One of the things I love most about videogames is the incredible diversity you find in them.
We have action games, roleplaying games, action roleplaying games, strategy games, board games, simulators, and on and on. MOBA, MMO, Sandbox, Themepark, the descriptive names help you stick games into their neat little categories.
One of the categories I have reviewed positively on this broadcast is the interactive story games from Telltale Games. I loved The Wolf Among Us and Tales From The Borderland. I didn’t play their adaptation of The Walking Dead, but people I know and trust have raved endlessly about the quality of the writing, so I’m willing to go out on a limb and say it’s a good one also.
Telltale Games has a formula they like. Get a great intellectual property, do some sharp writing on their own, sprinkle in a very limited amount of user control, and produce something brilliant. It’s the very limited amount of user control I’d like to talk about. If there’s anything I DON’T like about Telltale Games titles, it’s that they do run on rails. You have choices, but the story is going to eventually meander to the same general conclusion. And you can’t decide to just wander off and explore.
Enter Campo Santo and Firewatch. The connection is strong, the lead writer for Telltale’s The Walking Dead games, Sean Vanaman, started Campo Santo. For what it’s worth, Telltale Games has been very supportive of their former employee. That’s always nice to see. Vanaman has surrounded himself with a small staff of talented designers, writers, and programmers (they refer to themselves as “a scrappy little company”) and their first game, Firewatch, is out this week on Steam for Windows and Mac, as well as the PS4 (no Xbox One, yet).
Firewatch is a first person mystery game that has exploration at the core of its gameplay. You play as Henry, a guy who wants to get away from it all so he takes a solitary job as a fire observer. Your only contact to the outside world is fellow firewatcher Delilah. The complex relationship you forge with someone who’s just a voice on the other end of the line shows how great writing and believable voice acting can carry a game.
When you’re speaking with Delilah, the game functions very much like a Telltale Games title. You have a limited number of responses that you pick from a menu. As you work to unravel the mystery you find yourself embroiled in, the game becomes very different from the Telltale model. You can move about and explore everywhere. In fact, it’s required. You feel much more a part of the story for that reason.
The game ends when you figure things out and get evacuated from the area. If you were to play through it without stopping, it’s probably five or six hours of gameplay. For $20, that’s reasonable. I chew through a $20 novel in that amount of time, or less. And that’s the best way to think of Firewatch. It’s a mystery novel in which you’re the hero.
Graphics are good, although not what I’d call realistic, the musical score and ambient sounds are great, and the voice acting is as sharp as anything you’ll get out of Hollywood. So if you’d like to take a break from bashing zombies and you want to curl up with a good book, err…game, then give Firewatch a try. I’m rating it an 8 on my 1-to-10 scale. It’s a solid value for the price.
That’s Into Gaming, I’m Mark Lautenschlager.