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Review

Firewatch Review

Wandering the Wyoming wilderness

Firewatch’s opening is totally unexpected, with something so simple and effective in conjuring your character and getting you to relate to them, that it can easily be compared to the opening moments of The Last of Us or the sublime first ten minutes of the Pixar movie ‘Up’. It sets the scene perfectly as bearded forty-something Henry heads to wilds of Wyoming during a particularly long, hot summer of 1989, to watch over the Shoshone National Forrest with only the voice of his boss, Delilah, to keep him company via radio.

What follows is perhaps less of a game and more of an interactive five to six hour play. You don’t really do much more than investigate and explore the countryside, with the story gradually unfolding as you visit locations or discover the odd clue. Much like Dropsy the Clown or SOMA, the trailers for the game are misleading, and the mystery of who or what is out in the forest with you is almost secondary to the relationship that blossoms between Henry and Delilah.

The two characters converse about love, life, regrets and hopes as Henry wanders across the mountainous countryside and, like Life is Strange and other modern graphic adventure games, you can influence the relationship to some degree by choosing how to respond to Delilah. It’s not as refined as the Dontnod title, you can’t branch the story in any real way, but you can change small details.

Thankfully the two actors voicing the main characters,  Rich Sommer (Harry Crane in Mad Men) and Cissy Jones (Joyce in Life is Strange) do a fantastic job, and the script has been carefully crafted and directed so that the dialogue flows freely. No matter what you chose to say or do, the conversation never seems stilted or awkward as it does often with games such as Telltales’ The Walking Dead.

Firewatch-IL1

The game’s stylised version of a small patch of the Wyoming wilderness can be gorgeous to look at, awash with reds and gold as the sun sets, and as the game progresses and you approach the end of Henry’s stay, that environment changes quite dramatically in tone and tension, as smoke from a nearby fire sweeps across the landscape.

That said, there can be occasional pop in and the engine sometimes freezes for a microsecond, making the screen jerk slightly. The draw distance of the detail is rather short as well, shadows and grass details only spring in to view around five metres in front of you, it’s not too distracting unless you are wandering down a gulley and the bright red rocks in front of you are seemingly painted burnt auburn as you move forward and the engine draws in shadows. It’s a little niggle, but I’m sure the PlayStation 4 isn’t being pushed too hard when rendering the landscape and could do more.

Apart from some birds and a stag at the start of the game, the forest is a surprisingly empty environment. Although you may hear an animal or bird you will almost never see them, but while it may be unrealistic, it does add to the atmosphere of the game, reinforcing the idea that it’s just you out in the mountains without even a mouse for company. The play area is quite large, but despite being the great outdoors you are locked in to the footpaths and routes dictated by the developers. Straying too far in any direction and you will reach cliffs or fallen trees that block your path.

I would love to finish my review there, but sadly I did encounter quite a few game breaking problems when playing on PS4. I have had to restart the whole game four times before finally managing to complete it as the game refused to trigger the next part of the story. Thankfully, Stefan didn’t encounter similar bugs when playing on PC, but did find using a DualShock 4 controller to be impossible – despite apparently being supported – and had to quit the game and relaunch after a severe and sustained frame rate drop. [Update: anecdotally, these issues have not been reported in other reviews]

Unfortunately, if you encounter a game breaking bug, you can’t skip back to the previous checkpoint as it will have been overwritten by the new bugged save point – you might have luck reverting back to a save stored online. The problems I encountered occurred in different locations each time, so it appears to be more than just a single localised bug.

Another problem I encountered on three of my play throughs Henry’s hand was also merged with a rock for some time, obscuring the view of the compass and making navigation almost impossible.

The only upside of this is that I managed to play and explore practically every piece of dialogue in the game, and can say that, if you really want to, you could speed run Firewatch in a little over two hours.

What’s Good:

  • Superb story.
  • Stylised yet gorgeous graphics.
  • Impressive voice acting.
  • You will want to become a Firewarden.

What’s Bad:

  • Limited replayability.
  • Potentially game breaking bugs.

You already know if you are going to be buying Firewatch, and if you loved Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Life Is Strange then this is the game for you. It’s small, short and almost perfectly formed, it’s just the shame the game broke so many times when I was playing it. I’m hoping these problems can be found and fixed very quickly after launch and I would suggest holding off buying the game until a patch has been released, but until then we don’t have much of a choice but to mark an otherwise lovely game down due to the problems encountered.

Score: 7/10

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26 Comments
  1. Forrest_01
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    Hmm, judging by the text of the review itself, I would be hard pressed to give it a 7 – Sounds to me more like about a 4. Maybe less?

