Wot I Think: Firewatch

Campo Santo’s Firewatch [official site] is finally with us, released tomorrow on Steam (and on something called a “PS4”). Does the gentle tale of Wyoming wilderness captivate? Here’s wot I think:

Goodness me, what a wonderful post-game feeling. Firewatch is a simply beautiful game: beautiful in its presentation, in its sadness, in its pace.

Firewatch is a tale in a way so few games are. It’s a story you’re being told, but one in which you’ll feel heavily involved. In many ways it is the evolutionary step forward from the conceit behind many of Telltale’s adventures, where that sense of disconnect, of being an observer, is almost entirely shed. It’s something very special indeed.

Things begin in 1975, where you – Henry – first meet your future wife, Julia. In a series of text-led vignettes, you learn how they get together, marry, and start to develop problems. These are interspersed by Henry’s arrival in the wilderness of Wyoming, 1989, hiking from his truck to a distant look-out tower where he plans to spend his Summer.

Immediately it’s apparent that this is going to be a very pretty game – its gorgeous cartoon style boasting rich colours, a bulky, bold design, and wonderful vistas of trees, boulders and ravines stretching into the distance. And as you click through the micro-text adventure of the previous decade and a half you make decisions, subtle choices about the kind of person Henry is. Not ones that will enormously influence the plot of the game, but enormously influence how you interpret the man you’re playing.

Once you’ve arrived at your cosy cabin above the trees, the game proper begins, with the sardonic voice of Delilah at the other end of a little yellow walkie-talkie. Delilah is your boss, a coordinator in a distant tower who gives you tasks, natters away to you as you hike around the game’s sprawling hinterlands, and responds to your queries as you radio in things you find.

The radio is really the keystone of the game, the primary means by which you interact with the world. As you investigate the source of some fireworks being let off nearby, for instance, you’ll encounter discarded litter, abandoned clothing, and smouldering campfires. While you can directly interact with all of these, pick them up and examine them in your hand, tidy them away, carefully stamp them out, it’s by hitting Shift and speaking to Delilah about them that you discover the vocabulary of the game. Whether to get straight information, teasingly banter with each other, or let loose impressive torrents of swear-filled rants, it’s in this dialogue that the game is given life. And what life.

Delilah is a magical combination of witty and curmudgeonly, quickly calculating how best to skewer Henry’s sincerity, and bringing out the best in him in response. The two spar throughout, in the best double-act in gaming since Gordon and Alyx, except this time both get to shine. Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones provide performances that are easily among the best in gaming history, instantly creating believable, smart and engagingly splendid characters, utterly acing the timing and pathos of a simply fantastic script. I’m struggling to think of any other game without “Valve” on the box that has such expert and faultless voice work.

Why Henry is there, away from his wife, is explained in the opening minutes of the game, and yet I cannot bring myself to reveal it. I didn’t know, and so why on Earth should I take that away from you for when you play it? As for where the story goes, indeed what the story is even about, it would be ludicrous to touch on it. Firewatch accomplishes that same sense of leaving you completely unsure as to where this might be going, even what genre it might be, that Gone Home achieved – but takes it to a new level. (Another similarity there is the time period – it becomes apparent that the ‘80s setting is vital to restrict available technology that would have broken the story being told.)

The other immediate point of comparison, despite the games being astronomically different, is The Walking Dead. That’s unsurprisingly a huge part to do with Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin being leads on both games, and their influence is clear. While, thank goodness, you won’t be reading, “Delilah will remember that,” there are certainly similarities in the way conversations work. As you chat, you’re given not only choices of which topic to prioritise in a given moment (and therefore sometimes what doesn’t get discussed), but then further choices of which way to take the conversation, including the option to remain silent. In this sense, it’s very similar to The Walking Dead’s conversational structure, if on quite strikingly different matters.

But Firewatch feels distinct from both comparisons, and indeed most others. Despite such a strong narrative thread, there’s an impressive amount of freedom, and the moderate open land is frequently available for you to freely explore. While at most times you know where you should be headed, the game doesn’t feel compelled to drag you there, or worry if you’re exploring somewhere else. In fact, it accommodates your wandering off the temporary path with extra material recorded for visiting an area before it’s relevant to the plot, or having the two characters just chatter away as you pootle about.

You navigate the place using a map and compass, held in Henry’s hands in front of you when needed, attempting to negotiate routes around unfriendly terrain. There are points where you cannot climb until you have the right equipment, or paths blocked by overgrowth that you cannot clear, but they feel natural, and in attempting to find another way around you generally stumble on something else interesting instead.

There is perhaps a little too much traipsing at times. However, in a game that lasts around five or six hours, that’s certainly relative. Henry can jog at a sensible pace, and there are frequently smart cuts when you’re faced with a long return journey. (It also very heavily flags up when early complete freedom will become restricted by the story, complete with a second chance if you change your mind.)

The only other flaw I could find was a moment in the story where Delilah slightly contradicts herself from an early conversation, which could just as easily be put down to her panicking. That’s the sort of nitpicking I’m resorting to here to find fault.

A surprise detail in the game that was not mentioned at all in advance is the photography. At a certain point you find a disposable cardboard camera with most of its film still available, and are encouraged by Delilah to take some snaps of anything you find interesting. And it’s worth doing so, because as well as a nice little surprise toward the end, once you’ve filled your film a menu option becomes available to have them processed and delivered to your real-world house as glossy photographs. It’s about $20, via a website to which the game’s menu will link. (It also allows you to download the photos, and you could print them out yourself if you’ve such a set up with your own printer.) It’s a daft and lovely idea, letting you have an album of memories (good and bad) of your Summer in Wyoming.

