As someone who loves the “Walking Simulator” genre of video games and the point and click adventures titles that Telltale Games has offered us, I am not sure where to start describing the game that is Firewatch. In my mere eight hours I spent playing the game, I went through more experiences and feelings than a hippy high on some magic mushrooms wondering around in his own back yard. And to tell you the honest to God truth, I barely did anything other than run around in the woods and use the games walkie-talkie. Firewatch is one of those narrative driven games that had me hooked the moment I walked into its digital wilderness till the ending credits start rolling across my screen. I will happily admit that I am a sucker for a good story-driven video game, and that may be why this review might come across as being overly enthusiastic.
If you don’t enjoy videos games that substitute its adventure and action mechanics for a narrative driven story then Firewatch will definitely not be the game you would be interested in. But if you do enjoy these types of video games then you are definitely in for a treat, Campo Santo has crafted an extremely compelling and suspenseful central mystery, with sharp writing and amazing voice acting from both Henry and Delila. Having said that Firewath possesses one of the most human stories I have experience in a video game let alone any other entertainment medium. Not surprising though since Jake Rodkin (creative director) and Sean Vanaman (writer), both worked on Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Which was also an emotional roller coaster ride of a video game, which would explain where Firewatch got its creative inspiration from.
Not wanting to spoil the story too much the backdrop for Firewatch takes place in the aftermath of the Yellowstone National Forest fires of 1988, the largest single fire recorded in the history of this American national the park. While not strictly relevant to the story it does add some historical backstory and makes the story of Firewatch much more believable. You play as Henry, a middle-aged man who has had more than a couple of emotionally crippling events behind him and is looking for an escape from his tragic past. He was already feeling lonely when we first get to meet him, but he deals with that loneliness by wanting to go somewhere isolated away from the hustle and bustle of society. This leads to him answering an ad for a job as a Fire Lookout, someone who reports forest fires as they happen.
Not long after that, he finds himself manning a fire-watch tower in the middle of the Shoshone National Forest one of the many parts of Yellow Stone National Park. Isolated from human civilization, the only human contact Henry has is Delilah, his boss, and veteran Fire Lookout, via a walkie-talkie. Firewatch has a theme in mind, and I don’t want to spoil the specifics, but the developers want you to think about the reasons that a person would choose to run away and impose self-isolation on themselves. What do people hope to find when they want to run away from their problems and past? The main theme of Firewatch is isolation and our changing understanding of it as human beings, and Firewatch does this brilliantly. During the course of the game, we start to understand how our value of human connections has changed, with the advent of things like technology and the internet.
And Firewatch uses Henry as a conduit through which we experience this to great effect. The pace of the story is absolutely brilliantly executed. It starts out as a slow burn, luring you into the mindset that is behind Henry’s actions, before turning into a fast-paced thriller. The relationship between Henry and Delilah is the main foundation of Firewatch’s story and over the course of the game, you will decide how this relationship grows (or not) by either choosing positive or negative dialogue options. Both Henry and Delilah ooze with personality in part due to the brilliant writing and voice acting. And watching their relationship grow is one of the most amazing experiences I got to be part of in a video game. About halfway through Firewatch I truly felt like I personally knew them and even grew emotionally attached to them, something not easily achieved in a video game these days.
Firewatch is one of the most strikingly beautiful games I have ever played in my life, with maybe the acceptation of Journey. I regularly walked into scenes that took my breath away and left my mouth open and drooling like a brain-dead retard on my Playstation 4 controller. The game is a vibrant pallet of orange’s and red’s complimented by some amazing level design and lighting, and with the welcome absence of a distracting UI the visual experience that Firewatch offers is even more striking and immersive. There is almost no soundtrack to speak of in Firewatch, while this might be a drawback for most other games it serves to even further the isolation you get to experience as Henry. For the most part, the game’s soundtrack consists tranquil sounds of nature. Leading to a very realistic and immersive experience.
If you have played a “Walking Simulators” or point and click game before then you will feel right at home playing Firewatch. The game does a brilliant job guiding you around Shoshone using no more than a map and a compass. Gone are babysitting you with arrows pointing you to your next objective and no detailed instructions on how to achieve a certain task, which was extremely refreshing. Constantly having to bring up the map and trying to orient yourself in the right directions is a gentle reminder by the developer reminding you that you are out of your element. Early on in the game, you gain access to one of those disposable cameras, and I found myself randomly stopping for no reason other than taking pictures of the amazing scenery.
And moments like these is what makes Firewatch stand out from anything I have ever played before. In the end, when everything is said and done, Firewatch is about the protagonist Henry. We got to live inside his head and tried to understand what he thinks and feels. But the truth is that Henry is who he is. A man looking to escape his past and somehow find redemption in the wilderness. We are just there to witness this and tag along for the ride. If you are looking for a game that is visually stunning and different from anything else you have ever played then I cannot recommend Firewatch enough, yes it is short between 6-8 hours. But I can guarantee you now, those will be some of the best 6-8 hours you will have ever spent in a video game.
[Editorial Note:] I am kind of sick so hopefully the review came out alright, hurray for prescription drugs…