The Witness Review
The Witness is a case of trying too hard to prove to the world that video games can be art while not giving me the same sweeping narrative and more creative experience that Myst gave me so many years ago.
"On the forefront of an ever-changing public view of what gaming really is, Firewatch proves that games can be more than just games and that by itself may make it worth the price of admission."Tweet
The last couple of years have seen indie titles garner as much attention as major triple A titles, and for good reason. Indie developers are taking their expanded freedom and running with it, producing some of the most unique experiences in gaming. With more people than ever looking to indie games to get their originality fix, Firewatch definitely fits that bill. Like with many indie titles, the lower price tag isn’t always enough to convince people to give them a try. Firewatch faces that same battle of convincing the masses to give it a shot. However, it’s a bit more of a challenge for developer Campo Santo.
Thankfully, the team has some serious veterans of the space including Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman who were the creative leads of The Walking Dead series developed by Telltale Games. If you haven’t had a chance to play those games, they are quite well done – especially when it comes to the dialogue and character development. In fact, that was about all myself and others had to run with when it came to gauging how interested to be in a game seemingly built around walking and talking.
When Firewatch had its first showing to crowds on convention floors, almost everyone agreed that it was a very pretty game. They also largely agreed that they had no idea what Firewatch really was. Previews largely consisted of conversation set pieces and sweeping views of said gorgeous scenery, but folks were at a bit of a loss when it came to what you’d be spending your time doing in the final release. Eventually saying, “but what is Firewatch, really?” became a joke that paired itself to every new piece of information released leading up to its launch. Luckily for those who gave Firewatch the benefit of the doubt, it’s one of the more unique experienced they’ll have with a game today. Its uniqueness, however, may not be for everyone.
You see, Firewatch is more of a guided interactive experience than what most would expect in a more traditional game. You’re planted in the shoes of Henry, a normal guy who after a series of very much relatable events finds himself looking to get away from it all. His escape lies in a job posting to be a ranger in Shoshone National Forrest where he is assigned his own tower. On his first day he’s contacted via his faithful walkie-talkie by Delilah, his would be superior who resides in another tower far to the other side of his own. She’s a witty, sarcastic woman whom you will be spending a lot of time talking to whether you particularly like her or not. Henry is no slouch either, keeping up with Delilah’s banter but never quite matching her. You’ll explore the lives of both Henry and Delilah through their interactions over the course of the summer and through the happenings around the forest. Essentially the interaction between Henry and Delilah is the driving force of Firewatch.
There’s more to it than that, thankfully, and it’s an interesting weave of events in the forest that pull out the intriguing relationship between Henry and Delilah. The forest and its governing body proved to hold secrets darker than its residents would like to admit and you’ll of course unravel this mystery. You’ll largely be going from point A to point B to be delivered more of this narrative, and surprisingly some of the finer details are capable of being passed over depending on your actions but the meat of the story plays out in a unique and satisfying way.
There’s a level of maturity to Firewatch and a depth of reality that will resonate with many people though it may also alienate those who haven’t shared similar experiences. One way or another you are likely to be surprised by the depth Firewatch’s story and characters present, the depth of which may even take a couple of playthroughs to fully explore.
In an attempt to make Firewatch feel like more of a game, there is some of your usual area gaming via tools to unlock as you progress but it’s mostly just for the show of it and to keep your eyes off of areas you probably just shouldn’t see yet. It feels like more of a formality than a necessity but nevertheless it serves its purpose though it doesn’t make it feel any more of a game than it would feel without. There’s also a fair amount of fun little hidden bits around the forest to be found and while they don’t necessarily always expand on the story they sometimes do. Even when they don’t I always found them to provide a laugh or a moment of reflection. They are a welcome distraction that add life to a world that you’ll be spending a great deal of time simply traversing for the sake of narrative progression.
If the story doesn’t grab you or it’s characters, many people at least find solace in the game’s beautiful scenery and sparse but fitting soundtrack. The visuals are a pleasant mix of Wreck-It Ralph and cellshading like you’d find in the Legend of Zelda Windwaker. There’s an extraordinary warm tone to everything and several points that deserve a moment to take it all in. The soundtrack as mentioned is a bit thin but what does come through is well done and fits the theme of the game in general.As you’d hope in a game largely leaning on the interaction between these two main characters the voice acting is very well done. Delilah in particular shines here even if you’re not a fan of her wit and she will surprise you with how natural a performance she gives.
For a game that doesn’t have much traditional gaming in it, Firewatch can certainly be appreciated at the very least for its artistic side. That’s what it really comes down to with Firewatch – it will live and die by its uniqueness. For all of those people wondering, “But what is Firewatch, really?” the answer is that it’s what you make of it. If you’re looking for a game that is chock-full of traditional gameplay this isn’t where you’re going to find it. If you’re willing to pass up on that for some of the best dialogue you can get in a game backed by some pretty visuals and relatable story then it’s worth a look. Some people would argue that it isn’t really a game at all and it may be hard to argue against that but on the forefront of an ever-changing public view of what gaming really is, Firewatch proves that games can be more than just games and that by itself may make it worth the price of admission.
Join the War Council on Patreon to help us hold back the evil ads and get rewarded for your bravery