It feels slightly awkward, that as I bid goodbye to 2016 I’m taking a journey back into the 80s! Taking a peek through that magical decade, the MTV revolution had forced itself on a 24/7 TV, Hollywood was reinventing itself with sci-fi movies such as ‘E.T.’ and ‘Back To The Future’ series, the VCRs, audio cassettes, boomboxes, had stepped into our homes as the next generation technology and also redefining a long-term alliance between entertainment, youth and pop culture. On the other side, gaming, as it were, became a growing alternative to TV & movie entertainment with titles like Super Mario Bros, Tetris, Donkey Kong, which are today regarded as cult classics. Needless to say, whichever part of the world you were born, you weren’t immune from the razzmatazz of the tech and culture boom in the 80s. Let me come back to 2016 now.
The game which has summoned my inert nostalgia is called Firewatch by Campo Santo, a brilliant indie genre par excellence, of course, set in the 80s, and so reminiscent of that awesome decade. I had read positive reviews on Firewatch so when it became available on the PSN season sale for CAD12.99 I decided to pick it! The other point of writing this post is because I felt this game hasn’t really been discussed a lot, while we continue to endorse some bigger titles this one deserves its rightful place too. (If you are inclined, Firewatch has a Reddit community too.)
The Game (No spoilers, I promise!)
Firewatch is a short, and an enjoyable affair. It could have been a biographical account of some hiker which came alive on screen as an adventure. The best, and perhaps the most vivid characteristic of Firewatch is that it contains no fierce-looking villains, long & stretched boss fights which you need to finish off before progressing the story or even treasure hunts, some qualities which today’s gamers have come to endorse. Basically, a nice break from the complexity of hardcore gaming. It’s a simple story set in the wilderness of the Wyoming jungles in the summer of 1989 (oh, the 80s!) where you play Henry, a volunteer managing a lookout and exploring the vast green landscapes through some help from your colleague (or boss) Delilah, and through a walky-talky which is the prime object of interaction, you seek and sort out the mysteries of this adventurous journey. I’d be honest to say that once I started to play I couldn’t keep the controller down for 5 hours. There are supply caches, and rugged mountain terrains to be explored and mysteries to be unearthed and to dwell upon. The artistic landscapes are rendered from artworks by Olly Moss, (Jane Ng, lead environmental artist at Campo Santo, was tasked with translating Moss’ work into 3D environments while maintaining his stylized artistic vision) making it more interesting & subtle than the peculiar computer-generated graphics, which merges with the storyline so casually. Having said that, I’m wondering how CGI graphics would make a difference if the game was to have a sequel and a much aggressive storyline. (thinking about the jungles from Uncharted 4)
I have shared screenshots of some landscapes which I found interesting and there are more screen grabs at this IMGUR gallery with spoiler alert!
Looking at the graphics this game definitely deserves a VR experience in addition to new plots, and in the absence of a ‘boss fight’ making the climax more intriguing and dramatic.
As a hiker, I personally believe that Firewatch is a hiking simulator, if not a substitute for the actual walking undoubtedly, but it’s a great concept to experience nature from the comforts of your home. Also, with the Free Roam mode, the experience comes closer to being on an actual hiking trail. A pro tip – don’t forget to take your axe and flashlight before you leave your cabin if you decide to just roam around. As it happened with me, once the sun sets your visibility becomes next to zero and your map would be virtually impossible to read out in the open dark woods. If you come across a blocked path you’re on your own in the dark with no Delilah to help you in the Free Roam mode. Coming back to the gameplay, the mystery surrounding the forest does build up and keeps you nailed to your seat but the ending lacks a punch and my expectation was completely dashed. For a short 2-5 hour gameplay story, I believe the narrative ended too soon and offered very little solace to my inquisitive mind. There are definitely high expectations from the sequel if the studio has plans for it.
The soundtrack of Firewatch is very evocative of the 80s pop genre. You cannot but listen intently to the “Push Play” song being played on a boombox at the Jonesy Lake (check screen capture above) where two drunk teens are skinny dipping on Day 2, even as you’re in the midst of the game. It sent me on a wild searching spree on Google actually believing that an 80s band called ‘Cheap Talk’ scored the music for the track. There’s a mystery surrounding the track too which is posted by Owen S Good in his insightful article. Least to say it’s a reverberating, melodious track, reminding you just how amazing the 80s’ pop music scene was. Have a listen!
In The End
If you are looking to just have an easy time playing a game on a lazy afternoon (or night, whatever), or maybe if you’re a beginner in gaming and not feeling too motivated to compete with villains, then Firewatch is the title for you. It’s a journey of its characters in the frontline wilderness conveying a story through their personal experiences. If you’re a trophy hunter it’s an easy one but there’s no Platinum trophy to win, which is a bummer. It’s enjoyable also because you wouldn’t have to hunt the Internet to complete a level and all the accessories come as part of your walkthrough in the game. Firewatch is like a book which you can’t put down, that you not only visualize through the minds of the characters but also experience because, in the end, it’s a game. I’m glad, it gave the perfect ending to my 2016 gaming life!