2016 has been a pretty ruthless year. We’ve lost some big stars to the reaper, we’ve seen some disappointing film releases and not to be out done, the games industry produced No Man’s Sky which has turned into one of the biggest controversies in a long time. Shining through the dark however are a few games that have really stood out so as the year draws to a close it’s time to take a look and decide which one is my Game of the Year.
There are 6 games that spring to my mind when I think about Game of the Year, Titanfall 2 and Watch Dogs 2 are just two that were being considered by me and choosing one of those six is a pretty difficult task. I’ve spent the best part of a fortnight pondering which I would chose and finally had it narrowed down to 3 by the start of the week.
After careful thought and consideration I have decided that my Game of the Year for 2016 will be Firewatch. In a year where I’ve found a majority of the big AAA releases to be overhyped, buggy, dull or for some reason just didn’t click with me there were a few independent titles that really stood out as fantastic gaming experiences.
Firewatch was a game I picked up in the Steam summer sale for around about £10 I think, maybe even less and from the moment I started I just couldn’t put it down. Released back in February on PC and PlayStation 4 and later on Xbox One, Firewatch was developed by Campo Santo who are a small studio operating out of San Francisco.
The first thing that hits you about Firewatch is the art styling. the game is simply beautiful to look at. Gameplay is fairly simple and is for all intents and purposes a walking sim with a few bells and whistles thrown in. That’s not to say the game play is dull or boring because it isn’t. The different aspects of the game compliment each other so well it’s just a joy to play through. The music is subtle but really adds to the immersion, the graphics and lighting although not going for realism make you almost feel like you’re recounting a memory.
It’s the story that really shines through and in my opinion it’s the best story that I’ve played through this year. I told friends that when I finished it, it felt like I had just finished a really good book and I even went looking in the store for similar games because I was desperate to feel that kind of immersion again. I never really found that immersion in any other titles this year. Gears of War 4’s story felt stretched out unnecessarily and even with Uncharted 4 I found the dull gameplay broke any hope of similar levels of immersion and they were both games I considered for Game of the Year as they blew me away in many respects. That’s how highly I think of Firewatch.
So back to the Story then. Our protagonist is Henry who for reasons I won’t spoil, ends up in the Wyoming woods as a solitary fire lookout. He keeps in touch with his supervisor Delilah via a radio and together you explore the tense narrative. The voice actors do an absolutely fantastic job and they really deserved an award for their performances. Together, Henry and Delilah must try to unravel a deepening mystery that they find themselves in and you really get the sense of their growing bond.
I can’t say too much without giving too much away and I really wouldn’t want to spoil the story as it is so good it should be experienced only by playing through but suffice to say that Firewatch is about atmosphere, immersion, and exploration, both of the beautifully created Wyoming forest and a deepening friendship between Henry and Delilah.
Campo Santo have since added a free roam mode to the game which is great as it allows you to revisit the stunning scenery of the forest. a single play through took around 8-10 hours which isn’t bad considering how much I paid. Even now you can pick Firewatch up for just £14.99 which is an absolute bargain for what you are getting.
Firewatch did receive some criticism from some quarters for the ending of the story but personally for me the important bit was the beginning and the middle. The ending I think you need to examine and pick apart and make of it what you will. When I finished I looked at where I thought the story was going and comparing it to where it ended up going and found it quite fascinating to pick apart the differences and why I think it did end the way it did. So I don’t personally think the ending is bad.
Runner up goes to…
So there we have it. Firewatch is my Game of the Year for 2016. I hope 2017 can give me a game that I enjoy as much because games this good are rare. I’d like to give a special mention to the other game I was going to pick as my Game of the Year but just missed out. That game is Inside. I love this game for many reasons, mostly because it reminds me of when I first met Jorn (our fearless leader) who introduced me to the game and patiently sat there whilst me and the wife played through. It’s a wonderful gaming experience that you have to experience and another indie title that just outshines any AAA game this year in my view.