Brevity might be the thing that puts off some, but the pacing of Firewatch is utterly exceptional. It manages to feel so overwhelmingly calm, so gently delivered, while still presenting moments of peril, even high drama. And crucially, it never feels slow, it never crawls along while you drum your fingers on the mouse. Its sedate carriage is beguiling, reduces your metabolism to its own, and encourages quiescent moments.

A game about characters in their 40s is rare enough. To be about despondent, struggling people, without resorting to cartoonish crap about mid-life crises or outlandish unrealism, is a truly special thing. Henry’s specific situation is something with which almost no one in the game’s audience will immediately sympathise, but surely all will quickly empathise. That’s a huge part of the achievement here – to not aim to create a sympathetic analogue for the player, but like most great fiction, to allow the player to experience someone else’s life distinct from their own.

Firewatch is a rare and beautiful creation, that expands the possibilities for how a narrative game can be presented, without bombast or gimmick. It’s delicate, lovely, melancholy and wistful. And very, very funny. A masterful and entrancing experience.

Firewatch is available from tomorrow on Steam for £15.

From this site

123 Comments

  1. Cei says:

    How does it play with controllers? Steam controller? Or even the keyboard?

    • DC_X says:

      I used a wireless XBox 360 controller, and aside from the onscreen prompts not matching, once I figured out the controls it played fine.

      • Premium User Badge

        Aitrus says:

        Only you can change that in the options. Onscreen prompts were all accurate for me, using a controller.

    • thither says:

      I just played through it with a Steam controller, which worked great. It’s possibly one of the least twitchy first-person games I’ve ever played.

  2. DayleNXT says:

    It sounds as absolutely fantastic as I’d hoped – and on Mac too!

    • Premium User Badge

      keithzg says:

      It’s out on Linux, too, which is where I intend on playing it. Always nice when devs put in the little extra effort to make it so we can just stay in our computer OS of choice!

  3. Morte66 says:

    Steam calls it an “adventure”.

    Is it a contrived puzzle adventure in the Walking Dead sense? Do you have to grab a brick through some railings, but even though it’s clearly within arms reach and there are any number sticks to pull/push it with, you can’t until you’ve been out the back of the store and had a conversation about X?

    Or is it more like Gone Home, a revealed story where a few obstacles (you need the key to the garage or whatever) make things unwind in a suitable order?

    As you may guess, I’m leery of “adventures”. I liked Gone Home but despised The Walking Dead.

    • Risingson says:

      I don’t discriminate: I think of both examples as really shallow narrative.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      It’s in between.

      There’s no quick time events and the “puzzle” solving is actually even lighter than Walking Dead. It consists mostly finding a few tools that open up more of the map as you go along.

      The dialogue system is closer to Walking Dead though in how it adapts to your actions.

      • Morte66 says:

        Thanks for the info.

        • Cleave says:

          I’d say it’s a lot like Gone Home but the interaction with the person on the radio makes it more engaging in a way as there’s more of an active story with you in the centre of it, although I found Gone Home gripping as well. I don’t really want to say any more but it’s utterly fantastic, if you liked Gone Home then I’m sure you’ll like this.

          • Cleave says:

            About the puzzle elements, they’re very light. The areas that are inaccessible don’t feel forced in any way and you come upon the required equipment very naturally as you need it. There’s nothing to worry about on that front.

  4. shagen454 says:

    Sounds great! One of the few games that I have actually been anticipating for a long while. Glad to hear it’s shaped up, but from all the previews I’ve seen they had this one nailed from the beginning.

    • geisler says:

      Yep. The only big shame is that it’s apparently incredibly short.

      • draglikepull says:

        The review says about 6 hours, which seems like a perfectly adequate length for a narrative game. That’s roughly the length of three movies and just a little shorter than the amount of time it typically takes me to read a novel.

        • Cleave says:

          For what it’s worth I finished it in 3 hours and I don’t feel like I missed much or rushed through it. I explored the map and the dialogue options and read all the notes I found but I will be playing it again to see what else there is to discover.

          I also don’t think it should have been any longer, as John said in the review the pacing is spot on.

      • John Walker says:

        There’s also value in replaying. You can have different experiences, about which I will try to write more once I’ve shed this flu.

      • manny says:

        I hate games that last over 6 hours long, let alone the ridiculous lengths of rpgs. (which only baldurs gate 2 with gameguide every lived up to, so I probably completed that in 15 hours)

        we all know they pad the game with random fetch quests, while skimping on everything else.

        • Atomica says:

          I’ve been enjoying The Witcher 3, in spite of its length. All the quests (including side quests) feel like they tell another part of the story.

          As I near the end, it feels like a really good book. That feeling of satisfaction about knowing the main story, but all the little details that make the world tick.

        • fish99 says:

          So if a game was 30 hrs and all wonderful, you’d still hate it?

        • KastaRules says:

          Don’t ever play MGSVTPP then!

  5. godunow says:

    Is Firewatch like Life is Strange in terms of gameplay?

