Available On: PS4, PC
Where To Buy: Steam, PSN
Firewatch asks you a simple question… Do you face your problems and tackle them head on or do you simply cower and run away? Henry, our protagonist, chooses the latter and the story of Firewatch is the repercussion of this. Over the course of 4-5 hours, you will discover that Henry is not alone with this dilemma and you will explore just how far someone will go to avoid the real horrors of life. Firewatch follows this adventure exceedingly well but if you are not invested in Henry’s journey, the experience may feel stagnant.
Firewatch begins with a text-based introduction describing the events of two strangers falling in love and their flourishing companionship. As the events of their relationship unfold on screen in funny and touching moments, you cannot help but get the feeling that something dreadful is forthcoming. The writing here is genuine and heartbreaking. It has the same impact as the opening montage of the movie ‘Up’ without the need for visuals and that is not easily accomplished. I won’t reveal the catalyst but the outcome entails Henry accepting a job as a Fire Lookout in the Wyoming wilderness.
Your first patrol revolves around seeing some fireworks shooting into the sky, which in a dry and highly flammable national park is dangerous. One of the great design choices within Firewatch is being able to see far into the distance. You can see the fireworks erupting on the horizon and with your trusty map and compass, you can plot your route accordingly. The designers have ingeniously created a world that looks as though you could go anywhere but you are subtlety being guided down certain paths.
Upon arrival at the lake, the perpetrators start giving you trouble. You can then deal with the situation, however, you deem appropriate (I stole their boombox) and then return to the lookout post. Near your destination, you are blinded by a torch being held by a mysterious stranger in the distance. They disappear and when you make it to your base, you discover it has been ransacked.
The remainder of Firewatch revolves around this enigmatic person who is involved in a tale shrouded in curiosity and trepidation. Being alone in the wilderness is the perfect recipe for an unnerving experience. I always felt that I was being watched and would frequently turn around to check behind me. The subtle music changes and the static over the radio add to the sinister ambiance.
The story is condensed and fittingly accompanies the theme of Firewatch, yet the real story here is the relationship between Henry and his superior, Delilah. Both have taken their appropriate jobs to get away from their personal problems and immediately find a connection with one another. Henry has been deprived of companionship for a while so, if you desire, he will bond with her. Delilah shares these sentiments and their relationship flourishes over time.
Henry and Delilah are expertly portrayed by Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones and will exchange views on everything throughout the game. Be it about the task, something you have discovered or simply the breathtaking views, both will have something to say. Talking over the walkie-talkie is easily done and responses are time sensitive. You will be given multiple choices and silence is always an option. A nice feature is being able to queue responses, so you can be investigating an abandoned den whilst seamlessly discussing what you have uncovered. It is refreshing to have two people discuss an observation, whereas in other games you are given a simple one-sided analysis on your surroundings.
The dialogue between the two is varied and intelligently written. Both characters are sarcastic and as such their personalities complement each other perfectly. They will swear and joke but they will brush aside these personas at times and display vulnerabilities. I played Henry as a man craving attention and companionship, and as such divulged information easily. This, in turn, allowed Delilah to lower her defenses and I began to learn about her past but you could be the exact opposite and she would reciprocate that.
It is no coincidence that two people who run away from their problems have found a haven in Shoshone National Forest as it is a reflection of their being. The entire region feels like limbo where nothing happens. The environments may look ravishing, especially when the hot sun bears down across the trees or into a dusty canyon, but it can feel scarce if you diverge from your current mission.
The most intriguing thing to me before I played Firewatch was the prospect of actually being a ranger. Unfortunately, this opportunity is never realized. You are far to engrossed in your own story and I understand why that is the case, but I feel the whole experience could have been fleshed out by giving you more duties to fulfill. I finished the game in just a few hours and had little incentive to return as over the course of the story, you will wander to every point on the map.
As well groomed as the main narrative of Firewatch is, I wish the whole experience on a technical level would have been more polished, particularly for a condensed game such as Firewatch. The frame rate constantly stuttered and apparently it was random as there was nothing to instigate it happening at times. It broke my immersion and reminded me that I was playing a game. The controls feel needlessly complex, especially when examining objects and the map. Pressing L1 will zoom into the object you are holding but the magnification would be far too extensive and render the object unreadable. The same issue happens when viewing the map and planning a route becomes frustrating.
The real drama within Firewatch arises from the choices made by Henry. The story is actually pretty linear yet decisions will need to be made throughout. These choices will not have significant repercussions to the general outcome of the game but more personal ones to Henry. How did you treat the irresponsible teenagers? Did you flirt with Delilah? When these choices come to fruition, it hits you with a guttural feeling as you feel responsible for the choices you have made.
Ultimately, the message I took from Firewatch is that the true horrors of life are not the traditional formulas seen in film but the ones that really affect us. Fears of losing loved ones and how we as people are perceived are the truly terrifying things that we encounter. This is what makes Firewatch unique and poignant as a horror story. The protagonist actively indulges in a perilous plot in order to avoid the real issues in his life and that is something, I believe, that we can all empathize with.
Firewatch is a very personal story about how tough life can be but that ultimately, we are not alone. If you can invest in this idea, the narrative will resonate with you. Aside from the technical issues and lack of activities outside of the main quest; the great voice acting, riveting dialogue and absorbing atmosphere make Firewatch a chilling yet enjoyable experience.
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- Gameplay: Conversation Based First Person Thriller
- Graphics: Colorful, Vibrant Wilderness
- Sound: Great Voice Recording and Chilling Music
- Presentation: Intuitive Interface, Frustrating Controls At Times
- Brilliant Writing
- Great Chemistry Between Leads
- Relatable Concept
- Beautiful Vistas
- Short Story
- Uneventful World
An Englishman living in Australia. I edit and provide video/written reviews for all of the latest games.