There was once a time when first person shooter games would primarily have silent player characters. The action would happen around the player, and their only influence on it would be to flip the occasional switch and shoot some guys in the face, but dialogue and narrative beats would just be things to witness, never to be a part of. This practice usually stems from developers wanting to make players feel like they are the character and removing their voice means a scripted character won’t say or do anything the player wouldn’t feel like they would do.
Silent FPS protagonists are certainly not a bad thing, some of the greatest examples of the genre feature them such as Half-Life 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Bioshock etc. But in recent years there has been more and more voiced FPS characters, as developers have finally grasped methods in making a player feel like their character rather than them being a substitute for them. What they say often matches what the player would want to say in that situation. FPS classics like 2006’s Prey, 2013’s Bioshock Infinite and this year’s SOMA (to a really harrowing effect) and Fallout 4 are shining examples of this.
Enter Firewatch. Developed by indie studio Campo Santo and due for release on PC and PS4 on February 9 next year, Firewatch is a first person mystery game set in the Wyoming wilderness. It appears to be primarily a two-hander with Henry, the park ranger and player character, communicating with a woman named Delilah, his supervisor. Both of them are voiced, much like some of the examples above, but a recent 20 minute gameplay demo showed off some of the finer details of how players will interact with Delilah and the world around them, taking a page out of Fallout 4‘s book.
While Fallout 4 features dialogue-trees as it is an RPG, Firewatch features a similar mechanic where not only can players choose what to say to Delilah, but they can choose whether they want to speak to her at all. Think the silence mechanic in Telltale games, but in a fully playable game rather than an interactive movie.
The results are pretty amazing, here’s the clip to check it out:
The choices between witty banter and scolding will make for some interesting relationships among players’ individual experiences. But for me personally, hearing Henry speak about how he felt about his tower being ransacked at the end really amped up the tension, making this game seem much more terrifying than I originally expected. Oh, and the really great writing and acting helps.
Colour me intrigued Firewatch. We’ll find out more in the coming months leading up to release.