Review: Firewatch (PS4)

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Title: Firewatch
Format: PlayStation Network Download (6.32 GB)
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Panic
Developer: Campo Santo
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: M
Firewatch is also available on PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
What is Firewatch? Ever since it was first shown off at Sony’s E3 press conference, that is the question many were left with. Now we are finally about to find out exactly what Firewatch is.

Firewatch is about a man named Henry who, after some emotionally devastating events occur in his life, takes a summer job as a forest fire watchmen. On the first day of the job we are introduced to Delilah, a woman with the same job in a different watchtower.

You never see Delilah in person and only communicate with her through your walkie talkie. The communication between the two characters is the driving force of the game and it’s where the magic happens.

This is a narrative driven game which keeps the gameplay mechanics to a minimum. Henry is given tasks by Delilah and navigates through the beautiful forest and wildfire that is the world. To aid in navigation you have the bare essentials: a map and compass which are brought up by the D-pad.

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A majority of the tasks for Henry are to observe and then report to Delilah via dialogue options. Gameplay elements are kept to a minimum and are really only there to help progress the story. The world is beautiful and was a place I wanted to explore as much as possible.

The game does not offer a lot of opportunities to explore, likely to keep the narrative’s integrity in check. You can get lost by accident or on purpose in order to explore the world and I loved anytime I was able to do that.

… a little bit of time before everything starts to get rolling …
I do not know if I would have been able to stumble into story elements earlier than I should have. The game does a good job keeping you in the direction it wants you to go without ever telling you directly to get back on track or throwing up roadblocks.

This is when I should mention that because the game is so narrative driven I refuse to spoil any of the story. I will say that the game in both story and mechanics is a slower burner. It takes a little bit of time before everything starts to get rolling.

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If you lack patience this might not be the game for you. I loved the story and the writing is phenomenal and is only amplified by the stellar voice acting. Henry and Delilah have great chemistry and their banter and emotions make the game special.

In their interactions with each other there are some dialogue options that change the dynamic of the conversation. This leads me to believe there are some branching path opportunities in how the tone of your interactions with each other can change and might have an overall effect on the conclusion of the game.

… will either satisfy or leave you with questions …
With games like this I tend to be “one and done” since I like to have my first playthrough be my only experience. For others this adds some replayability to the game to find out how different dialogue choices can change the dynamics of the story.

This game is not going to be for everyone. It is not some fast paced action-adventure game nor is it an epic and grand tale. It is a story that is entertaining and will play with your expectations on what to expect next. How the story plays out will either satisfy or leave you with questions.

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Visuals:
Firewatch is gorgeous. The world is one in which I wished I had more opportunities to explore. The visual design can be stunning at times partially due to the oversaturated colors that many times stopped me in my tracks just to take it all in.

The environments are surprisingly diverse as you tread the forests, lakes, creeks, and canyons of this park. Every area felt different and after a couple hours I knew exactly where I was based on the colors and nature around me.

… the voice acting is the driving force behind the game …
Now while the game is beautiful it does suffer from technical issues. It stutters and suffers from framerate issues as the game loads areas in. There are also noticeable pop-ins of trees and backgrounds.

This leads to times where I found myself looking at how pretty everything was, only to have the framerate drop a few or for trees to begin popping in. It is a shame this happens, but when I weigh the visuals against the issues, I feel there were not enough technical issues to ruin the overall experience.

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Audio:
Audio design is kept subtle, but effective. If you are playing with headphones you will become engrossed with the sound of nature. From the wind, to birds, and the crackling of stepped-on leaves, the audio design recreates nature in a great way.

Music is used sparingly and accompanies the major story beats. When music begins to play it is a sign that you are on the right path and getting into more narrative soon.

As mentioned before the voice acting is the driving force behind the game. With such a story focused game it was essential that Henry and Delilah’s acting were top notch and they achieved that. In the audio department the experience is near flawless.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… a special game and another marquee title for storytelling …
Conclusion:
Firewatch is definitely not a game for everyone. It has more of a focus on storytelling than it does on traditional video game mechanics. With that said I found it to be intriguing and as soon as the prologue was finished I was hooked.

The stunning visuals, paired with the fantastic voice acting and writing, made for an engaging experience. The possibility of branching paths adds some replayability for what might be considered a short game.

It is a world I wanted to spend more time in because of how beautiful it is and when the game ended I wanted more time with the characters. Firewatch is a special game and another marquee title for storytelling in video games.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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