    • jbb060 says:

      It doesn’t play anything like it, except in the most general, ‘choice-based dialogue shaping the game’s story’ sense. It does have a lot of the same feel as early Life is Strange though, as it focuses on relationships in a wooded part of northern America and has a sense of wider events taking place in the background.

      If you’ve finished Life is Strange and looking for something to scratch the same itch, I’d heartily recommend it. That you’re a weary middle-aged man, rather than a confused teen, means the story told is quite different but it’s a beautiful game that develops what narrative-led games can do in a similar way.

  6. Laurentius says:

    If that is a future of video games then I pass and go back to the 90’s. Another “video game” for critics to drool over. “We write about “important” stuff like our colleagues critics of respected mediums. Our medium has matured! Whoop-de-fucking-do.

    • internisus says:

      What is it with people like you? Does this game’s release magic Call of Duty out of existence? You’re not the only person in the world, and not everything has to be made to appeal to you.

    • draglikepull says:

      You know that there are roughly 10 trillion games on Steam and you can just go play something else if you’d rather, right?

      • -funkstar- says:

        But, can’t you see that the presence of Firewatch hurts those other games? It’s like, there’s just no way to enjoy that new Transformers: More Explosions on the Moon blockbuster, if the cinema insists on also showing Polish arthouse flicks. Down with that sort of thing.

      • Robbotjam says:

        10 Trillion games? You realize that would require every living person on the world to make more than 100 games… There are roughly 784 Million games on steam as of April 2014 (Kyle Orland, Arstechnica link to arstechnica.com)
        While 784 Mill is still a huge number, it’s nowhere near 10 Trillion

        • Robbotjam says:

          Sorry, 10 trill would require everyone in the world to make over 1,000 games each, a much bigger number. It’s actually closer to 1,400 games each, which is significantly bigger.
          Is there a way to edit comments? Replying to a comment to correct an error is a rather dumb way to do it.

          • neffo says:

            1400 is greater than 100 though. There was no error, although your reply, arguably, was made in error.

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          cpt_freakout says:

          While you indeed just proved you are a robot, I hope you can see how that was a rhetorical use of hyperbole.

        • draglikepull says:

          I did say “roughly”, so as long as you round to the nearest 10 trillion I was pretty close.

        • Richard Parker says:

          To be fair, not all games were made by people alive today. So while it may be absurd to think that each person alive today has made hundreds of games on Steam, if each case person throughout history had made a few games, the number starts to look a bit more reasonable…

        • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

          Oh my god you just proved their point perfectly what are you talking about, the fact that there are nearly a billion is simply absurd.

        • Marclev says:

          ” There are roughly 784 Million games on steam as of April 2014 (Kyle Orland, Arstechnica link to arstechnica.com)”

          Errrrrrr no, that would be an impossible number of actual individual games! That article says that that’s roughly the number of games registered to steam accounts. A game can be registered to multiple steam accounts and in the case of a very popular game, it may be registered to millions of accounts.

          A quick internet search reveals the actual number of games to be somewhere around 6 thousand, which is still an astonishing number.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      The medium may have, the comments sure haven’t.

    • rochrist says:

      You must be a riot at parties.

      As for me, I’m more than happy to see developers putting some thought and innovation into their works.

      • Laurentius says:

        No. I’m just grumpy today but no matter. I see this pattern over and over and it has been going for years. It’s alwayes narrative and story that is moving video games forward and “maturing” them, why not clever design, interactivity, simulation level or AI? It’s always narrative that critics drool over and decalre coming of age of video games, which finally can find their place among their peers. And basiclly I wouldn’t mind all that much if those other qualities didnt take massive hit in last 15 years, with only of handful games that actually are moving the medium forward and the rest being just derivative, shallow and creatively bankrupt. But for those luminaries of games criticsim that’s all ok because “story” and “narrative” are moving forward (and I am not so sure about that either).

        • liquidsoap89 says:

          Did you somehow miss Titanfall, Destiny and Battlefront being released over the past year or so? Have you not noticed what the most played games on steam are… Every single day? Have you really not noticed how most games are trying to shoehorn multiplayer mechanics in to their games, whether the games need them or not?

          I would argue that -if anything- the narrative led games are a dying breed. Almost any AAA game released now is more concerned with spectacle than it is with actually telling a story worth following.

        • draglikepull says:

          The top rated game on Metacritic last year was Metal Gear Solid 5 (widely panned for its narrative but applauded for its clever sandbox-y gameplay). Other highly rated games include BloodBorne (praised for its gameplay, not its minimal narrative), Monster Hunter 4 (same), and Super Mario Maker (no story to speak of).

          Some highly rated games were praised for their narratives (Witcher 3 and Undertale in particular), but they were far from the majority. Lots of different kinds of games get praised because people like different kinds of experiences.

          • draglikepull says:

            I mean, on this very site, the Game of the Year last year was Rocket League. The year before it was Endless Legend, and the year before that it was Far Cry 4. Hardly games praised for their narrative depth.

        • bill says:

          I think you may be getting confirmation bias with your grumpiness.
          I mean, the “big things” over the last few years have been Survival Sandbox Games, Procedurally Generated Roguelike games and MOBAs. Story driven games have taken a big backseat recently.

          I mean, I don’t know what kind of gameplay you are after, and personally I don’t find any of those genres that appealing, but basically they’re all gameplay/systems led games rather than narrative ones.
          Then you have games like Kerbal or Minecraft that are doing totally different things with gameplay.

