Here’s the thing.
I love story in games. It’s not like I don’t like games without story – I’ve got thousands of hours in games like Dota 2 and Ark Survival Evolved, where there is zero story. The thing is, I detest shallow, uninteresting stories. If you’re going to make your game a story driven game don’t, for all that I hold sacred on this Earth, make a weak, uninteresting farce of a game just to have some kind of story element. I’m looking at you, Homefront and your sickly ilk.
While I love story, I also love it to progress quite quickly. I don’t like long drawn out wordy conversations between the protagonist and every last unimportant NPC with something to say. No Fallout 4, I don’t. Say what needs to be said and get out. Don’t linger around like an unwanted friend after crashing on your couch because they were too drunk to drive. Wake up, get up and go.
Or, do what Firewatch did – give me something to do while you’re doing the story waffle.
To be completely fair though, Firewatch didn’t even need to do that, because the story waffle is actually story gold.
You play Henry, a down-and-out emotional wreck of a man who takes a job in the middle actual nowhere who has the incredibly arduous job of sitting in a tower watching for fires in the wilds of Boulder, Colorado during the hot fire season summer. He’s all by himself and all he has to stop him going completely bat-shit insane is a radio to talk to someone called Delilah, who’s a pretty hot sounding female who identifies herself as somewhat of a veteran of the old sit-in-a-tower-for-a-few-months-trying-to-spot-fire gig.
And that’s the only person you get to talk to, for the entire game, which lasts about 5 hours, if you do a proper job of it, which I suggest you do because there are plenty of subtleties to see and enjoy, and the wit is outstanding in the radio conversations between Henry and Delilah. It’s these conversations that ultimately make this game. The rest of it really is a game of walking around spotting things, holding shift and mouse-wheeling over the most interesting sounding way of telling Delilah you’ve spotted it.
Firewatch is probably the best “Walking Simulator” I’ve had the pleasure of playing, perhaps behind the more involved Life Is Strange, and that is absolutely down to the way the game turns story twists, turns and pace into an art form. And then, after 5 hours, it rips away all its progress and ends. Just like that. The ending is, well… I’ll let you play it and decide for yourself, but don’t be surprised if you end up looking at your screen with a blank look on your face for a solid minute as the credits roll.
The graphics are styled to be on the edge of cartooney, but with a serious undertone to them that reminds me of a more adult look at The Long Dark. The game arms you with a disposable camera, and tells you to take photos while you’re playing. I won’t tell you why, but you should do it.
Sure, you can get the entire Firewatch experience from watching a Lets Play on Youtube, but you shouldn’t. You should play it yourself, even if it does cost a bit more than it probably should.
Few games leave me thinking “man I hope they make a sequel” and this is one of them.
He also hosts the nAvTV podcast and this here website is his domain.