Twisted Fire Started
By Edwin Velez
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on September 20th, 2016 on Xbox One (Also available on PS4 & PC)
Developer: Campo Santo Publisher: Campo Santo
I knew very little about Firewatch going in. I knew that earlier this year it released on PS4 and PC to much high praise, and was primarily a first person narrative driven experience. I didn’t know that it was home to wildly colorful scenes of nature landscapes. I didn't know that it had about five hours worth of some of the best scripted and most natural sounding dialogue you will have heard this year in gaming. I didn't know that it was going to make me emotionally attached to multiple characters without ever seeing their faces. But I am glad it did, and I am even more glad that Campo Santo gave me the chance to play it, because it is one exhilarating piece of work that puts emphasis on a character driven narrative that nails emotion in a realistic way.
At the heart of Firewatch lies an extremely well written and delivered thriller, though from an outside perspective it’s a straightforward, semi-open world walking simulator. Players take control of Henry, an emotionally conflicted outdoorsman. It’s the summer of '89, and he has taken up a job as a fire lookout for the Shoshone National Park to get away from his troubled life in Boulder, Colorado. This is normally a fairly lonely job, but on the other end of his radio is his sole contact Delilah. Their connections and banter are what drive the game to its heights of narrative greatness.
Henry and Delilah are a dream team of a duo. Their chit chats throughout the days of your watch become more engaged with each passing moment. From somber to serious moments, and a whole lot of comical ones in between, each line and the emotion behind it comes off incredibly natural and believable. Henry, voiced by Mad Men's Rich Sommer, is a stable but emotionally weary man. Estranged from his wife, he finds solace in the forest, as well as in Delilah (voiced by Cissy Jones.) Their dynamic is impeccable, never missing a beat. In many cases, you get to pick the responses of Henry, which flow easily from choice to choice. He is a good, honest man if you so choose him to be, or he can be more of a selfish man. You have the power of choice, and it seems to play an important role in his and Delilah’s relationship. She’s a tequila and crossword loving realist who finds humor in almost any scenario. She pairs well with Henrys easy going approach on life, and they are the type that would easily get along in a local bar. By the end of my playthrough, the two bonded over the summer. To what degree I will leave for those now eager to play, but it all ties into the story at hand.
Exploring the Shoshone is breathtaking. Vibrant foliage covers the hills, making hiking a visually appealing task. The mountain skylines, bodies of water, and picture perfect skies are a wonder to behold. As you explore the various trails in your sector, you will be given various tasks from Delilah that push the day along. These tasks eventually tie into a deeply thrilling storyline, but that is for you to discover without me to spoil. To help you along the way, you will gets a few pieces of equipment. The most helpful are ropes and an axe, both of which make new paths available that both push the story along and make shortcuts for your travels. The map is without a doubt you’re most important tool which, combined with your compass, is key to navigating the winding trails. As you explore, Henry will often update his maps in accordance with his findings as well as other watchers personal notes. My favorite item, though non-essential, is a disposable camera. Much of the game begs for screen caps, but the camera is a neat way to capture your views while making them more memorable since your film roll is limited. During the credits, every photo you took comes alongside the crews name in what is honestly one of the most attention grabbing credits I have ever seen. Yes, Firewatch is attention grabbing and meaningful right down to its credits. Though the map is one of the prettiest sights I have seen in gaming, my biggest disappointment comes from a shocking lack of wildlife. Though you run into a select few animals in your summer adventures, they are rarely random. The few you can see are usually for achievements or to trigger dialogue, but for a game that takes place in the forest I would have expected to see much more. Even if it were just squirrels or birds, it would have made all the difference, but sadly not even those tiny animals were out and about. The ambient sounds of wildlife like ducks and bugs were fantastic, but had the forest been booming with actual critters (even if at a distance) it would have made all the difference.
By the time the credits do roll, you will hopefully be taken aback like I was. Every bit of dialogue that ensued throughout was meaningful and engaging, as was the story as a whole. With a bit of conspiracy and mystery, you will surely find some times to be quite tense as the bigger picture unfolds. Firewatch is a great story telling experience that looks and sounds phenomenal. With a brilliant cast that plays out an equally brilliant script, you truly cannot go wrong with the narrative at hand. The latest edition is further complimented by both a commentary mode and a free roam. I have not yet touched on the commentary mode, but the free roam mode is a great addition for those looking to just take the Shoshone forest all in. It is really beautiful to explore with no restrictions, and also adds a feature that lets you play some of the games great tracks as you explore. Firewatch is also one of the most true to nature adult narratives I think you can find. Never over the top but just right in a way, it’s the lax nature of Henry and Delilah’s conversations and their language that is a key factor to how naturally it all comes off. The game is memorable in every way, and while the ending is bitter sweet, it ends up feeling like a classic 80’s movie. It’s no wonder an actual movie is on the way because Firewatch is script perfection.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 9/10
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