          We’re in the middle of a big indie-driven bubble, so the great thing right now is that people are making all kinds of games. There are narrative driven games like Telltale & Gone Home, big budget AAA blockbusters, turn based strategy, modern RPGs, a revival in classic RPGs, the afforementioned sandboxes and roguelikes and mobas and and and…

          Even in the narrative side, we’re getting innovation and people at least trying to do new things with mixing interaction and narrative. Story led games used to be mainly level-cutscene-level-cutscene, but these days you have people trying things like Gone Home, Her Story, etc..
          They may or may not be fully successful, but it’s early days.

          TBH, it seems like your grumpiness is more against games journalists than game types. Even there it seems to be suffering from confirmation-blindness though, as a lot of the games RPS has been writing about have been systems driven over the last year.

          • Laurentius says:

            Of course it is against game journalists. If you asked me 10 years ago I would say that I play games for their story even if it wasn’t completly true timewise being strategy game fan since first Civ. Then I started reading video game sites and I saw what was happaning. None on this critics said or will ever that game like for example Kerbal Space program is moving games forward or is a sign of games maturing. It’s always story and narrative games. Always. Of course they praise and play different games but only this type gets this special recognition. It’s been going for years. Not to mention that types of games mentioned above are exactly shallow and derevative and not creative at all. Seriously in the 90’s roughly every six months came game that do or try to do something new, these days is every 3 years at best. But let’s someone make game about divorce and it’s ‘golden age” of video games. Why board games don’t have thsi problem because peopel writing about them aren’t building their ivory towers out of wordsmithing.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I think it’s widely understood that narrative is one area in which games really do need to mature. Not just ‘improve’, but ‘mature’. So it stands to reason that critics would heap praise on narratively mature games. It doesn’t mean that no-one is interested in mechanics any more, it just means the medium is finally starting to get it right in this one tricky area.

          • Thankmar says:

            That in the Nineties felt more divers was because the 3D paradigm shift just happened, and games had this new bunch of possibilities. Now the basics of gaming are pretty firmly set mechanics-wise, the innovation lies more in the mix-up of them because theres not much to invent left, its more craft that ingenuity.
            But not in the way of storytelling. Its not that long ago that storytelling consisted of gameplay-cutscene-gameplay only, even Half-Life did it that way, only with a twist. Firewatch (and other games) are getting the praise because they are shaking this up by merging gaming and storytelling into something unique. It may be not that much of game in the sense of the examples mentioned, but the praise is that it is something unique, not quite “only” a story, not quite a game in the classic sense, but the experience of a story, “to allow the player to experience someone else’s life distinct from their own.” This is made possible by the evolutionary steps gaming has taken, the willingness of storytellers to tell their stories through a gaming device, and thus breaking new ground for videogames.

          • manny says:

            The medium is the message. design of a game is part of it’s narrative already. Personally think games have gotten to the point, where one needs to be a philosopher to adequately review them.

        • banana says:

          Ha! It seems you don’t even realize how the human mind works:
          Things that match with your own personal beliefs enforce them, therefore further cementing your opinion, and contradictions are dismissed and pushed aside. It’s called “selective perception”.

          Religion is build around that.

    • Merus says:

      I see someone’s aiming for Campo Santo’s press page.

    • pandiculator says:

      So the alternative is to stay buried in a lifeless medium meant only to waste time?

    • HuvaaKoodia says:

      People find movies and books to be the high point of artistic media. As such they regard stories as a sign of any mature medium. Personally I disagree, but that’s not going to change anyone’s mind.

      Narrative driven game is just a disguise for interactive fiction. If you think it that way there’s absolutely no problem. Unfortunately developers, critics and digital distributors think everything is a game nowadays, so there’s not going to be a reasonable consensus on the matter anytime soon.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Or: human beings love/need stories, and have been telling stories through every possible medium for thousands of years. Why should games be different?

        • HuvaaKoodia says:

          One word: Interactivity.

          Storytelling, historically speaking, implies a human author who has a specific story to tell. The medium is used to relay the story to the reader/listener/viewer.

          Interactivity breaks that form. How can you tell a specific story if the user (player) is going to change things? The more rigid a story the more dissonance there will be between what the user wants to do and what the author wants to tell.

          Interactive media allows shifting the storyteller from the author to the user. As such interactive mediums (digital games included) don’t need authorial stories in them, i.e they are not inherently storytelling mediums. Interactive media has the power to create stories!

          People will still have a venue for their craving of stories, but this time they will be the ones telling the stories to each other.

          This is also why I’m hesitant to talk about storytelling in interactive media. There are many better suited non-interactive mediums for that. Interactivity is about generating experiences and allowing stories to emerge from those experiences.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I agree that games in which players tell their own stories through mechanics are wonderful, but there is also a special pleasure in being able to make your own way through a more authored story. Every game is a conversation, and I appreciate a variety of topics.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Double post! Before games there were two types of people at the camp fire: the storyteller and the listeners. Now everyone can take on both roles, and every permutation in between.

  7. sicanshu says:

    Isn’t there a Kerouac book with a similar premise (living alone in a fire watch tower)?

    • anHorse says:

      Dharma Bums

      It’s really shite

      • sicanshu says:

        Oh yeah. That was it. I remember trying to read it in high school (during the obligatory Kerouac phase all American teenagers are required to go through if they suck at sports) and giving up halfway through. I do periodically still re-read The Subterraneans, though.

