adventure game

Review: Firewatch

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

What is Firewatch? That question became a bit of a joke since its announcement, but now Firewatch is with us and I can categorically inform you it is indeed a game; a game about two people, and no destruction, no shooting and no aliens.

Set in the Wyoming wilderness, Firewatch presents an intriguing tale set against gorgeous scenery. Not everything fully works in its gameplay, but if you are in the mood for a sedate and well written story, this could well be for you.

You play as Henry, the newest inhabitant of a watchtower in a forest prone to fires during summer. It would be a lonely summer save for a handheld radio that connects him to the next tower over from his and the lone woman that lives there, Delilah.

I don’t want to spoil too much, suffice to say that a mystery starts to unfold that Henry and Delilah have to solve. Obviously, this is mainly Henry doing the figuring out, since you play as him. I will say this of the story: At no point does it turn to the fantastical to weave its tale. The story happens to Henry and Delilah, and is a good, old fashioned mystery.

Firewatch is more thriller than anything else, though it rarely builds up any real tension, but then again, that’s not really its point. Intersecting the main story is the developing relationship between the slightly broken Henry and the just as broken Delilah. They never actually meet during the entire experience, but the writing is so good that it feels like more than just a friendship develops between the two.

The meat of the story is that relationship, and how it builds up and is shaken by the mystery that unfolds around them. Henry is trying to escape his life, but you can feel the guilt in him, and I honestly felt for the guy. I sat there wondering if I wouldn’t do the same thing as him in his situation, which is a testament to the great writing permeating throughout the entirety of Firewatch.

Then there’s the feel of Firewatch. It took Henry a two day hike to get to his watch tower, and you can really feel that walk as you move around the game world. Its actually amazing what the developers have managed to do with the visuals. Yes, there are certain barriers to just wandering through the entire forest, but none are invisible walls or feel out of place, and some even come with a bit of banter between Henry and Delilah, which is a fun way to relay info to the player.

The developers at Camp Santo have done so much with so little, and at all times I felt like I was hiking through the woods looking out for any trouble makers. The view is just gorgeous from the top of the tower, and you can see some beautiful sites as you move around the wilderness. Is it on bar with actually being in the Wyoming wilderness? Even without ever being there I can say no, because there is a slightly cartoony vibe to everything.

However, this doesn’t detract from the visuals in anyway, and if anything, it adds to them. Yes, the uncanny valley this isn’t, but the world you play in is alive and real. The sound design has just enough of the ambient noises you would hear in the woods, and makes the world - and this might sound weird – feel ‘just right’.

The voice acting is absolutely fantastic, and the two actors really do make the main characters come alive. There is a ‘choose your answer’ angle to the dialogue, which doesn’t seem to affect anything other than your personal arc with the characters, and that is kinda cool. Firewatch is one of those games that you play, and what happens therein is your version of that game. It probably won’t be the same as mine or anyone else’s, and what you take away from the story is yours too.

My only issues are that it can be easy to miss dialogue trees and, secondly, the map.

The dialogue trees pop-up while talking to Delilah, and generally have a few responses to what she is saying. The system works well, but if you are moving about the world and start to interact with something, that action takes precedence over the progress in conversation, leading to a few occasions where I couldn’t respond because I was stuck in an animation and the timer ran out.

It’s a small thing, but such was the quality of the writing that I wanted to hear everything that was said, so this was massively disappointing. The other issue, the map, just isn’t stunning from a gameplay perspective. It is functional, and offers the feel of Henry hiking his way through the woods and having to orientate himself, but it got kinda of annoying to get lost because I hadn’t checked the map in the last thirty seconds. Getting lost is a joy, but objectively, the map isn’t quite fit for purpose.


Firewatch is a great game. The story that unfolds is brilliantly told and set against the stunning background of a lush forest. There is no shooting, no aliens, nothing supernatural, just a great story told well. If you want the latter, this is not your game.

For everyone else, however, Firewatch is part of a new generation of games that break the mould and do something that little bit different. With such craft and beauty it really isn’t hard to call it art.

