As an avid gamer, I believe that a really good video game is equal to a well-written book.
Through many of the games I’ve played, I’ve gone on adventures in compelling worlds and developed bonds with characters that are stronger and more long-lasting than many of my favorite literary characters.
I have no ambition to be a game reviewer, but this is a blog about writing, books and above all, stories. Therefore, I want to recommend ones that I’ve personally enjoyed in whatever medium they might come. I’ve recently played a game that I think is a good introduction to video games from a storytelling perspective.
Developer: Camp Santo
Playtime: Roughly 4-6 hours for a single playthrough
Price: 19.99 US Dollars
Disclaimer: I own a copy of this game which I purchased for my own money. All images used in this post are screenshots from my personal playthroughs.
In this game, you take on the role of Henry. I don’t want to say too much about the character or the plot because it will ruin the experience and any small details could easily spoil the more surprising plot twists. But, basically, for reasons, Henry has had to face some difficult choices and uncomfortable circumstances in his personal life. In an attempt to avoid facing reality he’s accepted a temporary job as a fire lookout taking up residence in a watchtower in the Wyoming wilderness.
The area can only be reached either though days of strenuous hiking or by helicopter; Henrys only link to the outside world is through a handheld radio which he uses to communicate with his supervisor, Delilah.
THE MECHANIKS, & GAMEPLAY
Firewatch falls into the genre of game that is usually described as a walking simulator. I don’t think that’s a very good or helpful description; instead, I like to think of it as a visual and interactive novel.
This is not a game centered around battling enemies or to win something; the single purpose of the game is to experience a story. There are no complicated game mechanics, no fighting, no multitude of buttons you need to keep track of. If you can locate the W, A, S and D keys on your keyboard and click a mouse (or use a handheld controller), you have all the necessary skills needed.
This is an atmospheric game, with a story told mostly through the communication between Henry and Delilah and their mutually dependent and isolated point of view. The thing that makes it so good is that the story is not static. As Henry, you control the conversation and are given options on what to say and how to respond. You can develop a friendly relationship with Delilah, or you can resist or deflect her questions.
Likewise, you can have a very linear experience and only follow the specific task set for you, or you can go off and explore on your own and in doing so discovering details you would otherwise have missed.
This gives you an incentive to replay the game. I have two complete playthroughs, with a combined total playtime of roughly nine hours.
I wouldn’t say that it’s rewarding doing more than two playthroughs, other than experiencing a story you enjoyed again. But, storywise two playthroughs is probably the most you’ll get out of it in terms of encountering new options or a change in the narrative.
Apart from the relationship between the two main characters, there are also several plotlines to explore that control, shape and bind the narrative together in ways you don’t really understand until the last few minutes of the game.
PERFORMANCE & GRAPHICS
I played on PC and had a very smooth, problem-free experience with no glitches, bugs or lagging. However, I own a computer built for the sole purpose of playing performance demanding video games, so my PC probably isn’t the best point of comparison for the casual player.
As for the visual style of this game, I love the graphics. I really can’t stress enough how gorgeous this game is; the art style and the vibrancy of the colors are incredible. That being said, the graphics, although realistic, lean more towards the artistic side, this is not a game with super sharp, photorealistic visuals.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING
This is a game for adults. Not because of any R rated language or visuals, but because of the story. In general, this game has been widely praised, but there has been some controversy in regards to the ending. Many see it as anticlimactic, I agree, my instinctive, gut reaction was: “What? This can’t be it!” But, in my opinion, that’s what makes it so good. This isn’t a fairytale; it’s a story about grown-ups, facing grown-up problems.
If you enter into the story with that understanding, I believe you’ll be able to appreciate the ending. It’s a realistic conclusion to a story that’s satisfying but doesn’t sugarcoat the complex situations you have to face as an adult.
It’s not a story that will leave you feeling upbeat and ready to take on the world; instead, it’s a beautiful, evocative and emotional story. After completing the game and giving the ending an hour or two to sink in, the emotion I was left with was one of cautious hope.