    • GameCat says:

      Spoiler alert – the firewatch thing is on few very last pages of the book. I was very disappointed with that. :(

    • Nelsormensch says:

      We reference that a bit but Philip Conner’s Fire Season (link to amazon.ca) as well as talking to retired lookouts was a bigger point of reference for us. Kerouac bailed like a month into the gig because he couldn’t deal with not having any cigarettes, heh!

  8. amateurviking says:

    What is with the ‘averaging one or more essential game a week’ thing going on here?

    2016 of to a flying start!

    • iainl says:

      If I had to guess, it’s a combination of all of the games that fled the standard AAA cluster bomb that happens every Q4, and all of the ones that weren’t finished in time to get out before September ran out. It’s hard for even Jonathan Blow to be the media darling when most sites have too many articles about Call Of Duty loadout comparisons and which Fallout 4 towns they’ve discovered online.

  9. ucfalumknight says:

    How come no RPS Recommended sticker? It sure sounds like you are recommending it!

  10. klops says:

    I think I’ll like this :)

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    caff says:

    Uh oh. Another good game. My wallet is crying softly.

    • anHorse says:

      Why are all the good games coming out right now? why

      Unfortunately for Firewatch this probably means I won’t buy it, length shouldn’t necessarily determine price but it has too much competition right now for my money.

      • somnolentsurfer says:

        Length means I’m choosing this over XCOM right now. There are too many great games coming out at the moment, and I don’t have time for that.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        The ironic thing is that virtually nothing good came out in the run-up to the holiday season.

        • anHorse says:

          Yeah all the “holiday” releases I got actually came out in like october

      • anHorse says:

        Got it anyway

        Yay for people buying digital items

  12. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    I was just thinking the other day that RPS spends far too much time on criticism, even in games to which they are clearly giving a glowing review.

    There you go again John, proving me wrong and making a twat of me once more.

    • vahnn says:

      I like that, though. So often reviewers go on and on about the stuff that’s obviously good while glossing over or skipping entirely the less numerous niggles and troublesome spots. More often than not, it’s those bad bits I want to hear about, because I can wait for a patch to fix them, a mod to alter them, or just spend my money elsewhere instead of being irritated.

      Strange perhaps, but that’s why I appreciate the full disclosure with regard to the less shiny parts of a new game.

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    gritz says:

    This is pretty much the platonic ideal of what I want a game to be.

  14. csocializt says:

    Shouldn’t sympathize and empathize be switched?

    • vahnn says:

      No. Sympathy is when you can relate to someone in a similar situation as your own or one you’ve experienced before. Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so to speak. To be able to see things from someone else’s perspective despite having never been in such a situation before.

      • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

        No, OP is correct, it’s the other way around.

      • Philotic Symmetrist says:

        As I understand it neither term has any implications or requirements that you have actually experienced the situation; empathy is where you feel the emotions as though you were experiencing the situation while sympathy is the feelings of care and concern for someone.

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    particlese says:

    Hmm, I had with a sigh written this one off for the marital/romantical drama nonsense, but if it is maturely handled and not in your face, as it sounds… Everything else totally sounds like my bag, so that’s good to hear!

  16. sillythings says:

    I’m a little sad you spoiled the moment with the game letting you order your photographs – seems like it would have been an amazing surprise. Not that it wasn’t a surprise upon reading you describe it! But, still (though I’m very glad you didn’t really elaborate much on the story – when I saw that happen in another review, I immediately scrolled past).

  17. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Had to stop reading other reviews because they seemed spoilery, this review was great & the game looks awesome! can’t wait!

  18. Richard Parker says:

    Hmm. Sounds like another SOF2 clone.

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    teije says:

    Haven’t even heard of this one before, but sounds quite intriguing. Will have to put it on the endlessly expanding list.

  20. brucethemoose says:

    Stop, there are too many good games coming out. My games drive is already full!

  21. Richard Parker says:

    I will definitely be picking this up, eventually. The timing is unfortunate, though – I hardly have time to try out the other great PC releases that just came out. (Hopefully for the devs it gets decent launch sales – sounds very deserving and I’m sure it will have a nice long tail.)

  22. Kai. says:

    Around how long is the game? (I’m playing it regardless, just wondering)

    • emotionengine says:

      Didn’t you read the article? It says so right there, around 27cm (or a bit less than a foot).

    • cafeoh says:

      Got lost a couple times (like 10 times) because of invisible walls blocking you (got stuck *behind* invisible wall 3 or 4 times) and the map can be a bit obscure at time, but I finished the game in a bit under 4 hours.

      • Impavid says:

        Hey, if you got stuck here, can you tell me how to get through the invisible wall in the scout camp? By the rock face. I accidentally saved there and I REALLY want to continue w/out restarting the entire game. No spoilers pls. ;-;

  23. ephesus64 says:

    I was looking for something special to be the 100th game I bought on Steam (including bundles with a many unplayed games, but whatever) and this will do just fine. Hooray for arbitrary milestones. I am guessing this could at the very least soothe the itch that only Kentucky Route Zero episode 4 will scratch for me, anyone else inferring that comparison here? Thanks for the recommendation, RPS, I appreciate your work.

  24. Drakesden says:

    Sounds as near-perfect as you can get! So why no colorful “RPS Recommended” tag?

