Firewatch, deconstructed

Firewatch is not my typical type of game. Normally I’m all shooty-shooty, knify-knify. Firewatch stood out for me as a game I wanted to know more about, I knew it was a mystery and that appealed to me a little bit, but i heard that it was also an “experience” – fuck knows what that means. The game is visually lovely, like a giant pack of starburst just exploded on your screen.

What I though was going to be a walking simulator turned out to be something allot deeper.

Needless to say this post will contain massive spoilers.

Firewatch starts off with a nice little intro, where you plan out how Henry met his wife and what you did in your life to get to this point. Things unfortunately start off on an emotional note. Your wife develops early-onset Alzheimers she slowly forgets things and people. You cant deal with seeing the woman you once loved slowly forgetting who you are and so decide to take a job in the mountains after the decision is made that your wife will go back and live with her family in Australia.

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Over the summer you take on the role as a fire martial, part of a group of watchtowers who survey the surrounding and report on any activity which your fellow camper might be doing which could trigger a forest fire. Your only point of contact is your supervisor – Delilah, who you stay in contact with via radio.

Needless to say your life of solitude and contemplation is disrupted by some strange going on. Your watchtowers in broken into, fires are started on purpose, teenagers are attacked in the woods, and your conversation with Delilah are recorded by a mysterious stranger resulting in everything you do or say being monitored.

As the game progresses you become more and more paranoid that something or someone is out to get you.

Delilah is your only point of contact and it becomes difficult to trust her as you go through the game, your not entirely sure if she’s in on all of this or just part of the same fucked situation. You choose how you want to interact with her, letting her know as much or as little about you as possible.

The end of the game has received a mixed reaction, and it partly why I took so long to write this little post. At the end you find a skeleton of a boy at the bottom of a cave, this boy turns out to be the son of a watchman named Ned who worked up here a year ago. His son Brian came along with him which is strictly forbidden under the rules of employment at the watchtower, however Delilah covers up this piece of information in order to let Ned and Brian have the summer together in the woods. Delilah mentions several times throughout the game that she never new what happened to Ned or Brian after the summer had ended and assumed they had gone there own way.

It turns out Ned believes Henry was sent here to find out what happened to Brian since he never came back from the woods over a year ago. So Ned does everything in his power to try and scare Henry away and to find out what he’s up to. It slowly becomes apparent to Ned that Henry isn’t here to find out what happened to them both instead he’s just here to get away from it all and live out his summer on his own. As Ned comes to realise this he also realises that the truth about his sons accident need to come to light and so he leeds Henry into the cave through a series of clues and actions he leaves around.

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In the end Ned confesses that he could never face up to the lose of his son and so decided to stay in the woods in order to continue living the life that he felt helped him to cope with the lose. He disappears further into the mountain after explaining everything to Henry, who at this point in the game is about to be evacuated as the fire has spread and will soon engulf the entire map.

What Ned did to help himself cope with the lose of his son; helps Henry to realise that he cannot run away from his life and that in order to move forward with everything he has to go home.

The big issue some people have with the end of the game is that its quite simple, everything has a rational explanation – its just a story about a man unable to handle whats happening to the woman he loves and has no idea whats best for him or her.

You are not part of a massive alien conspiracy theory, you are not stuck in a coma, this is not a dream.

Although I felt a bit like “WTF thats it”, I now realise that the ending was exactly what it needed to be.

 

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Getting back into the controller groove, with the Steam Controller

Recently I picked up a Steam controller and started playing games in front of the TV, not something I have done in a very long time. Being part of the PC master race meant I was anchored to a desk hunched over a keyboard sticky to the touch…  and covered in biscuit crumbs. To the side of it lay my ‘bitchin’ gaming mouse with about three million thumb buttons. Perfect for quick switching weapons in UT or mapping every priest spell from WoW to one thumb.

Taking up a controller for me was like a watchmaker being given an iWatch.

“What the fuck is this handy compact all in one thing where I can just tell the time with out having to configure 8 million different things at once and spend hours calibrating it” – is what I suspect s/he would say.

Its been a slow few weeks with the new Steam Controller, but not for the reasons you might think – after all the controller has been heavily slated. People stating that its difficult to pick up and hard to use. For someone who has been off the controller game for a while I can’t say I noticed, being generally bad with a controller anyway.

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My first experience with my new controller was Skyrim. Unfortunately for me Skyrim has no built in controller support. By default the Steam Controller tries to map to the games Xbox controller settings, since this wasn’t an option with Skyrim the game fell into some kind of half controller half mouse monster. Strangely this worked quite well.

Opening up the controller settings opened up a vast array of customisable options for the controller, you can map any button to any keyboard button and map any of the d-pads (?) to any mouse configurations. They also have an option for user created controller set ups ranked by user approval.

It turned out I wasn’t the only one trying to play Skyrim with the Steam Controller so I opted for the best ranked set-up. This again gave me a mash up of button support with a mouse cursor I could control when it came to the map.

Despite being impressed with the versatility the controller gave me it still failed to come close to ease at which I can play the game with a mouse and keyboard. Despite my lack of “skillz” with a controller it would likely be better for anyone to just play the game with a mouse and keyboard given the lack of native controller support in the game.

Some time later I fired up Witcher 3 on the big screen, having just played the game all the way through with the mouse and keyboard I was interested to see if the controls mapped better on a gamepad. In this scenario the game does indeed play better on a controller, taking into account my obvious keyboard and mouse bias I can see myself becoming more proficient at the game with a controller.

As expected the controller mapped itself over to the native Xbox set up. This unfortunately took longer than expected – basically fuck GoG overlay, and fuck importing game into steam. Its just a massive cluster fuck, after a little bit of googling I managed to fix the issue. So yeah if you have problems with GoG and Steam playing nice, turn off GoG overlay.

Okay lets go back a bit before all the rage. So yes, the controller worked nicely with Witcher, a game with native controller support. The benefit of the steam controller if you can take the default controller set up and fuck around with it, but not just in game. You can fuck around with it on a lower level – okay lets look at an example.

As a rule you want to quick save after every mouse press.

With a controller you lack something all PC loving people can’t live with out – Quick save. As a rule you want to quick save after every mouse press. The problem with a controller is it has no such support. You have to go into a menu and save that way, like a common console player. The Steam controller comes with two back panels which you can map to whatever you like as developer have no use for them since the Xbox controller misses these buttons. So you can straight up map one of them to F5 (Quik save). The other I map to F12 in order to get some sweet arse screen grabs – like this mother fucker:

Is the steam controller worth the money? For me, I’m happy with it. The Steam controller gives you more flexibility over the xbox controller and lets you map any button to your keyboard giving you plenty of control over how you want to play. It even mimics mouse movement pretty well and with further updates I’m sure it will get even better.

Currently using it to work through Firewatch, and everything works. With the added benefit of screen grabs.

 

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