Impressions: Firewatch

I had heard a number of great things about Firewatch and was told simply, that as an indie game fan I would likely enjoy it. It took some time but I was finally able to sit down and play. Firewatch opens simply with the story of a man meeting his future wife. Through a series of options you pick and choose different things that happened to the two of them. Ultimately the wife is sick and the husband is forced to face the reality that he cannot care for her. As a reaction to this he decides to take a job being a Firewatch for the summer in the Rocky Mountains.

From there you take more control over your main character and complete various objectives throughout the summer. Most days you are free to explore. You will be given a task but no real time limit in which you need to complete it. You are hampered by the limited tools and supplies of the main character, but there is a certain level of freedom which is nice. The place where this games excels after all is the environment. Instead of going realistic Firewatch brings a more artistic take on the mountains. There is a degree of cell shading, and the colors are a lot richer and deeper. It makes for a very beautiful world to explore.

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Where the game suffers is the story. That is not to say the story is bad, just disjointed. There is a heavy focus on the main characters need to redeem himself in his eyes for failing his wife. Not only that but simply work through the loss and the pain her illness has caused him. This is a very fitting plot line for gameplay and world. Going to a place like the mountains to be alone and reflect over his life and what he’s lost makes sense. It creates a need to enjoy and explore the mountains, and as a player lose yourself with the main character. Your only real source of communication is with Delilah over walkie talkies and you can shape the conversations in such a way to help the main character face his inner demons.

Then seemingly out of nowhere the game shifts. Instead of being about that it becomes about a mystery happening on the mountain. The main character and Delilah discover someone has been spying on them, tracking their movements, and even digging into the various lies each character lives in. The game takes on an almost horror like aspect with them being stalked, questioning if things are real, and even suspecting that murders have taken place on the mountain. This is also not a bad direction for the game. The isolation works well with this, as does the general feeling of being trapped on the mountain. However, it does not fit at all with the start of the game nor the tone that it’s had thus far.

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So you end up with two extremely different games. A slow passed look at the suffering of the main character and his need to escape and work through his pain, and a weird horror like game about two people on a mountain. Neither plot lines come to a satisfying conclusion, and they never really meet to work together either. I would like to see either game fully developed, but they don’t work together at all and you are left with someone awkward and fails to feel fleshed out.

Despite this I won’t say the game is bad, just disappointing. The story has redeeming moments and does manage to build tension. The main character is interesting and develops well, and the environment itself goes a long way to keep you motivated in playing. Ultimately what has the potential to be a great game is held back by a lack of direction and strong narrative however. It’s worth a play through, but had a lot more potential.

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