  25. JimboDeany says:

    This looks great and I’m really glad that it’s lived up to it’s potential…..but now I face the same issue I do when thinking about reading the final Pratchett book, once I finish it it’s over….:(

  26. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Please be good. Please be good. The opening parts seemed really awesome from what I saw, please don’t let it crawl up its own backdoor in some way later on.

  27. Premium User Badge

    corinoco says:

    So, how do you start the game as a woman with a male partner, or male / male or female / female? WHY IS PLAYER 1 ALWAYS A MAN?

    I thought we’d learned this! !!%@%#$!$%%#%#^#!^!%^!!!

    OK, two questions:

    1. WHY?

    and

    2. WHY THE HELL NOT?

    • Skeletor68 says:

      1. Why? I guess it was a narrative decision from the designers. If you listen to the people involved in the game on the Idle Thumbs podcast or anything then you’ll see they are pretty aware of gender issues. If they had a vision for a particular story then I don’t see the fault in it.

      2. Why not? Developing a game with essentially a whole second batch of audio recordings and animations is an awful lot of work for quite a small studio. I actually think it can dilute narrative impact if the game doesn’t address the gender differences and just uses a model and audio file swap. I don’t think games have to have every option available to players if the story is particular to that character and their characteristics so don’t quite understand the vitriol here.

      Look out for the next game from these guys though. A really talented, thoughtful bunch of people so a different viewpoint or protagonist style will probably be on the cards next time.

    • wu wei says:

      Probably for the same reason you can’t choose to interrogate a man in “Her Story”: it’s a character-driven narrative.

  28. mike2R says:

    With the disclaimer that we’re well past the point of merely nitpicking here, I think empathise is used correctly, but sympathise isn’t. I don’t think turning them around would work – neither word would be being used correctly.

    Maybe “with which almost no one in the game’s audience will immediately identify, but surely all will quickly empathise” would be better?

    • mike2R says:

      Damn it! Can’t I at least reply correctly when I’m trying to nitpick…

  29. Synesthesia says:

    I just finished this. That was beautiful. Between the stuff Pugh, Wreden, Chung, the fullbright company, and now these guys, i think we might finally be getting the hang of telling stories with games!

    Yay for that.

  30. Morcane says:

    I must be the only one disliking this. It’s like a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie, with a totally MEH beyond belief plot ‘twist’.

    Very disappointing, but I probably don’t ‘get’ the inner, hidden meanings .. or something.

  31. anHorse says:

    “Five or six hours”

    I’ve just finished it and this is blatantly untrue, I didn’t rush but there was nothing left to do after 3 hours.

    I’m very disappointed in everyone in the gaming press for somehow doubling my playtime in this linear game with no side paths or anything.

    Length matters when you’re charging that much for something that short

    • korefuji says:

      since when has the cost of a game equated to the length of a game? People pay up to 50 quid for COD and play a sp experience that is probably around 3 hours as well, all scripted nonsense I might add.

      • anHorse says:

        It hasn’t but there’s a point where a game becomes simply too short for what the price is asking. It’s the exact same issue That Dragon Cancer had/has, sure a good narrative is good regardless of the price but there is a point where it simply becomes a poor purchase.

        CoD is irrelevant to me but I’m pretty bloody sure that most people who buy it do so for the multiplayer which they then play for a good while.

      • cafeoh says:

        Decent game.

        – Performance are pretty bad, had to downscale and lower quite a few options to run it over 40fps without awful headache inducing stutter (running on a r9 290 for reference).

        – I encountered quite a bunch of bugs, none game breaking (although I only managed to get myself out of a situation I would have had to reset from by shear luck). They decided to put invisible walls throughout the game, but completely forgot to enclose them totally, so I got myself stuck *behind* invisible walls for no apparent reason a couple times when exploring.

        – The timed dialogue system can be a bit frustrating. Whenever there’s a discussion with Delilah, you better stop what you’re doing, especially hiking, because even if it’s made for you to be able to do something while hiking around you may be in a position where you are unable to open the dialogue menu, and sometimes you have to ride the timer to the last second just because you don’t want to interrupt Delilah (the game waits for her to stop talking, but it’s hard to rebound on what she said without hearing it fully)

        – Short playtime, I certainly do not find 5 to 6 hours to be a real estimate, because while you may be able to roam around, there isn’t *much* to do, and [very minor spoiler] you’ll very soon be in constant urgency, in which (especially in a narrative driven game like this one) just looking around pops you right out of immersion [/]. I examined everything that looked examinable, read through all the written stuff, took my time to really get everything even when I was explicitly told not to, got lost much more times than I care to admit, and finished the game in under 4 hours.

        – The voice acting was very good but the script was alright. It oftentimes really made the characters shine (especially Delilah, and she really is a great character), but multiple time I was taken right out of it, because a certain reaction did not “fit” (and I’m not talking about the special circumstances of stress/intoxication either, although they still seemed a bit far-fetched at times).

        – I really had a hard time relating to Henry. The dialogue and introduction choices felt directed and made to serve the scenario too often. I understand that this is necessary to some extent, but going from a wide selection of personality traits to tack on to henry (how he reacts to his and someone else’s grief for example) to suddenly a couple of choices that feel very similar to one another and what I would consider “wrong” feels frustrating. I would have had no problem at all if there was no choice presented to me, and I had to deal with Henry’s words or reaction, but giving me a false sense of choice had me try and mitigate the damage (that you can foresee painfully clearly).

