I initially thought I would wait to play Firewatch, but ended up breaking that resolve early on in the game’s life. In retrospect, that was an excellent decision as Firewatch is a quality game well worth your time. I felt the mystery and intrigue surrounded by lush scenery and an interesting interplay between the protagonist and his never seen mentor/supervisor made for an exceptional experience.
Although a walking simulator at heart (a genre I particularly enjoy), the dialogue in Firewatch was outstanding and as close to natural as it possibly could have been. You really feel as if you are taking part in something that is at times sweet and sensitive and at others tense, foreboding, or simply mysterious.
You play as Henry, a man who has taken a summer job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness to get away from the turmoil and tragedy surrounding your personal life. In a sense, you are placing the world on hold as you leave to catch your breath and simply be away from society for a spell. Your only human contact is with your supervisor, Delilah, whom you only interact with over a hand held radio.
In every way, Firewatch was a thoughtful journey through mid life crisis and dramatic change in a pair of individuals lives, the way in which they tried to escape their realities, and the way they started to sort through their issues via communicating with each other over walkie talkie. The subplot, presented as the main plot throughout, was a mystery surrounding a stalker and possible murder(s). Although at the forefront, as I said, this was really the subplot. The main plot being one of self discovery through adversity and communication. A catharsis of the human spirit if you will.
The presentation of story in Firewatch is both many layered and brilliant. This is a game that pulls at all your emotional strings at various points throughout your playthrough. Some things are relevant to the mystery you are investigating, others are specific to the relationship you build with your unseen supervisor, and yet others are completely unrelated to any of that, but serve to add life and luster to the setting.
One major complaint I have heard and read about Firewatch was with regards to the ending. It is my opinion that the ending served as a masterful conclusion to the game, and while it did leave some things to the players imagination, I think the topic of the ending is quite overstated. I felt it could not have ended in any other way, and it made complete sense when you factor in the character development and interaction between Henry and Delilah. Without revealing any specifics, I would just say that I think people let their hopes for a certain type of ending cloud their observations of what was made quite obvious throughout. Firewatch had to end the way it did in my opinion, or the journey to get there would not have been nearly as relevant.
I found the story to be touching and sincere. A true examination of humanity and the soul such as it is. Not many games can claim to possess as much depth in their writing as Firewatch can. This is an easy 10 out of 10.
Gameplay in Firewatch is fairly standard walking simulator/exploration fare. Walk, run, jump, pick up and examine items. There are areas where you will need to tie off a rope and climb, or will simply have to hoof it up rock shelves and such. The majority of your time will be spent walking around the national park, investigating the aforementioned murder mystery, trying to find some vandals that have been littering and some possible arsonists as well, or simply wandering around taking in the sites in a far more mundane fashion. When not doing all that, you will be in your tower, sleeping or chatting with Delilah.
There is a photography feature offered about half way through the Firewatch. That was a nice feature in my opinion. You can take pictures in game which also are featured at the end, and serve to add depth to your personal experience.
I found nothing too revolutionary in this regard, but the gameplay was solid and I experienced no technical issues whatsoever.
This is a solid 8 out of 10.
Visually, Firewatch is also a beautiful game, but in a more muted way than you might expect from a game that released within the last year. It was evocative, and really added to the story without getting in the story’s way. Although muted, the world was alive and vibrant in every way possible. This was a unique presentation that I think will be copied many times in the future. Truly a backdrop for the story being told without ever trying to seize more attention that is demanded of it.
Understated brilliance. 9 out of 10.
The ambient sounds in Firewatch were much like the graphics. Present and relevant, but only as much as was necessary to help convey more depth and meaning to the story. However, the voice acting is probably the single most important aspect as a method of conveying the story in Firewatch to the player, and the voice acting in this game was done to perfection. You can tell the actors really took the time to understand and allow themselves to become fully invested in their characters, and that fact was in evidence throughout. Without the fine work done here, the story in Firewatch would have been a shallow shell of its magnificent self. Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones as Henry and Delilah truly deserve recognition for such excellence, and voice director Jared Emerson-Johnson should share in that credit as well for getting so much out of the cast.
Also an easy 10 out of 10
All told, the game weighed in at about 4 hours, and I don’t really feel that there is any replay value. However, Firewatch was easily worth the asking price of entry for a single 4 hour experience in my opinion, so strong was the writing and the character development.
9.3 fires being started by teenage hooligans as Henry traipses about the wilderness seeking resolution to his mid life crisis and the real life troubles that brought him here in the first place. Out of 10. 🙂