Firewatch – My Year Ends On A Good Note!

Firewatch - game banner

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!

Firewatch

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.

The Experience
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!


Game Details:
Title: Firewatch
Developer: Campo Santo
Platform: PC, PS4, Linux, Windows, OS X, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Panic
West Duffin Creek

Seaton Trail

It was a cold November morning when we reached the Concession 3 parking lot of the Seaton Trail to begin our 26km hike today. The Seaton Trail, with a distance of 12.9 km from 3rd Concession near Brock Road northwest to Highway 7 at Green River is owned by The City of Pickering and managed by the Whitevale Community and Grand Valley Park.

I noticed a remarkable sight about the place when I looked around – it was swamped with dogs! And I realized that’s because of an Offleash Dog Park within the Seaton Trail area. And before I knew what was going on I was dashing against my furry buddies on the trail as they were scurrying around enjoying the freedom and fresh air. I also suspect they were keeping themselves warm by zipping in the wintery morning.

The trail is marked with blazes as well as numbers all along the official route, so getting lost was almost next to impossible, but still one needed to keep a watch. The numbers I was referring to corresponded to the trail we were taking. For instance ‘3N013′ would mean:
– 3 (Whitevale to Green River section)
– N (Northbound direction; S would be Southbound)
– 013 (sequential number of the trailhead)

There were also blazes – a Single blaze meant the trail proceeds straight and Double Blaze would signify oncoming turns; left or right, depending upon the placement.

The cold weather and the winds were unrelenting. Within the first 15 mins of the trail I met a steep, never-ending hillock where I had to start dealing with a running nose and which would be an endless exercise throughout the hike. As well as certain muddy patches due to the overnight showers (we were informed about this situation) that provided some challenge for me. The plunge I had taken during the hike last week was still afresh and though I did slip a few times in the mud it wasn’t much serious but did race my heart a bit. At one point, we had planned to cross the West Duffins Creek stepping on large boulders to make the trail interesting, but unfortunately the waters had risen quite alarmingly almost submerging the rocks. Some adventurous hikers in the team brought along a tree log from the bushes in trying to form a bridge. But that plan was dumped as quickly as it materialized because the log was very unstable and it would have caused a human disaster of an unimaginable size.

The terrain along the densely wooded area disguised itself with leaves and tree roots that reminded me once again of the Durham Regional Forest (but no biking trails this time). Also a reminder that I should be cautious in deciding my next steps (literally). We were supposed to keep up a speed of 5.5-6kmph all along the way but found that some members had started to feel the exhaustion quite early and we had to stop at regular spots to let others catch up. This became more prevalent when we headed back towards the starting point post-lunch. After a long arduous walk in the flurries and wet terrain, we settled in a dingy shed at the Whitevale Park for our meals. The flurries had given way to a nice snow shower which came down heavily. The green park was bathed in white, and so ravishingly. My hands were freezing outright as I tried to munch ferociously on the Falafel burrito and finish it faster so I can get my hands tucked inside my jacket as quickly.

As we continued beyond the park we took deviated from the main trail to explore the Whitevale Dam, where I quite ignorantly assumed we had reached the end of the trail to turn back. A really simple and a short dam built to offer a physical barrier to separate migratory fish species such as rainbow trout and chinook salmon (downstream of the dam) from native brook trout (upstream of the dam). At which point the Sun came out briefly as we scanned the beautiful marshy landscape near the dam, as the flurries returned. Continuing onwards to Green Park parking lot the path became more smoother and muddier once we passed under the 407. It was around 1-1:15 PM when we reached the destination to turn back. We had maintained a steady pace of 5.5-6kmph which still did not satisfy certain members of the group. They wanted the pace quicker! Nevertheless given the muddy and hilly terrain I thought I had done well, though admittedly my confidence levels were at an all time low criss-crossing the swampy patches.

We turned around to go back. At this pace it was likely that we would reach the starting point at the Concession 3 parking lot by 4:45PM. After we passed the Whitevale Park (where we had our lunch before) I took the lead with another member until the Clarkes Hollow Parking. We went with such ferocious pace meeting the trail bends and the hillock, almost jogging through the woods, that the distance between us and the rest of the group widened. We had no choice but to wait for them and take a breather. The downhills before had now become uphill leading to even steeper climbs post the lunch period. The exhaustion had begun to set in for some members, and quite rightly so, while I was working hard to keep the momentum from dropping. The exhaustion wasn’t personally felt until I reached the end at 4:15-20PM but it wasn’t as much as a little soreness. We had picked such amazing pace that despite the halts we took we still managed to save 30 minutes from the overall hike time. It was yet another awesome hike that ended, that goes straight into my book of memoirs.