Wistful Walkabouts

A guest piece by a spectral being.

This is the first in a series of, not gonna lie, “as many of these as I feel like writing, maybe only one, who knows.” As alluded to in the title the subject of this quaint little review will be walking. Walking? Walking. In recent times a new genre of “gAmEs” has emerged which has had a polarizing effect on the gaming world, some call them horsecrap, others thing they’re marvelous interactive experiences. I call them Walking Simulators. Most people call them that, actually, even the haters. A few ground rules, I will try to do as little spoiling as possible as the genre is limited in its replayability and its entire strength relies on an interactive narrative. I also will refrain from any fluff images that may reveal more of the world than the dear reader is read to see. Let us begin.

Firewatch, Developer: Campo Santo, Published by Panic Inc. Released February 9th, 2016.

Context Sensitive button presses of note: Rappel, Pick Up, Pry, Clear Path

Firewatch begins with a short piece of multiple-choice interactive fiction to develop your character’s backstory, as well as establish his narrative motivations for the course of the game. Without spoiling much more than the first 120 seconds of the experience, it is the 1980s, you are Henry, your wife is Julia, and she is very sick with early onset dementia and staying with family in Australia. Henry rationally does what anyone would in a situation in which their wife no longer recognizes them, he runs away. He gets a job as a DUN DUN DUN, Firewatch in the Shoshone National Forest. Where his job, surprise, is to watch for fires, and some other minor park ranger-y activities such as preventing fires.

In the 80s you may remember there were no cell phones, at least not for the common man. Henry is a two-day hike from civilization and his only means of contact with the world is with Delilah at firewatch HQ, Thorofare Lookout, using a walkie talkie. The walkie talkie makes up the bulk of the interactive nature of this game, with Henry and Delilah conversing frequently about life, the park, and anything else that is worth talking about.

As we tread onward nearer and nearer still to spoiler territory, the reader may rest assured that the game is far from just a park ranger sim. A few in-game days will pass before the larger mystery presents itself. Just long enough to get acquainted with the mechanics of the game.

I can venture no further without revealing too much of the story, allow me to delve into the mechanics. This is where I feel the game has fallen a tad flat. A walking simulator by nature is limited in player interactions which makes the few issues all the more irksome. The developers decided on a strictly physical in-game map and compass. While I generally applaud such actions, the map is perhaps a tad too clunky. It is too large for one screen, often times when you bring it up your character will be up off the top or bottom requiring you to scroll, while zoomed in on the map you cannot see the compass, and while holding the map up you cannot run. In late game when you are asked to traverse larger and larger swaths of forest with more and more paths opened up, I found myself accidentally taking the wrong path more than once because I did not see a trail going off into the woods.

Additionally, these late game traversals become more and more busy-work feeling in comparison to the brief jaunts through the early days of the game. Additionally, I did not feel like the central mystery of the game came to a satisfying conclusion. After running Henry’s happy ass up and down the woods, canyons, and campgrounds it sums itself up in a discovery that did not, in my opinion, match the narrative they were portraying at all, followed by a flaccid denouement into the credits sequence.  A short enough experience at approximately 3-4 hours, 

I found the everyday asking price a tad high at an average of $20 USD, having purchased it for $5 during a Steam sale I found it a much more palatable purchase. While they were not the best five dollars of my life, I do not regret their expenditure if just for the fantastic first 2/3rds of the game.

I give Firewatch 7 shoes out of 10, or, 3.5 pairs of shoes out of 5. 

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