• Review - Firewatch vs Gone Home

    Single Issue XXXVII

    Firewatch vs Gone Home

    Firewatch (2016)

    Following his wife’s diagnosis with a progressive mental disease, Henry has taken a job as a fire lookout observer in Shoshone National Forest for a summer. While he goes to be alone, he quickly finds solace in a new friend, fellow lookout Delilah, whom he only grows to know over his ever present walkie talkie. Over the course of the summer their relationship blooms, however Henry quickly discovers that while the forest is beautiful, there are many mysteries within it...mysteries that he will be forced to find the answers to before it is too late.

    First off, the positives. Firewatch is a first person adventure game unlike anything else I have ever played. Taking place in a region of the country that I myself have explored and loved I was quite excited to play a representation of it. And the world, while not especially large, is quite accurate in its beauty and isolation. The graphics are not exactly great for a newer game, but the game more than makes up for it in its accuracy of the world. Gameplay is pretty simple, consisting of exploration, examination, and the acquisition of items within the world. There are certainly secrets to be found, as well as information that can more fully flesh out the world in which Henry lives in. The exploration is easily the best part of the game. In addition, the story, with a couple of issues, is masterfully well done. It easily goes back and forth between being hilariously funny only to quickly punch you in the gut with its with its overall sadness. In addition, it is well told, and with multiple choices at several points in the game it is easy to craft a different “Henry” every playthrough, which will affect minor things throughout the game. It also easily establishes how Henry’s life has led to the situation he is in. The friendly relationship the develops between Henry and Delilah feels authentic as well, despite their separation, and the course it takes feels natural for the audience to experience, especially since it lasts for a whole summer. Finally, the mystery surrounding the game that unravels throughout the course of the story is very intriguing, and quite unique compared to many games that I have played. Finally, the voice acting and the overall atmosphere crafted by the game are nearly flawless. All these factors come together to bring this immersive and mysterious world to fruition.

    However I do have a couple of problems. The near flawless story is unfortunately capped by two successive issues; the payoff for the mystery is kind of underwhelming, and Henry’s end to the story is disappointing. I can’t really go into details for either without spoiling both, but it was just kind of a shock that all that time and effort went into a story that ultimately did not have much of a satisfying ending. And while you can have two different endings, the overall impact of the story leading to those moments is...minimal at best. In addition, I found the world to be a bit to small and the story to be a bit too short to have a huge impact on me.

    It’s unfortunate that the otherwise great story was marred by the endings. However I don’t believe that it diminishes the overall quality of the game much. After all, it is only my opinion that the endings were poor. For others, the endings were good, and they enjoyed how the story led to those moments. While I found it lacking, I don’t regret playing the game even in the slightest. The world was beautiful, the story was overall rich, and it was a well crafted game made by a small indie team. I wish it could have been more, but I was happy with the experience. For those that like first person action adventure (but mostly adventure) I highly recommend this game.


    Gone Home (2013)

    Katie Greenbriar returns home after spending some time abroad to discover an empty house. Her mother, father, and sister are all gone, with the mystery as to why ready to be discovered.

    Gone Home is an interesting example of a game in that the gameplay itself is very limited. Focusing on exploration, a mystery, and discovery, the game uses its limited gameplay to focus on its narrative more than anything else. Gone Home gives you a large, mysterious house to explore, and as you do so, that house tells you the stories of everyone that lives in there....even if they are not currently around. Those stories can be very personal, true to life, and beautiful. Tthe puzzle of finding out the story by putting the pieces together, coming to understand the Katie’s family through the things you find as you investigate their house, could easily make Gone Home one of the most engaging and story-driven games I have ever played.

    Or at least it would have, had I found the story interesting.

    See while the initial setup of the game’s story is interesting, I found the execution to be lacking in many ways. You are initially concerned about the whereabouts of Katie’s sister, Sam, as a mysterious voice message on the phone pleads for her to pick up the phone. Some clues suggest something supernatural has befallen the house, while the desperate and sad messages left by Sam point towards a potentially upsetting and tragic ending. While the story of the then-taboo relationship she forms with a older female student at her school is can be viewed as interesting for several reasons, ultimately I was let down. Sam's struggles are presented in a relatable way that everyone can understand, for sure, but I find it to have a boring conclusion. Meanwhile, the story of the Greenbriar parents is pretty much par for the course, with the only potentially interesting thing about one of them being simply alluded to more than outright stated.

    Basically, here is how I view the game. Katie is not really the protagonist, but merely the vessel to tell the story of her sister Sam, who really is not a likeable person to read about. Ultimately, if you really think about it, the actions of Katie have absolutely no bearing on that or any other part of the story; the story has already happened, and she’s just reading and understanding it after the fact. For me, that means that the story, and everything you do, to be meaningless. While I understand that some people found the story of two teenage girls falling in love to be captivating, I found the story to be full of cliches, especially with how it ended. No matter the subjects of this love story, I was hoping for something more, maybe even something tragic, but something...else. That does not mean I find the game to be bad at all, but I personally do not understand the hype around it. The gameplay is too simple and the story too cliched for my tastes. Only the “puzzle” aspect of how the game’s story is told saves it for me. Again, I can understand why it did get a lot of the reviews it did, but I suppose I am just simply not the target audience for this game.



    For me, Firewatch is the clear winner by far. A more engaging and interesting story as well as actual gameplay gives it the edge over Gone Home in many ways. The fact that Henry in Firewatch feels like an actual protagonist rather than simply a vessel also helps set it apart. Gone Home, meanwhile, falls short in several key areas that may appeal to some but simply makes it a game that is only worth looking at once. In addition, I feel like you can easily just watch a gameplay video online, or even solve the game (and much of the "mystery") in less than a minute and not really miss anything since the interaction in Gone Home is very limited, meaning the game has very little replay value.

    Ultimately, I suppose it comes down to a matter of personal tastes. I do find both games to be flawed, but still decent. As they are both the first games of their respective studios, flaws are not only fine, but expected, and I do look forward to seeing what other games will come from them.

    Both Firewatch and Gone Home are available on 8th Generation consoles and PC, and are the first games from their Campo Santo and Fullbright, respectively.

    Firewatch: 8.5/10

    Gone Home: 6/10
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Never played 'Gone Home' - had an enjoyable time with Firewatch. The end was kinda underwhelming and I also made my usual cardinal error to explore everything and ignore the plot line for a considerable time. Which then ended up with me doing\exploring\wandering about everything twice....

      Great environment, worth stopping every now and then to 'take in the sights'.
    1. ♔Greek Strategos♔'s Avatar
      ♔Greek Strategos♔ -
      I really enjoyed Firewatch and I share your opinion of a somehow ''swallow ending''. I haven't played Gone Home yet.
      Thanks for your review.