I might be in the minority, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with Firewatch. Don’t get me wrong, the game certainly has strengths and merits, but it didn’t quite live up to the fantastic experience most other reviews have made it out to be.
Firewatch is, as many others have pointed out, a “walking simulator.” Essentially, you walk from area to area, exploring the forest. Most of the meat of the story and gameplay come through walkie-talkie conversation with Delilah, your boss. You play as Henry, a lookout for the forest to make sure it doesn’t go down in flames. There’s a fairly intriguing mystery that keeps the narrative moving forward, and across the three or four hour game my fiance and I were almost literally on the edge of our seats. It never got scary, per se, but it was definitely creepy. It takes the less-is-more approach to its scares, never really showing you anything and relying solely on its writing to get the horror across, like Delilah seeing someone in your tower when you’re off in the forest. However, the resolution to this conflict is such a let-down that I just found myself feeling empty, like I just wasted several hours of my life that I’ll never get back. It may be more about the journey than the destination, but the journey wasn’t so fantastic as to overshadow the destination.
Part of that is that the forest seems so barren. Early on you see claw marks from a bear, a couple scripted times you see people and a deer, and that’s it. The entire summer you don’t even see a bird, let alone anything else of note.
The game is pretty open world, and you’re more than free to explore at your leisure. The only thing is, there isn’t much to see. You get a couple extra dialogue options to build your relationship with Delilah, but that’s it. All of the trophies/achievements can be attained by simply playing the game, which eliminates any real reason to explore. You aren’t rewarded for straying from the path. There’s nothing but trees, hills, and rocks everywhere. It wouldn’t have been too hard to add in a couple hard-to-find locations to reward the earnest player, or add in a couple trophies or achievements to unlock for those same people. There’s a tiny baby turtle you can find and adopt, but you aren’t given anything for that either. The only reason to replay would be to go through different dialogue options, but is it really worth it for a few different soundbytes? The story doesn’t evolve that drastically – it isn’t a different ending if you’re a dick or the nicest guy in the world. It’s just quieter.
The visuals in the game are pretty, but not terribly impressive. When taken as a whole, the vistas are indeed beautiful, the colors are vibrant, and the scope of the landscape tremendous. But when you look at the trees instead of the forest, it breaks down. Textures are blocky, there’s a lot of popping in of environments, and a lot of them are recycled. If you’ve seen one rock, you’ve seen them all. Several times Henry, who’s basically just a voice with hands, clipped through the rocks he was trying to climb. One section tasks you with trying to get through a fence with a couple rocks, and the rock clipped into my hand. That wouldn’t be much of an issue, but it covered my compass completely so I had no idea if I was travelling in the right direction. I had to quit the game and restart it to fix it. It also froze on me once, which for a four hour game where most of the gameplay is talking that I spent $20 on is unforgivable. There’s never much happening at once that should cause it to freeze.
The one area I was truly impressed with, however, is the sound. Mainly the voice acting. Both Henry and Delilah are exceptionally voiced – better than a decent chunk of AAA games I’ve played. I cared about the characters with nothing but their interactions to go on. The dialogue and writing were all top notch (except for the aforementioned ending), so the relationship between the characters felt real. The fear, humor, friendship…I truly cannot stress how well they did.
I wanted to love Firewatch. I did enjoy it, but not nearly as much as almmost every other reviewer did. It was an enjoyable few hours, but ending failed to live up to the mystery that was woven. The graphics as a whole are beautiful, but fall apart under scrutiny. The gameplay lives up to the “walking simulator” title, and everything can be seen in a single playthrough, with no incentive to play more than once. The saving grace comes in the form of the voice acting that carries to story for all those hours, but that alone does little to justify the price tag.
+ Excellent voice acting
+ Intriguing mystery
– Disappointing ending
– Texture clipping
– Game froze
– Empty world
– No real reason for multiple playthroughs