Review: Oxenfree

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

You know how it is: Your best friend lets you know about an all night drinking sesh on a remote island, you agree, bring along some friends and a new step-brother, and of course think it will be a barrel of laughs. Then you get to the island and realize not all is what it seems, and those spooky caves feel spooky for a reason…

This is the basic setup of Oxenfree, the first game from developer Night School. It’s a heavily scripted side-scrolling adventure, with some decision-making thrown in and a good dose of artistic expression and atmosphere. It doesn’t always get it right, but as a first game for Night School, Oxenfree is a great start.

You play as Alex, a teenage girl led to Edward’s Island by her best friend Ren. Along for the ride are Jonas, Nona and Clarissa. They are all young and just want to party the night away. Unfortunately, heading into some caves creates a supernatural problem the kids have to solve.

I am trying to be vague here because discovering exactly what is going on is the entire point of the game, and I want to let you make that discovery on your own. Needless to say, things get very strange for the group very quickly, and keep getting stranger.

The interactions of Alex with the rest of group form much of the narrative, and unfortunately it’s here that Oxenfree breaks down. The writing is good enough that you know each person had a life before the events depicted in the game, each had events happen that form the person they are at the start of the game and it feels like each one has always existed, you have just happened to stumble upon their story

Where Oxenfree fails is that it gives you dialog choices for Alex based on what the other characters are saying, but each gives a slightly different tone to her voice and ultimately gives her a somewhat disjointed personality. Sure, you can get around this problem by always picking the same option (three pop at a time, left, middle, right), but that might not feel right for the question, and you are thrown out of the roleplay that Oxenfree is trying to setup.

This is compounded by the fact that characters remember certain choices you make, Telltale’s The Walking Dead style. You might be nice one time and horrible the next, but the characters don’t seem to react particularly naturally, apart from Ren in one case, but you only see the results of that at the end of the game.

It’s a strange combination of good writing and poor editing. It doesn’t completely cripple the game, as Oxenfree is still good, but I can’t help but feel keeping Alex’s story straight and removing these choices would have made for a better narrative. Still, the voice acting is so top notch that you can be drawn into the world regardless.

Oxenfree isn’t super long, I beat it in just over five hours, and this is both good and bad. It’s good because it doesn’t overstay its welcome and pad itself with irritating missions or a ton of collectibles/map markers, but bad because the pacing feels slightly off; all of a sudden you’re at the end with what feels like no real solution to the supernatural problem at hand. The last hour just feels super rushed, but I couldn’t work out if a little bit more storytelling was required or slightly better editing.

I do know that I didn’t feel totally satisfied by the ending, and though there are multiple ones, I felt like the designers were torn between wanting to offer something more and having players simply go through multiple times.

Had a new game+ option been available, I would have been more inclined to start over and play longer, but as it stands, it likely won’t be launched again.

I had only two other issues. The controls and the walk speed. The controls are set so that the cursor keys move Alex, Space is the contextual action button, Ctrl brings up the map and Shift brings up a radio tuner. This is a perfectly fine, but in order to select a dialog option when theyappear, you have to move your hand to the mouse to select one and click. When you are climbing down a hill or doing something else this can be annoying. It’s a little thing, and your feelings on it might be different, but I found it vexing.

As for the walk speed, even when running (only when the game deems that it’s okay), Alex moves extremely slow. I feel like this was a deliberate move to add tension, but it only makes the act of playing laborious. It’s not so slow that doing anything becomes a chore, but in the situation presented, it would seem like teenagers would be moving with a touch more haste.

To be fair, Oxenfree doesn’t feel scary at all, and is more a thriller than a horror. There are a couple of moments where I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, but no jump scares or any atmosphere of dread is created, so you just end up wanting to see what happens.

Visually the game does a lot with little, and again presents a island that has been there for years and will continue to be there for years after. It is simply present, and while some textures get reused a little too often, it’s not so bad that each area feels exactly the same, and with some tricks to infuse that supernatural element, Oxenfree can be a visual treat.


It’s not scary at all. I would be hard pushed to find anyone who would think it’s scary, even pre-teen kids would have seen scarier stuff on TV.

It is however, a good game. The writing is really great and the voice acting enhances it to present you with a group of people who lead natural lives but are thrust into a supernatural situation. The branching story stuff might fall flat, but if you have a few hours to kill then Oxenfree is certainly worth your time.