Firewatch (2016)

Firewatch is an indie title developed by Campo Santo. It is set in the Wyoming wilderness and the main character, Henry, becomes a fire lookout. The game revolves around its beautiful scenery and compelling narrative instead of gameplay and action. I was nervous about how good the game could be when the only real gameplay is just walking around in the wilderness, but I believe it worked out alright. I am going to try to avoid spoilers in this review, as the story is all that this game has and it would be a shame if I were to ruin it for somebody.

The game is about the main character, Henry, and how he isolated himself after his wife develops dementia. He becomes a fire lookout in the middle of a national park, and his only form of human contact is talking with his supervisor, Delilah, over the radio. As the player walks around the park doing mundane tasks you are constantly in conversation with Delilah. The dialogue is witty, humorous, sometimes somber, and most importantly it all feels real. Many games struggle in this regard, conversations often feel robotic, but not in Firewatch. The conversations that the player has could actually happen in real life, and this aspect is further strengthened by the excellent voice acting. As time passes in the game Henry and Delilah stumble upon a mystery and they take it upon themselves to unravel it. Overall this was very compelling and kept me hooked the entire time. The mix of exploring the wilderness, conversing with Delilah, and pondering the mystery kept my brain busy.

Though the narrative and story-telling is where Firewatch shone through, there were also a fair amount of issues with the game. The controls were a bit clunky and tough to get used to, and the game was inconsistent when it comes to what you can traverse and what you cannot. Sometimes you can climb up giant rock faces, other times you cannot even step over a pebble, this occasionally got frustrating as I explored the park. While these issues were minor, there were much bigger problems. Although I really liked the narrative, I wish it was tacked onto more actual gameplay. Firewatch plays itself: you cannot do anything wrong, all you do is walk around, and none of your choices matter. I just want a little more sustenance, because it felt like I was watching a TV show or movie instead of being an active player in the game. My other big issue with the game was the ending. I was extremely disappointed in the way the game ended. I know the old cliché “It is about the journey, not the destination”, but in this case I felt the destination completely invalidated the journey. It felt like the entirety of the game was building up many different plot lines, but most of them just went nowhere. The ending just left a bitter taste in my mouth, after completing the game I was left thinking “That’s it?”

If you are intrigued by the aspect of just enjoying the scenery and narrative of a game, then Firewatch is a great game for you. Unfortunately, if you want anything more than just walking around you are going to be disappointed. Also, if you are planning on playing this game, just prepare your self to be let down by the ending. All in all, I did enjoy Firewatch despite its shortcomings and I thought it was a neat little game. I am going to give Firewatch a 6/10. Its narrative and story-telling are top-notch and other developers should attempt to model it. I just wish there was a little more to this game.

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