    Could potentially be completed in no more than 2 hours.
    Game breaking bugs that could possibly screw your entire game from then on out if you weren’t backing up regularly… & that occur in more than one location.

    Not saying it’s wrong of course, there was clearly a lot to enjoy – But for me, those two things alone are pretty huge & should invoke major consideration as to whether to pick it up at all (regardless of whether it ends up with a patch or not)

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 18:42.
    • MrYd
      Member
      Since: Mar 2011

      Sounds more like a “when it’s on sale or PS+” to me, possibly shifting towards “when it’s on sale” if the bugs get fixed.

      Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 18:47.
    • RudeAwakening
      Member
      Since: Jan 2011

      Its strange because the majority of reviews are giving the game full marks and haven’t encountered the game breaking bugs.

      Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 11:08.
  2. JR.
    Member
    Since: Apr 2013

    Definitely getting this once it’s been patched.

    What would the score be had it played flawlessly?

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 18:42.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      For what it’s worth, other reviewers haven’t seen similar issues, from what I’ve seen and who I’ve spoken to.

      We’ve sent Campo Santo an email to ask if there’s a patch on the way and will add a line in the review when we hear from them!

      Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:01.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      They have now :)

      Comment posted on 10/02/2016 at 10:55.
  3. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    Lovely review Tuff, but…

    How similar is it to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture? I hate walking games with a passion (think Journey) and was under the assumption there was more to it than walking around?

    Either way, judging from the bugs I think I’ll wait a couple of months and then hopefully everything will have been fixed or it might have even gone on sale on Steam.

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 18:48.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      It falls into that “walking simulator” genre, as some people would disparagingly call it.

      Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:22.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Balls. Was really looking forward to it as well!

        Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:27.
      • Tuffcub
        On the naughty step.
        Since: Dec 2008

        Whilst it is a “Walking Simulator” it’s a bit more exciting Rapture. You have to use a map and compass to navigate, and there is climbing and bits. Ultimately you are just going from A to B, but it’s more involved than Rapture, in which you just follow a glowing ball.

        Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 10:00.
    • MOVE
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      If you hate Journey and …Rapture, then it really sounds like this game isn’t for you at all.

      Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:37.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Yeah, I’ll keep a wide birth of it I think. Maybe if they release a demo I’ll give it a go, but no-one releases demos anymore :/

        Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 07:40.
  4. MOVE
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    @Stefan L

    ….but speedruns are usually more than twice the pace of a first playthrough, so if that’s the case,then we are looking at 5-6 hours, right?

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:40.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      Yes, it’s about 5-6 hours for your first playthrough, and that’s said a bit earlier in the review (second paragraph, actually!). The comment about being able to run through the game in two hours is literally only brought up because Tuffcub had to restart the game a few times and so was in the mindset of and able to cut out any idle exploration.

      Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:54.
      • MOVE
        Member
        Since: Mar 2010

        Yeah, I found it now. I was scanning through the text a couple of times looking for numbers 1,2,3,4… :o)

        As for the bugs, it does seem that quite a number of other sites have encountered problems similar to the ones you mentioned. Then I’ll probably wait for a fix (…of the bugs).

        Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 20:12.
  5. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    I’m not too put off by the speedrun time – far bigger games can be speedrun in far less time than that. But i think i will wait for a patch all the same, or at least see if anyone else reports issues with the PS4 version first.

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:40.
  6. ron_mcphatty
    Member
    Since: Sep 2008

    Sounds really good, I’ve only played Proteus as part of this category but really liked it. Not read much about this but I’m hooked. When’s Firewatch out, how much will it cost and is it digital only?

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 19:44.
  7. colmshan1990
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    This looks brilliant, and the text of the review has certainly sold me!

    Well, apart from the bugs part that is. Multiple saves it shall be.

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 21:45.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      You only get four save slots :(

      Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 09:55.
  8. baska
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    Mayb one to save for PSVR perhaps

    Comment posted on 08/02/2016 at 22:02.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      It’s not getting VR, at least no plans at the moment.

      Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 09:58.
  9. Andrewww
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    Well, I was really hooked when I saw the first trailer, but now it sounds like one for later, for a sale buy or even Plus, that’s a shame. Thanks for the review.

    Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 07:35.
  10. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Just for the record I have got saves at the points where it buggers up! It’s a greta game but just stopped working for me on a number of occasions, I really wish I hadn’t had to mark it down for that but we have to review what we’re given.

    Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 09:36.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      The important thing is you explained yourself. I can see a lovely game shining through and without those bugs, it’s an 8 (or more) out of 10 – in my eyes. Sold. :-)

      Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 12:09.
      • Tuffcub
        On the naughty step.
        Since: Dec 2008

        Def an 8 without bugs, possibly a nine.

        Comment posted on 09/02/2016 at 16:48.

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