Firewatch (PC) [Microreview]
© Campo Santo
Walk around in the Wyoming wilderness while talking to a woman on the walkie talkie.
The scenery and atmosphere of Firewatch are lovely, I really enjoyed taking it all in. If a VR version were ever to be released, I'd be all over it. What I enjoyed a lot less is the actual game.
You move through a linearly unfolding story. Many classic adventure games are linear, so this isn't necessarily a bad thing. You start out at A and then, through a series of actions and reactions, you eventually end up at B. But where Firewatch falls behind is that getting from A to B isn't very interesting.
Firewatch doesn't have much of a story, and the little it has isn't particularly compelling. There are no story or character arcs to speak of, and the little suspense that is built leads to a main "revelation" and ending that are disappointingly anticlimactic. My immediate thoughts after around 5 hours of gameplay: "What, that's it!?"
There are also some technical niggles that were frustrating. You can't run with the map in your hand, you have to put it away first. On the gamepad, that means pressing down on the the D-Pad. Which means if you're holding the map and you're walking, you first have to stop walking, use your left thumb to put away the map and then you can start walking again and press the left joystick to run. Given that you have to walk many long distances in Firewatch, I wanted to run a lot and this quickly became really annoying.
I also often had to get my bearings by looking at the map. Pressing LB zooms into the map, but it always zooms to the map center instead of your current location. So every time you zoom in, you have to pan to your current location again to see where you need to head. I assume they did this for the sake of realism, but c'mon.
What also quickly gets boring is climbing up and down ropes and rocks. It's the same process each and every time and there's zero challenge in it. You just press a button to initiate the movement, and then press the left joystick in the appropriate direction. The rest is automatic. The only thing all these ledges and rocks in your way achieve is make your journey from A to B take longer. This was probably also done for the sake of realism, but when realism turns into tedium, you've taken it too far.
This became especially apparent on the final day, where you have to finish a particularly lengthy hike and there's probably half a dozen ropes and rocks you have to climb. At that point I had already had more than enough and just wanted to be done with it.
Overall, it's a damn shame that the truly beautiful scenery is weighed down by such a bad story and game mechanics. I would love to spend more time in Firewatch's rendering of Wyoming's wilderness. Alas, apart from taking some screenshots with the in-game pocket camera, there's really no good reason to go back.
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