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‘Firewatch’ stuns with impressive graphics and gameplay

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By JARAN CHANCE

3/1/16

Independent game design is not as glamorous as it sounds. In fact, most of the time it’s really just a group of everyday people who decided to quit their jobs, rent an office space and make a video game.

That is who Campo Santo are, the developers behind the new hit game “Firewatch,” which saw its global release this month on Windows, OS X, Linux and Playstation 4.

“Firewatch” caught a lot of eyes at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo amid the explosion of narrative game announcements. This is the first ever video game release for both Campo Santo and Panic software publishing. “Firewatch” is very much so an indie game with an underfunded team of average Joes working around the clock and should be received as such.

In this first person adventure game, players take on the role of a volunteer fire lookout named Henry who decides to spend his summer in the isolation of the Wyoming Wilderness in 1989.

The game introduces players to Henry’s past through a brief introductory menu. The menu is simply a purple background, pub noises and white text detailing the events in Henry’s life that led him to here. This feature feels like a last minute inclusion and does not fit comfortably into the gameplay. Luckily, this is the only time this menu appears in the game.

After the excruciating menu sequence, players are free to enjoy the gorgeous world Campo Santo has created and what a vibrant world they made. There is also an entire original score recorded to accompany the player on their exploration, successfully emphasizing the beauty of some moments and the anxiety of the more dramatic ones.

The graphics look very similar to that of “Team Fortress 2” with blocky fingers and cartoony objects but the way they chose to present these graphics in such spectacular surroundings makes for a truly unique aesthetic.

Campo Santo, the San Francisco based developer responsible for creating the game, is founded by Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman. Rodkin and Vanaman were the creative leads for the hit game “The Walking Dead,” produced by Telltale Games. The game play is similar to the recently popular entries from Telltale Games in which players are given a few dialogue choices and a limited amount of time to answer or face the dreaded “Fine, I guess you have nothing to say” option. Although just like Telltale’s design, these options have little to no effect on the outcome of the game. Each dialogue option craftily leads the player to believe they chose the path that the developer intended.

Beside the narrative options, Firewatch shares little more similarities with Telltale’s games, instead sending the player on an exploration adventure. The gameplay is mostly hiking around the trails with a map, compass and walkie-talkie. There is no action or fighting as it is simply a narrative, uncovering a mystery and seeing it to its conclusion.

The largest complaint seen for the game is the play time of around three to four hours. Yes, Campo Santo could have diluted the story, delaying the player from reaching their goal or making new ones, but in the end the decision to leave the story as it was rings truer than that of most 30-hour narrative games.

This is a truly promising sign from Campo Santo and with any luck, a clear indication of what to expect for this company.

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