Firewatch left me breathless. It’s not just the stunning visuals and sensitive music that made me fall in love with this game (although these did have a sizeable impact). Firewatch is an emotive, immersive and exhilarating experience that will heighten your curiosity and break your heart a few times.
It’s 1989. Your name is Henry, your life is complicated and you’ve left it behind to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. It’s a very hot and dry summer so your job is particularly important right now. Your supervisor, Delilah is always available on the other end of your radio and is the only person that you can communicate with most of the time. A mystery bigger than any forest fire is burning out there and its coming for you. You’ll be drawn out of the lookout and will have to explore an unknown and dangerous environment whilst potentially building or destroying your relationship with Delilah.
As I said above, your character is a fire lookout, but the game explores so much more than just your job. From the moment that the game begins, your emotional bond with Henry will start to develop and you’ll soon start to share his emotions. He has already been through a lot and this is reflected in his personality, yet Campo Santo have still left plenty of room for you to decide what kind of person you’d like him to be. The characters that you will meet in this game feel incredibly deep, and learning more about them feels satisfying, especially when you are able to draw more out of them, over time. Overall, I would say that this game is about exploration and escapism in two senses: literal – in the wilderness, as well as human – where you’ll discover raw emotion and psychological state of mind. One thing that I found incredibly surprising was how the relationship develops between Henry and Delilah. Here are two characters (and two voice actors) that have never met, yet the dialogue between them achieves unexpected levels of authenticity. When playing the game, I forgot that they were actually reading from a script, as their exchanges simulated natural conversation so flawlessly. As Henry, your choices have a substantial impact on how their relationship progresses and more directly, how the conversations develop, in general. You can choose whether you want to answer seriously or sarcastically, which will encourage a similar response from Delilah. You can also decide not to say anything, which could make things tense or awkward. In addition, you will have control over the pace of the conversation: if you take too long to reply, you’ll miss your chance and that will respectively kill the conversation. Equally, you can report something new every few minutes and prompt Delilah to keep up with you. The choice is yours.
Another great aspect of Firewatch is that the game isn’t very long at all. I finished it in about four hours and I spent quite a lot of time exploring the wilderness so it could be even shorter, if you only concentrated on the story. I have to admit; I was a bit upset when the credits started rolling – I didn’t want it to end! There are plenty of things that are left unanswered at the end of the game and I wanted more. However, that’s something that also makes the game a fantastic experience: it’s length makes it very unlikely that you will get bored, yet still leaves you feeling as though you’ve been on a notable journey. There are also sufficient variables for re-playability. Furthermore, I feel as though it’s length and simple controls make it accessible and desirable to a very wide audience. There’s plenty of time in the game for you to explore and I never felt as though I was being rushed into the next objective. Your character will always walk at a leisurely pace and although he can jog, it isn’t very fast. This retains a peaceful atmosphere and made me feel relaxed whilst exploring. Additionally, I found that the map has been created in such a way that even when I did just wander off to explore, I still found myself heading in roughly the correct direction, anyway. I didn’t feel frustrated or lost at any point and the paths and vegetation have been skilfully placed to shape your decisions about where you want to go. I rarely found myself stuck at a dead end, or trying to venture into an area that I shouldn’t have been in. Despite feeling like you are wandering around in the wilderness, you are almost always aware of where you can and cannot go (even when you’re not using the map).
Moreover, I should also point out that navigation in Firewatch is very basic, but this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, this is another feature that made the game feel so natural and relaxing to play. Too many games have a radar with countless marked locations and instructions that will persistently flash up on the screen, constantly reminding you that you’re in a game. With Firewatch, Delilah will tell you what to do (or on the odd occasion, you’ll state that you’re about to head somewhere) and then you will just use the map and compass to get there. Your location will be marked on the map, along with extra information that you’ve found so far and the objective will be neatly displayed at the top of the map. You even have the option to turn off new goal alerts and your location on the map, if you prefer. This really helps you to feel immersed in your surroundings and is where the stunning artwork and music demonstrate their full potential.
I love Olly Moss’ artwork and it has been brought to life in Firewatch. His style is so clean and perfectly suits the location of the Wyoming wilderness. The way in which his designs have been implemented in the game successfully add to the tranquil atmosphere, with the background consisting of simple shapes that are then continuously layered, gaining more detail as they enter the foreground. Whilst wandering around in the wilderness, the outside world just melted away and Firewatch was my new reality. The game is so aesthetically pleasing and the music really helped to mould my experience and emotions. To begin with, the music is very relaxing. It fits the game perfectly and reminded me of playing Minecraft: a game where it’s so easy to escape the outside world. There are points where more of the mystery will unfold and the music plays an even bigger part here. As if the dialogue isn’t convincing enough, the music aids in submerging you deeper into the story. I found that I felt more emotional playing this game than I have been watching most films, as I felt so intensely connected to Henry and so involved in what was going on. At points, Firewatch seemed to resemble more of a cinematic experience than just a game. There was one point in particular where the synergy of the artwork, music, environment and captivating plot had an overwhelming impact on me. In fact, there are many points in the game where its intended that the player should feel sad, relaxed or tense and all of these emotions wash over you so fluidly. Even subtle things such as the weather and colour palette will change and all of this will affect how you feel when you’re playing the game.
Firewatch is as beautiful visually, as it is emotionally. Its main premise, being so unique, enables you to pursue an intriguing mystery in a picturesque location, whilst discovering more about human emotion and psychology. All aspects of the game amalgamate to form such a brilliant end product that I have given it a perfect score. There are so many other things that make this game awesome but I am not going to spoil it for you in this review.
Platform: PC (Steam)
Hours played: Four