        The biggest example was when [minor spoiler] A character tries to communicate with you “stealthily”. I quickly caught on and was like “alright, I’m gonna play along” but the only choices I had were him missing the point and loudly going against the (quite obvious) plan *multiple god damn times in a row* [/]. That really frustrated me, and I don’t think you should ever give the player the control if he’s in a position to read between the lines better than you anticipated (and please don’t underestimate the player if you’re making a narrative game, most of them are gonna at least *try* to understand what’s going on instead of experiencing everything passively).
        To contrast with that point I feel like I have to bring up Oxenfree in which you could frequently see one of the dialogue option that suggested that you/the character got it, and you could choose this option and catch up after the fact. That’s also problematic, and I certainly don’t have a solution apart from “record a bunch more dialogue!”, but at least in the case you can rely on the player’s honesty, and it never feels frustrating, it just feels like you cheated the game a bit.

        There’s a few more minor complains but this is already way too long. So I have to say that Firewatch is pleasing visually, I thought the music was really great at times, this is certainly a great step towards better narrative games and maybe the budget is to blame for a few of my complains.
        It was a good experience, if you usually love narrative games and are willing to pay ~18€ for a 3 to 4 hours experience, don’t hesitate. The experience just didn’t resonate with me as much as some other similar games did.

  32. cafeoh says:

    Decent game.

    – Performance are pretty bad, had to downscale and lower quite a few options to run it over 40fps without awful headache inducing stutter (running on a r9 290 for reference).

    – I encountered quite a bunch of bugs, none game breaking (although I only managed to get myself out of a situation I would have had to reset from by shear luck). They decided to put invisible walls throughout the game, but completely forgot to enclose them totally, so I got myself stuck *behind* invisible walls for no apparent reason a couple times when exploring.

    – The timed dialogue system can be a bit frustrating. Whenever there’s a discussion with Delilah, you better stop what you’re doing, especially hiking, because even if it’s made for you to be able to do something while hiking around you may be in a position where you are unable to open the dialogue menu, and sometimes you have to ride the timer to the last second just because you don’t want to interrupt Delilah (the game waits for her to stop talking, but it’s hard to rebound on what she said without hearing it fully)

    – Short playtime, I certainly do not find 5 to 6 hours to be a real estimate, because while you may be able to roam around, there isn’t *much* to do, and [very minor spoiler] you’ll very soon be in constant urgency, in which (especially in a narrative driven game like this one) just looking around pops you right out of immersion [/]. I examined everything that looked examinable, read through all the written stuff, took my time to really get everything even when I was explicitly told not to, got lost much more times than I care to admit, and finished the game in under 4 hours.

    – The voice acting was very good but the script was alright. It oftentimes really made the characters shine (especially Delilah, and she really is a great character), but multiple time I was taken right out of it, because a certain reaction did not “fit” (and I’m not talking about the special circumstances of stress/intoxication either, although they still seemed a bit far-fetched at times).

    – I really had a hard time relating to Henry. The dialogue and introduction choices felt directed and made to serve the scenario too often. I understand that this is necessary to some extent, but going from a wide selection of personality traits to tack on to henry (how he reacts to his and someone else’s grief for example) to suddenly a couple of choices that feel very similar to one another and what I would consider “wrong” feels frustrating. I would have had no problem at all if there was no choice presented to me, and I had to deal with Henry’s words or reaction, but giving me a false sense of choice had me try and mitigate the damage (that you can foresee painfully clearly).

    The biggest example was when [minor spoiler] A character tries to communicate with you “stealthily”. I quickly caught on and was like “alright, I’m gonna play along” but the only choices I had were him missing the point and loudly going against the (quite obvious) plan *multiple god damn times in a row* [/]. That really frustrated me, and I don’t think you should ever give the player the control if he’s in a position to read between the lines better than you anticipated (and please don’t underestimate the player if you’re making a narrative game, most of them are gonna at least *try* to understand what’s going on instead of experiencing everything passively).
    To contrast with that point I feel like I have to bring up Oxenfree in which you could frequently see one of the dialogue option that suggested that you/the character got it, and you could choose this option and catch up after the fact. That’s also problematic, and I certainly don’t have a solution apart from “record a bunch more dialogue!”, but at least in the case you can rely on the player’s honesty, and it never feels frustrating, it just feels like you cheated the game a bit.

    There’s a few more minor complains but this is already way too long. So I have to say that Firewatch is pleasing visually, I thought the music was really great at times, this is certainly a great step towards better narrative games and maybe the budget is to blame for a few of my complains.
    It was a good experience, if you usually love narrative games and are willing to pay ~18€ for a 3 to 4 hours experience, don’t hesitate. The experience just didn’t resonate with me as much as some other similar games did.

  33. kament says:

    Lovely, if forgettable, game (thanks to D&H dynamic, mostly) that left me confused.

    I keep thinking I missed a huge chunk of content somewhere near the end, where Henry gets a certain gizmo, that later that night leads him to a certain backpack and so on. Ok, the receiver could’ve been a mistake of you-know-who. But the backpack? That was deliberate. Why? I must’ve missed something. Like, a whole character with their own angle in that thing.

  34. Premium User Badge

    johannsebastianbach says:

    Just finished it and gotta say, I loved it.

