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Matt's Video Game Reviews (7)

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Final Fantasy VI 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Br... 4.5/5
Tobe's Vertical Adventu... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Papers, Please 2.5/5
Divinity: Original Sin 5/5
Firewatch 3.5/5


Firewatch   PC (Steam) 

Firewatch: Doesn’t rise too far above the smoke    3.5/5 stars

Looking for a quick game to play in the little amounts of time available to me, I turned to Firewatch having heard on various podcasts rave reviews, specifically from tech pundits who also enjoyed gaming in their spare time. The time to play the game did not disappoint—I finished it in around 4 hours—, however the gameplay mechanics and some of the story elements left me somewhat desiring. To be clear, the genre of Firewatch, a mystery adventure, isn’t the type that I typically prefer, nor is the setting, Shoshone National Forest, post the Yellowstone fires of 1988 in Wyoming, one that fits my fancy. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoy forests and the outdoors; I just think that one should actually walk in a National Forest instead of playing a game of someone walking about in one. All this being said, I nevertheless was impressed by what a relatively small indie team could accomplish in an age of the behemoth studios with an unending supply of funds (or loot boxes). The game does deserve to be grouped into the category of indie games that are of a higher quality than many AAA ones.

Story — 3 out of 5
Right from the beginning of Firewatch, I felt like I was playing one of the choose-your-own-adventure books that I enjoyed to read in the 80s, as the introduction to the game walks you through a series of decisions which set up your adventure manning a lookout tower in 1989. The series of choices were novel, however limited, and seemingly would lead to the same outcome. It sure felt that way from the introduction up through the various plot points. I am sure that there are some variants depending upon choice, however none of the potential options really stirred me to replay the game differently.

The basic premise of the game is that you, the protagonist, through various personal and familial circumstances, have decided to spend your summer, isolated in the National Forest, with hopes of writing. Your only contact to the outside world is through another lookout watcher, Delilah, who contacts you on the first day of the job. You quickly develop a friendship with her that flirts on being more, if you so desire it. Delilah leads you through a series of plot points to investigate various hazardous/suspicious activities in your area. Each of these plot points further develop your character along with Delilah, revealing back story and past events that have happened in your assigned area.

Where the story excels at being cathartic, leading you to feel the suspense of the mystery, as if you were watching a Greek tragedy. Surely, there are tragic elements: the main character encounters a series of events which lead to a fall, after he experiences a somewhat rise in fortune—meeting and establishing a friendship with Delilah, which do provide some escape from the problems back at your home in Boulder, Colorado. The scale of fortune tips out of your favor, and the mystery and suspense do bring some appeal. Aristotle might be slightly amused at the tragic attempt of the writer, however the story in no ways approaches the depth of myth. And this is honestly where the story falls short for me.

I want to witness a story that soars to the mythic. The mundane is simply mundane, and Firewatch’s story doesn’t rise too far above the clouds. Yes, there are elements of mystery, death, conspiracy, love, and hardship, however they don’t elevate you as a player to contemplate the fullness of these themes as a myth would. The power of myth is in its ability to understand and communicate the human condition in a way that is universally relatable. At times, I could see the potential of the story to do the same, yet the dialogue and potential choices of the character were too mundane, too gray. I am sure that some will disagree with me on this point, arguing that the real world is full of such decisions, where there is no clear black and white choice, and that is quite true, hence such decisions are mundane. However, stories need not be such, and the greatest stories of all time aren’t either. Homer and Vergil’s characters weren’t gray; they were vibrantly full of colors. And yes, it is somewhat silly to compare Firewatch’s story to these great epics, however I firmly affirm that all great stories in some way imitate these authors, or author’s like them (take Dante or Milton for example). The characters of Firewatch have some complexity, just like any of us do, however they aren’t heroes or villains. Call me old fashioned, but I want a story with heroes and villains, not just average people. These heroes and villains can be complex and full of layers, however they are heroes and villains. Henry and Delilah are neither.

Gameplay — 3 out of 5
Firewatch is a first-person adventure that relies upon a walkie-talkie mechanic to move the plot along and develop the characters. Using an Xbox controller, invoking the walkie-talkie and navigating the responses was a bit clunky. Also navigating the map, zooming in and out of it, wasn’t as fluid as I would have liked. Even though controllers are fully supported in the game, the game did not change the tool tips to instruct the player on how to use the controller. Instead, all the key board action keys were presented, leaving those playing with a controller to fumble around, trying to remember or figure out what button did what. It would have been greatly appreciated for the game to detect a controller and change the instructions based on a typical Steam controller (namely, the Xbox one).

Navigating the 3D world was fairly straightforward, if not too limited. I often found myself thinking I should be able to walk across this or that rock, however to be prevented by some invisible force field. Yes, these rocks would involve a all-so-slight step up, but the game limits you to climb onto rocks only in areas that it deems appropriate. There really wasn’t that clear of definition between areas at times, which can be frustrating to navigate at times.

Presentation — 4 out of 5
Visually Firewatch is quite pleasing. The stylized art built upon the Unity engine works well to present a vibrant landscape full of beautiful vistas and interesting detail. It is not hyper-realistic, which is a very good thing. Instead, it imaginatively approximates reality in a sort of impressionistic way, not that the art is full of minuscule brushstrokes like a Monet painting, but that the color palette is vibrant like a Monet. The emphasis upon color, instead of a typical brown-first-person-shooter, is a delight to look at.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the soundtrack of Firewatch. It was well composed and appropriate. Timely periods of silence with environmental sounds were mixed in with an escalating score that fit well with the suspense and mystery of the game. Music that enhances gameplay is the best type of music in a game, and Firewatch’s score did such. I often felt the drama of the story through the well timed intensity of the score, which appropriately matched the plot points. A soundtrack can be appropriate for many reasons, and it must be evaluated on its fittingness in relation to its genre, and Firewatch’s soundtrack enhances the mystery and suspense.

Overall — 3.5 out of 5
In conclusion, Firewatch is above being just okay, however it suffers from a story that swims in the smoke of mundane, instead of rising above it. Some of the frustrating gameplay mechanics on a controller also keep you in the smoke, despite the bright spots of soundtrack and visual presentation. Finally, the most important question is was it worth the $10 I paid for it on a Steam sale. Yeah, I think that it was. 4 hours of game play is a low ratio of hours of enjoyment per dollar spent (for example, I believe I paid less for Table Top Simulator, and have played it for 155 hours, which gives it a much better ratio of hours played per dollar spent), however it still was worth the money spent. I enjoyed the game enough in comparison other forms of entertainment that cost ten bucks. If you can get the game on sale, I would recommend adding it to your backlog.



Recent Comments
Comment On Review


Matt- wrote on 01/21/18 at 03:56 PM CT


You choose various responses to make on the walkie-talkie to your fellow lookout lady, which then leads you to various areas on the map to explore, and which triggers various events. You explore areas and search for items, investigating and discovering various things. There really aren't any puzzles per se. But I am hesitant to label it a Visual Novel, seems more involved to me.

Nelson Schneider

Nelson Schneider- wrote on 01/21/18 at 03:50 PM CT


I'm kind of fuzzy on the gameplay section here. Do you do anything besides walk around and talk on the walkie-talkie? Are there any puzzles? We might have to reclassify this thing as a Visual Novel.

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