Firewatch is an interesting thing. I knew almost nothing about the game until a friend of mine highly recommended it to me and after watching the trailer, I was instantly intrigued by the unique art style and decided to check it out.
Firewatch is set in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989, shortly after the Yellowstone Fires a year earlier. Players take on the role of Henry, a man who has volunteered as a fire lookout. The majority of the gameplay is exploring the wilderness and talking to your supervisor Delilah via your walkie-talkie. You have a myriad of choices during these conversations and it feels like they have a real impact on your relationship. Bad choices can even cause her to ignore you for a while, refusing to answer back until some time has passed.
The exploration is fairly simple, but the environments are so beautiful and the locations are laid out so perfectly that you get pulled into the experience with relative ease. Before long you can’t wait to pull out your trusty map and compass and plot your path to the next area.
Visually, Firewatch looks amazing! The scenery is so beautiful and engrossing that you can’t wait to be sent to a new area of the map, because that means you’ll get to explore and see new parts of the world. You might start off your day checking out the distant mountains at sunrise and by the time evening falls you’re headed inside a cave with nothing but your flashlight. Each day you’re treated to another great looking area to explore and there’s always something great to see. The game even gives you a disposable camera a few hours in allowing you to capture your favorite sights as you go.
The story is where things get really interesting. The whole world of Firewatch has a very eerie feel to it, very reminiscent of Twin Peaks. The scenery, which when you first arrive is stunning and beautiful, starts to seem more ominous and creepy as you progress. You start discovering some of the history of the area as well as the people who visit there and you’re never quite sure what to think. The more you explore the surrounding wilderness, the more you start to feel like maybe there’s really something odd going on here, only to have Delilah come in over the walkie-talkie and bring you back to reality.
As I mentioned before, you are often presented with different options during your conversations. These conversations you have, which comprise a large portion of the game, are just so perfectly written that they add to the developing eeriness of the narrative. Similar to the Telltale Games series, you have a time limit to respond from a set of dialogue choices, with silence also being an option. Almost every conversation between the two characters feels like it would fit perfectly in an episode of the X-Files. More impressively, the writers were able to really flesh out these characters in a relatively short experience.
On that note, if I had to find something to complain about, the game is really short clocking in at just about four hours long. I can’t comment on how much replay-ability there is here, but what I can say is that those few hours are packed with great storytelling and some amazingly natural and engaging dialogue. The game doesn’t feel too short or too long. You hate to see it end, but you loved getting to experience it.
Firewatch is great. I can’t remember the last time I played a game with such a precise and exact experience. Every move the game makes is planned out perfectly. Every story beat is delivered at the exact right moment. The presentation is astounding and the game LOOKS stunning. Firewatch is like a great magic trick. It might have only lasted for a short while, but you think about it long after it’s over.
My final score for Firewatch is a mysterious Twin Peaks out of 10.
Pros: Great setting, strong characters and narrative, exploration feels really fun, beautiful vistas.
Cons: Game is really short and ends right as you begin to become comfortable. No replay-ability.
Gaming for most of my life, writing for about half. Finally decided to smash the two together to create a wonderfully gory portrait of a gaming journalist. My opinions are usually long-winded, often misinformed, but I'd like to think at least well written.