Firewatch is Better than Zelda!?
I’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to video games, lately. I picked up a Nintendo Switch with Zelda: Breath of the Wild back in early May of this year, but I just couldn’t get into the game. I’ve been playing Zelda titles since 1986 and this was the first one that didn’t compel me in any way, shape, or form to turn it on and actually play. I found it tedious, repetitive, and over all unrewarding. I thought that was a bit odd, so I did a search of “I don’t like Breath of the Wild” and found that I’m not the only one who felt this way, with one article in particular over on Deadspin hitting the nail on the head and making me say “Oh that’s why!”.
This is supposed to be about Firewatch, though, right? Right! I prefaced this review with the prior information to set the stage a bit. I’ve been largely ungripped by the gaming bug lately, but Firewatch was able to pull me in. Okay, enough of that, on with the review!
Firwatch runs on the following platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Non-Console System requirements:
Processor: Intel Core i3 2.00 GHz or AMD equivalent.
Memory: 6 GB RAM.
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 450 or higher with 1GB Memory.
DirectX: Version 11.
Storage: 4 GB available space.
Firewatch is built on the Unity game engine and what they’ve managed to do with it is impressive. There is a great deal of the color spectrum used throughout the game, so depending on the time of day, weather, fires, and other factors you will see the world transform from yellows to blues, greens, reds, and oranges. I’d be tempted to call it “cel shaded” (think the Borderlands series), but that’s not quite right. The colors and how they are used to accent any given moment are always excellently chosen and complement the overall story immersion.
The game ran smoothly with the highest settings on my system, with an i3-6100, 16GB of DDR4, and a GTX 1060 3GB. (yes, I game with an i3… for now. When I built this system I was waiting for Kaby Lake i5 and i7s to come out, and being rather unimpressed with them, just haven’t gotten around to upgrading yet. See that bit above about how I haven’t been gaming much lately!)
Sound / Music:
This was one area that I didn’t really have any expectations going into this game, not that it would have mattered, I would have been impressed either way. I fell in love with the music, ambient sounds, and voice acting. There are bits of light acoustic guitar, more frantic strings, you name it. The music and sound effects always complemented the situation at hand and enhanced the over all feel of the game world.
This is where the rubber hits the road for me of late. As I get older and spend more time self-reflecting, I’ve identified definite cycles in my life. During this cycle I’ve had a lot going on in “Real Life” and at the end of the day lately I’ve found myself reading or watching something. I call it my “Just Tell Me a Story” cycle. I don’t want to save a kingdom by battling through hordes of goblins (I’m looking at you, Zelda: BOTW, and you too, Shadow of Mordor), I just want to be told or tag along inside a story. Firewatch fit that bill perfectly for me.
It has been called a “Walking Simulator”, since you hike around most of the time, but the walking is compelling, since it serves the story and the story serves the walking. Without spoiling too much, the story gets deep and heavy way faster than I expected and then you’re suddenly getting acclimated to your watchtower and getting to know your supervisor, Delilah. It’s 1989, so there’s limited technology, compared to today (28 years later!? How is 1989 28 years ago?) Delilah is your only contact and then only by walkie-talkie. You are alone in your fire tower and then things start getting weird. There are mysteries to unravel, and by pulling one thread you start discovering new threads that are somehow, in some currently obscured way, related.
It was that unwinding of mysteries, along with, in a way, the forging of your own back history that compelled me to play Firewatch. There was enough mystery in the story to keep me returning and hypothesizing in the middle of the day when it popped into my head.
Let’s be honest, the gameplay isn’t why you play or stick with Firewatch. It’s very “samey”, in that you do hike the same trails often, you have limited interactions with any kind of NPCs at all, and it really sort of is a Walking Simulator. With that said, the controls are good and largely intuitive, though there was one section while climbing some rocks that I got turned around because of how the climbing animation plays out, but that’s a minor quibble and only cost me about 2 minutes of back-tracking. There’s no run-n-gun action, though you do get to break some stuff, so I guess that’s pretty cool.
The gameplay largely revolves around interacting with Delilah via radio, sleuthing around finding clues, and solving little puzzles. And it works well enough to serve the great story.
On the whole, Firewatch is a very solid game that gave me several hours of entertainment, and seeing as I plan to re-play it to see if any of my choices make a difference to the final outcome or not, it will surely provide me with more. There’s a reason this game was nominated for so many awards and won a fair share of them. The writing is good, the voice acting is great, the music is wonderful, the graphics are simple, clean, and beautiful, and the gameplay is there to tie all those outstanding elements together well enough. The game is rated “M” for Mature, and the story and dialogue is rating appropriate, so this wouldn’t be a game for tweens, or one you would probably want to play with kids around.
Firewatch is available at the time of this review for $19.99 – for Xbox One, PS4, and on Steam and Gog.com