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  • Realism In Games: What Makes Firewatch Feel Personal

    [03.19.20]
    - Randen Banuelos

  • The Environment

    Firewatch takes place in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, and besides certain locations being changed for the gameplay, the game tries to emulate the feeling of the forest as much as possible. The in-game world is lush with different types of trees, brush, flowers, and rock formations, with nothing feeling too artificial; even the lookout towers feel like a part of the landscape. The only out-of-place section of the environment is a fenced-off area that houses a biologist camp, with more details on that later. The game doesn't try to incorporate sci-fi, fantasy, or really any type of fantastical element into the atmosphere, instead leaving the Shoshone feel alive and beautiful.

    In comparison to games like Mass Effect or World of WarcraftFirewatch can feel somewhat mundane with just how ordinary it is. This simplicity, on the other hand, entrances us as players as it's something we can recognize from real life. We know what it's like to have these expansive forests isolated from society, and we often fantasize about escaping from city life to this type of beautiful unknown. The world of Firewatch draws us in not because it's an arcane world of magic or an advanced civilization at the edge of the cosmos, but because it's somewhere we could realistically go to, it's something we may yearn to explore for ourselves.

    The Gameplay

    Gameplay is typically where Firewatch gets the most mixed reviews and the title of being a "walking simulator." There's no combat, no shooting, no dramatic feats of acrobatics, nothing; Henry can only jog, rappel down rocky slopes, jump from certain areas, or pick up items that normally have no other purpose than being a small collectible in the lookout tower. Players were often left wanting more from the gameplay besides walking on trails or climbing up hills, but therein lies the question: what else could Henry do? He's an average man in his mid-40's, nothing special physically or magically about him. And that is where some of the most intriguing parts of the game arises.

    Firewatch approaches the feeling of being a fire lookout from multiple angles, and this includes how Henry plays. A real human in his role would do similar tasks, with even more time inside the lookout tower watching over the forest and keeping an eye on their firefinder, and even the game skips over these parts. Henry might not be doing something particularly exciting, but that's the point Campo Santo is making, it's not an outlandish job filled with great excitement. Although it's not very thrilling, it feels natural, taken straight out of real life. So, Firewatch gets another point on the board for trying to recreate our real world.

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