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CONSOLE: PC DEVELOPER: Campo Santo PUBLISHER: Campo Santo / Panic
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 9, 2016 GENRE: Adventure
// review by Emily

For the pyromaniac in all of us.

Every once in a while, I'll see a YouTube video about someone playing some random new game I've never heard about. Then I'll see another video... then another one. Finally, my curiosity becomes too much to bear. I have to see what this game is about! I'll either go one of two ways—watching the videos or actually playing it myself. I'll usually watch games that are too scary or too expensive. Other times, I'll break open the piggy bank and try it out myself. Firewatch was one of those games. I knew of it, but I didn't know much about it. I received it as a generous gift and couldn't wait to try it out! I fired it up as soon as it had downloaded. After all, the game held so much promise!

I'll start with the best part of the entire game. The atmospheric and visual parts of this game were absolutely phenomenal. From the wind blowing to a storm brewing to the water physics, everything is very, very beautiful. Just being surrounded by the beauty of nature made me want to stop and soak it in sometimes, just listening to the water and the birds and not being distracted by the walkie-talkie or about how completely lost I am. It helped that the music didn't always play. The game developers knew that the game didn't need a hefty, in-your-face soundtrack. Sometimes, the game just needed the rustling of your map and the crunch of the rocks beneath your feet as you walk. Even though I had the game on the lowest quality setting, the game still appeared very well constructed. Sure, it wasn't extremely detailed. It wasn't an epic-looking game like Skyrim or other games of that sort. It was rather simplistic, yet charming at the same time.

That's not to say the music wasn't needed at all! The music was also very simple yet effective. During more tense moments in the game, a lovely guitar melody played to add to the feeling of complete seclusion and solitude. It usually happened after the main character (you, of course) talked to the only other person you have contact with in the game about something that reminded you of the relatively rocky past that caused you to seek this beautiful isolation. The music somehow reminds you of where your character has come so far and the burden that lies on them.

The controls were a little weird to get used to at first. Keep in mind, I played this game with an Xbox 360 controller. I wonder if the controls would've actually been simpler if I used the keyboard and mouse. On occasion, something with the controls got a little messed up resulting in me constantly moving in a certain direction. It was like someone has suddenly put buttered rollerblades on my character's feet. The only way I could fix it was to complete shut down the game and start it up fresh. The give you the option of picking up and examining object, even allowing you to zoom in on what you were holding. If only they had utilized that a little more... Sure, you can pick up loads of stuff and examine each piece, but you can't do anything with them. It was just an unneeded feature in the game, especially since nothing I found was particularly interesting to look at for a long period of time. Overall, everything worked pretty smoothly for a majority of the time.


Something's missing from these screenshots. Could it be... fire?

It's time for my biggest complaint: the story. For a game that plays up its narrative complexity, I found that that part of it was really actually disappointing. You start off with a backstory that's supposed to get you in a sad mood so you can sympathize and connect with the main character, Henry. The story was sad, yes, but not quite sad enough. Take it from the person who cries at everything little sad thing that happens. Hell, I cried in a Professor Layton game, for goodness sake! A game about puzzles! Then in comes Delilah, your only contact to the outside world once you enter the isolation of the Wyoming landscapes. As much as I tried, I just couldn't fall in love with her character. It's just my personal opinion, though. She just appeared to me as a very static, very flat character. Meanwhile, Henry is just a tiny bit more dynamic. By the end of the game, he's been shaped into whoever it is that you chose him to be. Unfortunately, the differences between all those different possible Henrys is kind of small. No matter the decisions you made in the prologue, Henry still want to get away from his life for the same reasons. Don't get me wrong. I loved Henry's character! It's just that the major changes/butterfly effects I was expecting from this game fell flat, in my opinion. There was one part where there was supposed to be some kind of plot twist; however, the game hinted at the twist so much that it wasn't even surprising at all. It was supposed to be sad, but the shock factor to it dulled the sadness.

One thing that really disappoints me about Firewatch is the fact that this game held so much PROMISE. I thought I was getting into a game that I would fall in love with and want to play again and again to see the different endings. Instead, I found a game that was rather empty and lacking in various important aspects. Sure, the game is beautiful, but I only wished the story was just as beautiful. I really wish I could just write all the things that I think would really help the game be so much more in depth, but in the end, it isn't my game to try and improve. If you want to know how I would change it, ask me personally. I'd love to hash them out! But here, I just want to say that so much more could've been added to it. I was so excited when I first saw a deer in the woods in the prologue. I was expecting fauna to be bursting through the seams! After all, it's a forest in Wyoming in the late 80s. There's more wildlife in my bathroom sink than what was in the game. There was one deer, a raccoon (that was an EASTER EGG), and a turtle that I didn't even notice the first time playing through. The wildest things I found in the wildlife were two teenagers setting off fireworks. Maybe I'm being too cynical about the game, but I found myself kind of bored starting to play it through the second time. After all, I knew exactly what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and where. If the only thing that changes is a few lines of dialogue, then it's not really worth playing again for me.

I had so much excitement for this game. I was looking forward to roaming around chasing fires and seeing animals and watching the world around me change with my decisions. Instead, I got a game that was relatively flat and static, much like Delilah. I didn't hate the game; I just set my expectations too high. The major theme I felt for this game's review was "It had promise." I played the game and was sad to find such a beautifully constructed game so empty. In the end, the game needs something more to make it truly a masterpiece, but until it's changed, it'll probably sit in my library forgotten.


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