What I’m playing: Firewatch

As an avid gamer, I believe that a really good video game is equal to a well-written book. Through many of the games I’ve played, I’ve gone on adventures in compelling worlds and developed bonds with characters that are stronger and more long-lasting than many of my favorite literary characters.

I have no ambition to be a game reviewer, but this is a blog about writing, books and above all, stories. Therefore, I want to recommend ones that I’ve personally enjoyed in whatever medium they might come. I’ve recently played a game that I think is a good introduction to video games from a storytelling perspective.

Title: Firewatch

Developer: Camp Santo

Release: 2016

Platform: PC (Steam & GOG), XBOX ONE, Playstation 4, Switch (coming soon)

Playtime: Roughly 4-6 hours for a single playthrough

Price: 19.99 US Dollars

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this game which I purchased for my own money. All images used in this post are screenshots from my personal playthroughs.

The Trailer

The Story

In this game, you take on the role of Henry. I don’t want to say too much about the character or the plot because it will ruin the experience and any small details could easily spoil the more surprising plot twists. But, basically, for reasons, Henry has had to face some difficult choices and uncomfortable circumstances in his personal life. In an attempt to avoid facing reality he’s accepted a temporary job as a fire lookout taking up residence in a watchtower in the Wyoming wilderness.

The area can only be reached either though days of strenuous hiking or by helicopter; Henrys only link to the outside world is through a handheld radio which he uses to communicate with his supervisor, Delilah.

firewatch-screenshot-1.jpg

The Mechanics, & Gameplay

Firewatch falls into the genre of game that is usually described as a walking simulator. I don’t think that’s a very good or helpful description; instead, I like to think of it as a visual and interactive novel.

This is not a game centered around battling enemies or to win something; the single purpose of the game is to experience a story. There are no complicated game mechanics, no fighting, no multitude of buttons you need to keep track of. If you can locate the W, A, S and D keys on your keyboard and click a mouse (or use a handheld controller), you have all the necessary skills needed.

This is an atmospheric game, with a story told mostly through the communication between Henry and Delilah and their mutually dependent and isolated point of view.  The thing that makes it so good is that the story is not static. As Henry, you control the conversation and are given options on what to say and how to respond. You can develop a friendly relationship with Delilah, or you can resist or deflect her questions.

Likewise, you can have a very linear experience and only follow the specific task set for you, or you can go off and explore on your own and in doing so discovering details you would otherwise have missed.

This gives you an incentive to replay the game. I have two complete playthroughs, with a combined total playtime of roughly nine hours.

I wouldn’t say that it’s rewarding doing more than two playthroughs, other than experiencing a story you enjoyed again. But, storywise two playthroughs is probably the most you’ll get out of it in terms of encountering new options or a change in the narrative.

Apart from the relationship between the two main characters, there are also several plotlines to explore that control, shape and bind the narrative together in ways you don’t really understand until the last few minutes of the game.

Firewatch screenshot 2

Performance & Graphics

I played on PC and had a very smooth, problem-free experience with no glitches, bugs or lagging. However, I own a computer built for the sole purpose of playing performance demanding video games, so my PC probably isn’t the best point of comparison for the casual player.

You can find the minimum requirements for PC HERE and for Mac users HERE.

As for the visual style of this game, I love the graphics. I really can’t stress enough how gorgeous this game is; the art style and the vibrancy of the colors are incredible. That being said, the graphics, although realistic, lean more towards the artistic side, this is not a game with super sharp, photorealistic visuals.

Firewatch screenshot 4

Things to consider before buying the game

This is a game for adults. Not because of any R rated language or visuals, but because of the story. In general, this game has been widely praised, but there has been some controversy in regards to the ending. Many see it as anticlimactic, I agree, my instinctive, gut reaction was: “What? This can’t be it!” But, in my opinion, that’s what makes it so good. This isn’t a fairytale; it’s a story about grown-ups, facing grown-up problems.

If you enter into the story with that understanding, I believe you’ll be able to appreciate the ending. It’s a realistic conclusion to a story that’s satisfying but doesn’t sugarcoat the complex situations you have to face as an adult.

It’s not a story that will leave you feeling upbeat and ready to take on the world; instead, it’s a beautiful, evocative and emotional story.  After completing the game and giving the ending an hour or two to sink in, the emotion I was left with was one of cautious hope.

Firewatch screenshot 3

 

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2 thoughts on “What I’m playing: Firewatch

  1. I started following your blog because I wanted to know how your rewrite of ‘Fucking Kodiak, Alaska’ as an original story was going. I’m rereading the fanfic, again! Downloaded the epub before you took it down. The reading, game playing etc. is not of interest to me. So, how’s your rewriting going? I’d love to help editing and making suggestions if you need them.
    I guess your writing has stalled for the time being as you haven’t posted in a while. I’d love to help you!

    Like

    1. Hi, thank you for the offer and interest, I appreciate it. I realize that you other people who came to this blog from fandom has no interest in most of the things I write here. That’s fine, I don’t expect anyone to. But this blog is a way for me to always have a new piece of text to work on. Editing and rewriting a story is sometimes tedious and it’s nice to always have new text to work on to change things up.

      As for my writing, my first intent with his blog was to be very open with writing process but over the past year I’ve realized that type of openness hurt my writing more than helped it. My writing is not stalled, I have a very clear vison of what I want to turn this story into but having other people’s ideas, views and hopes for the story continuously in my head has turned out to be very distracting and disruptive. For now, I’m keeping my writing private, when I have a finished second draft I’ll open up about it and as I did with the first draft invite people to read it and give me feedback.

      Agin, thank you for the offer I appreciate it.

      Like

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