pixar like artistic landscapes and promise of a world filled with suspense and intrigue what makes Firewatch one of the must own games of 2016? Here is our full review of why you must experience life in Two Forks Firewatch Tower.
The premise of the game is simple you play as Henry who due to a tragic life event in his family finds solace in taking a role as a Fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. You don’t start the game manning Two Forks lookout. You’re given a narrative sub plot that preludes the event to present day as you make decisions of how you met your loved one and even what you named your dog. It seems meaningless to start with but what’s going on here is the prelude to one of the most emotional moments in gaming I’ve ever had. Weaved amongst cutscenes where you control your characters first steps in the wilderness are these narrative choices which explain the motives as to why Henry is out to become a Fire lookout. In with these initial choices are also instances where the game reacts immediately.
So by the time you set foot up in Two Forks lookout for the first time you will feel like you’ve been with Henry for much longer than the initial cut scenes of the game. You’re involved, invested and emotionally torn with some of the choices you’ve made and this game is just getting started.
Throughout Firewatch you are guided by your supervisor Delihah who man’s one of the other lookouts in the area. This is where you are introduced to your radio and the main mechanic that will develop the plot through your near 6 hour playthrough.
“Visually Firewatch is an absolute knockout of a game”
Delihah serves to move the plot forwards and help fill in some of the emotional gaps and back story the initial scenes don’t deliver on. Throughout the game Delihah will guide you with specific tasks and activities to keep you exploring the map. A map you will have at hand at all times with a trusty compass in your right hand.
As you explore the area and discover cache’s and new areas you tend to get extensive plot narrations as you report in in your radio new discoveries or events. The use of survival Caches’ throughout the map deliver a range of items, whether it be books, garments or map information. Most items are pointless with the odd hat giving a feeling of character customisation that is never delivered. Other points of note are the locks on each of the caches, it’s just 1234 for everyone, it almost seems pointless having to go through the laborious task of entering a code each time. Thankfully the caches do serve a key purpose in the game and they do this by delivering a backstory of another couple of characters who were once in the area. It tells the story of their time in the area and activities they got up to but I’ll say no more for fear of spoiling it for your own discovery.
Visually Firewatch is an absolute knockout of a game. The artistic style which the developers have gone with has come up brilliantly and really caters well to the setting of the story. There’s lush colouring throughout and the glaring sun of the canyon rocks as you bite on your sandwich really enhances the mood in key moments. It’s Pixar esk but everything is given due care and consideration. Even up close the pooh shovel in the outhouse looks crafted perfectly. In the lookout you can see the level of care and attention to detail that the artists have went to. Each book boasts a well-illustrated front and back cover. The layout of the lookout living area depicts real life lookouts that even Campo Santo themselves observed and posted in their blog about. All these little touches come together nicely to make you feel immersed in the world they have created. A great mechanic of which was the camera you pick up along the way. Now young kids won’t remember but back in the 80’s/90’s you took a picture and then had to wind it on to let you take the next one and once you had taken around 30 images you had to go to a shop to get said photos printed where only then did you find out if they were decent shots or not. So why the need to tell you this? Well once you complete the main playthrough a little menu option will appear in the main menu allowing you to purchase some of your ingame shots. It’s a feature only available on the PC version via Steam where you can pick up the game for 10% off at launch.
The only concern I had with the visuals was the not too pleasant framerate I experienced almost from the off and it continued throughout my playthrough. There’s severe drops in places and motion blur at the start that really spoiled my immersion in the game. When you start exploring the map and getting familiar the devs have catered for those that want to navigate the map at pace but the drawback to this is scene popping in places. I even experienced one scene where I went through a twisted bath in the bushes heading to a lake and all of a sudden it disappeared and then found myself half way in a bush. Coupled with popping there’s also some physical issues going on. At my very first survival cache unsure whether to hold onto a note or place it back in the box I chose to select drop which led to the note floating out with the cache in mid-air. Hopefully these are things that Campo Santo can fix with an upcoming update to ensure Firewatch is experience in the silky smoothness it deserves. These may be huge issues and ones I didn’t expect to see in the final product but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the game they were just little reminders along the way that kept reminding me I’m really not a lookout.
“Nothing seemed out of place and the music delivered atmosphere at just the right moments to keep you engrossed.”
Despite Firewatch coming in at a fairly small 6 hour playthrough and no option to explore upon completion I still believe there’s plenty of reason to revisit for another playthrough. Although major plot lines will remain as they were designed it’s my investment in Henry as a character in Firewatch that really gets you hooked. Choosing each narrative response over the radio always had me wondering what would be the result of me saying this or that. I’m unsure it would amount to much like it would in other games but the little plot mechanics like drawings in books or notes being different definitely make this worthy of a second playthrough.
Firewatch is immersive visually as it is with its sound design. I often found myself just pressing L2 on the controller to get a little buzz out the radio. It was comforting and the wandering across the land meant there was little other interaction to do. There are some wildlife sounds as you navigate the world whether it be NPCS, water effects or birds flying overhead. Nothing seemed out of place and the music delivered atmosphere at just the right moments to keep you engrossed.
So there you go I’ve managed to write this review without spoiling the main storyline plot twists or whether you really find that turtle or not. Firewatch has had me thinking about it almost constantly since completing it and whether that is because I’m looking for more answers or trying to concoct my own theory I am unsure. I know that this game certainly has many open plot points that still remain unanswered but that in many ways contributes to the game’s overall beauty. Through wonderfully crafted narrative that grabs you write from the start this is the game of 2016 that won’t let you put the controller down and frankly until you get it completed you won’t want to either.
Firewatch was reviewed on PS4 and Xbox One with codes supplied by Campo Santo
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