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Getting lost in the woods is not fun and it doesn’t make for a fun game

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    Rating: 2.5 – Playable

    Getting lost in the woods is not fun and it doesn’t make for a fun game

    I’ve heard a lot about Firewatch since its launch. The game has been touted as a triumph for video game storytelling, and one of the better "walking simulators," up there with Gone Home. I don’t mind games in the walking simulator genre, and in fact, some of my favorite games could be categorized as such. However, after having played Firewatch, I am left scratching my head as to what people see in this game.

    Firewatch is a story-driven game about a guy named Henry who decides to work as a fire lookout in the summer of 1989. Henry encounters some strange things during the summer, and bonds with his superior Delilah over the radio. The game teases that there may be some supernatural or sci-fi conspiracy at the root of the whole thing, but like many other walking simulators, it fails to deliver anything remotely engaging with its plot. The buildup is well-done, but the finale leaves a lot to be desired.

    Since its story falls flat, it’s hard to recommend Firewatch to many people. After all, story is arguably the most important aspect of a walking simulator, and Firewatch’s story just doesn’t deliver. What makes Firewatch even harder to recommend is that its gameplay isn’t much better. The game is slow, moving at a plodding pace that will leave gamers bored out of their wits. Players just walk around the woods, often getting lost thanks to vague game objectives, and interact with objects. There’s very little in the way of puzzle solving or engaging gameplay. It’s a walking simulator that really lives up to the "walking" part, I’ll say that.

    The forest that Henry can explore does have some secrets for players to find and some interesting areas to see, but it’s mostly uneventful and empty. This is obviously reflective of how forests would be in real life, but mimicking real life does not necessarily make for an engaging or interesting gameplay experience. Despite this, Firewatch even has a free roam mode that cuts out the story bits (supposedly the main selling point of the game), but why anyone would want to play this mode is beyond me. The only reason I can think of is to get some achievements that they missed out on in the story, but even then some achievements will require them to replay the story.

    Replaying the story wouldn’t be so bad, except that much like the pace of the gameplay, the narrative in Firewatch moves at a snail’s pace. This seems to be a deliberate decision, and in a couple of instances, the slow pace actually lends itself to some well-timed jump scares and shocking moments. However, these handful of memorable moments don’t make the whole game worth suffering through. The mystery will keep players playing until the end, though I imagine most people probably wouldn’t bother if they realized how disappointing the end of the game is.

    What’s worse is that the story really doesn’t change based on player choice, as was suggested before launch. There are some very slight narrative shifts, but it’s similar to some of Telltale’s The Walking Dead games, where story differences are actually very minor, or the game just blatantly ignores choices players made. It doesn’t matter what players do, the same outcome will come about, the same things will happen, but the dialogue during these events may be slightly different. This is not good game design, and it’s frustrating in a world where Until Dawn exists and actually gets the "story changes based on player choice" gimmick right.

    Another aspect of Firewatch that the game really drops the ball with is its visuals. The game uses a cel-shaded art style, which gives it a unique look. Unfortunately, there are some bad lighting problems when stepping into shadows, and some of the colors just look off. There are instances where the whole screen becomes dim for no apparent reason as well. It’s clear that Firewatch shipped with some technical issues like these, as well as its stuttering frame rate and general poor performance, which is really inexcusable considering how small of a game it is.

    For the most part, I have been harshly criticizing Firewatch, and deservedly so. However, if I had to pick one thing about the game that really stood out to me as something that should be praised, it would be its music and voice acting. Sound design in Firewatch is really top notch, with Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer both delivering fantastic performances that stand out as examples of truly great voice acting in video games.

    Great voice acting really isn’t enough to make a game, though. Firewatch is just not fun to play. The game is often boring, its plot is a big letdown, and while it’s technically playable, it’s not going to be something that most people are going to walk away with a positive opinion of. Firewatch is unoriginal and uninspiring, and those looking for quality walking simulators are better off looking elsewhere.

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