    I especially dig the beginning. Allowing you to «craft» your own background story is such an powerful mechanic to make you feel like you *are* the protagonist. I don’t think I could ever relate in such a way to a video game character. The superb voice acting helped, too.
    (Spoilery questions to you folks: Did anyone do another replay to find out if Henry/Henry’s wife got the same problems no matter what you decide? Or are there acutally different scenarios?)

    As the game moved on, though, I gotta say, the dialogue options often did not resemble the kind of things «my» Henry would say. I sometimes found myself «forced» to chattiness and joking around when I didn’t feel any urge for them. Oh well, probably necessary to move the story forward without getting too slow. But:

    PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD
    **********************
    When things started to get creepy, I found that I didn’t trust Delilah any longer, since it was obvious early on she had something to do with the strange things going on. I would have preferred to stay distant to her, investigate on my own, be vague, maybe even lie to her in dangerous situations etc. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible. There were many points in the story where I *had* to tell her what I discovered in order to trigger the next game event. This really broke the immersion for me, as I couldn’t play the important part of the story as «my version of Henry» but had to reenact the protagonist the developers intended.
    But again, this is nitpicking. I enjoyed the storytelling and found the game very immersive all in all. Definitely a leap forward from any game I ever played before.
    PLOT SPOILERS END

    So, despite some tedious corridor-y dialogue, I’d recommend this game without hesitation. Would love to see more like this.

    PS. It took me 4 to 5 hours to finish and I felt that was the exact sweet spot between «couldn’t explore enough» and «yeah, I get it, next story please». I think the length fits the story just fine.

    • pistachio says:

      *SPOILER ALERT*

      I agree that she very much gave the impression early on that she could not be trusted. She actually turned her radio off when you expressed suspicion. I felt that was a minor plot hole or possibly some cut dialogue without considering the effect on the player.
      Also, they were both paranoid about being framed for crimes they did not commit. With pockets and a landscape full of evidence to back up their story.

      That being said, this has been my most memorable gaming experiences in a long time. The dialogue felt genuine (best voice acting I have ever heard in a game) the story was top-notch although i suspect that especially younger players may find the ending lacking.

      I am very happy this game was made. May it be a blueprint for other developers how to do this genre right.

  35. Sic says:

    6 hours is pretty accurate.

    I just finished it. I spent somewhere between 5 and 6 hours. Probably missed a bunch too, didn’t really explore much.

    • Sic says:

      What the hell is happening with the comment/user system at the moment? It doesn’t seem to be retaining my login, and when it does, the comments end up in the wrong place.

  36. a very affectionate parrot says:

    I completed it in one sitting with a friend, guessing what was going on the whole time was fun, especially with the eventual ‘payoff’. I don’t get why people complain about the length, honestly it could be shorter and some parts towards the end feel like they were being padded by extra walking to get it into the 4+ hour mark that matters to some people.
    I don’t get the comparisons to gone home, aside from them both being very focused on narrative. I much prefer having amusing/interesting conversations and wandering around a stunning wilderness to rummaging through a gloomy house. Probably helps too that in Firewatch the setting is as unfamiliar to the character as it is to the player, while rifling through ‘my’ family’s stuff in Gone Home felt kinda awkward.

  37. poliovaccine says:

    Game looks lovely. Comments section kills me dead. You’d find more habitable atmospheres on Venus..! And probably more organic life…

  38. haldolium says:

    …and another would-be-great-game ruined by Unity and the developers inability to see that horrible image quality fucks up every piece of careful craftet art.

  39. f0rmality says:

    I’ve gotta disagree, the ending of this game ruined the whole experience for me, it made no sense with regards to the relationship you’d built up this whole time, and it felt incredibly lazy and like they wrapped up certain plot lines in one or two sentences. Up until then it was pretty good. Great writing and gorgeous environments, but the story was very meh and the ending killed it all. Just my 2 cents is all. I didn’t think it was worth it at all, solid 7/10 if I’m generous. Probably best to just watch a playthrough or pick it up for 50% off. Definitely not worth $20.

  40. Toupee says:

    Oh my god, what an enchanting, engaging, intriguing, masterful experience.

    It’s easily the most gorgeous game world I’ve ever been immersed in. If any game screams VR, I think a few tweaks would be well worth it on Campo Santo’s part. Wow.

    Yes. It’s like a work of great fiction. The script is thrilling. Almost every line of dialog grabbed me as not only plausible, but something I might actually say. The conversation Henry and Delilah carry on has the rhythm of a modern-day texting-obsessed relationship, but the quality of their interactions actually makes me long for that 80s technology. It just resonates with me, and it makes for a great primary mechanic where it feels like I’m constantly making tiny decisions in what I decide to say.

    I grew up just down the road from a fire tower, and while it wasn’t in any national forest, I’ve always wondered what kind of adventures those people got up to. Or could get up to.

    Upon completion, Steam has me clocked at 5.0 hours. There are a few natural edits in the narrative that let me spread it out over a few sessions. It also ran like delicious melty butter on my 970/i-2500K.

  41. HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

    I’m normally interested in these sorts of complex adventure games, but this just sounds boring. Another cliche plot game about a man pining for his dead wife (lol) and talking to an unseen, “magical” woman on a phone (double lol).

    Maybe the game mechanics make the narrative great, but this doesn’t appeal to me at all.