So I finally got around playing Firewatch the other day. I used to look down on so-called “walking simulators” – which I still do in some aspects – but the less time I have to play games the more I start to appreciate titles which allow me to sit back and get the whole experience in just a few hours. Not only is Firewatch easy to digest, it’s also fun to boot.
You play as Henry, a fresh fire lookout sent into the wilderness that is Wyoming. Your home is a lonely watchtower and your only social contact is Delilah, another Firewatch in her own tower a few miles away. So how does this work?
Your job is to investigate smoke, chase off litterers and dread anything even remotely flammable – especially fireworks. In other words, you walk from point A to point B, and the rest is dialog or other mundane button presses to interact with things. The reason it works so well is your radio – your only form of communication – connecting you to Delilah and allowing you to get to know the two loners better, which is the actual content of this game.
However, all is not peaceful. An odd find early in the game sets off a series of plot points which hint that someone or something else being out there, and you get an insight into the mindset of both Delilah and Henry explaining why they took on this job in the first place.
These people want to be left alone for a reason, so the notion that there’s someone watching them is extremely disturbing. And even if the red herrings on display can only be seen as such, or the paranoia seems a tad bit overblown, it doesn’t take you out of the experience because these two characters and their conversations are so damn authentic.
The level design is quite competent and manages to mask the linearity of the game a tad. It’s fun to explore it, and the longer you play, the less you have to rely on your map. The time it takes to navigate to the next destination also complements the strong pacing of the central plot.
The game’s visuals are pretty, the UI is minimal and the sound design is rather forgettable – so perfectly serviceable for a game of this type. One thing that stood out though was the fact that there are no actual character models in this game. Knowing this kind of tells you what can and cannot happen next, which is a bit of a shame.
This is a short game – it took me about 5 hours to complete. There’s a free roam mode and optional developer commentary, but they don’t add anything interesting enough to warrant a replay. As such, this is a one time experience driven by the storytelling, much like Everybody’s gone to the Rapture or Brothers: A Tale of two Sons, so I want to keep things short to avoid spoilers.
There is however one rather important bit that I would like to mention: If you go into the game expecting a captivating thriller with a strong payoff, you’ll walk away disappointed. There is mystery to be found and there are some genuinely spooky moments fueled by paranoia, but ultimately this game is not about the plot.
Firewatch, for me, is a story about ordinary people trying to escape reality. Life is not always pleasant and sometimes you just want to bury your head in the sand. If you go into the game with the mindset that the characters have, I believe the ending will leave you rather satisfied.