Firewatch launched today on Steam and PS4, and look… I just finished it after one sitting. That’s an endorsement, I’d say, especially since my first inclination after doing so is to write up my impressions in what could be considered – in some circles – a review. Spoiler-free, I might add.
Firewatch in the latest entry into the ever-growing genre of what some have referred to as walking simulators. Not only does that phrase strike me as only slightly derogatory, it’s also selling the game a bit short, because there’s also a fair bit of climbing. So it’s so much more than a mere walking simulator. It’s a climbing and walking simulator with a fair bit of mystery to keep you going.
In fact, I think people who take issue with games such as Firewatch, or Gone Home, or Dear Esther are being fairly narrow-minded. How else are video games going to grow as a medium if people aren’t willing to try new and different things. That’d be like taking an issue with movies once they ceased being silent and started adding spoken dialog. Which would have been even more ridiculous, because narrative focused games aren’t replacing other types of video games. There’s enough room in the world for all the types of games you can imagine, and more. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Okay I’m coming down off my soap box.
Yes, Firewatch isn’t the most mechanically-driven experience. Which is a fancy way of saying that you don’t do much during the entire course of the game other than talk to someone over your walkie-talkie. It’s fortunate, then, that this aspect is exceedingly well-executed. Not only is the dialog written well, which seems quite rare in video games these days, but the voice acting is also exemplary. You’re Henry, and you’ve taken a summer job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. You’re isolated, cut off from civilization, and your only companion is your boss, a woman named Delilah. The dialog between you and her is easily the highlight of the game, and almost makes it worth a second playthrough to see if you missed anything, or if different dialog choices alter your relationship. It’s that kind of game.
The small little piece of Wyoming presented in the game is, too, one of the highlights. The art-direction is top notch, and there’s much enjoyment to be had in simply wandering around the forest, taking in the sights and reporting everything you see and do to Delilah, however mundane. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Firewatch open world, because much of it is quite linear. There are some pretty obvious paths that you end up taking to get around the forest, but they’re fairly wide, and the game world doesn’t feel at all confined. The structure is just a good way of keeping you on the story’s patch, even if it does result a little bit of backtracking now and again. If it were bigger, or more open, Firewatch might’ve presented the risk of getting lost, since aside from Delilah, your only companions are a compass and a paper map.
I’ll refrain from saying anything specific about the story itself since that’s the point of the game, but between your conversations with Delilah, as well as the growing mystery surrounding the game, Firewatch kept me hooked right till the end. It’s not really a horror game, not at all, but there’s a fair bit of suspense, and a growing paranoia as more questions pile up on one another. The biggest criticism I can offer is that the ending didn’t quite live up to what the game had built. Not all the answers given to questions raised quite line up with what’s presented, but these holes aren’t so huge as to sour the rest of the experience, and like I said, I’m half-tempted to play through it again.
Firewatch’s few faults do little to prevent me from recommending the game. At the end of the day, it’s a well-crafted story, dealing with isolation, and the lengths one might go through to flee from their problems, which will somehow always leads them to the Wyoming wilderness to watch the fires burn.