Before I sat down to play Firewatch, I have watched more than enough trailers for this game, and all of them intrigued me to try it out. Besides that, the very beginning of the game had caught me by surprise in a completely positive way, since I really didn’t expect such an intro to the story. The intro itself was quite enough for me to rate this game a 10 (even if it didn’t have much to do with the video game as it did with an animated movie), but we can’t allow ourselves to be swayed by emotions and I decided to sleep on it.
We take on the role of Henry, a man in late thirties, who needs to get away from life for a while (for reasons best fond out on your own) and the ideal opportunity appears when he’s offered a seasonal summer job at the Shoshone national park, in the State of Wyoming. The job he accepted is titled as the game, so he basically sits all day in his tower doing nothing other than keep an eye out for fires/problems. We should also mention that the game takes place in the late 80’s of the 20th century and the whole setup of the game was done accordingly. While on the job, the only company he’ll have is the voice of his colleague/boss Delilah, who is in a different region of the park, and whose tower you can see in the distance. Henry will chat with her, occasionally get assignments from her and the two of them will bond over time, since it can get pretty lonely at a job such as this.
Soon enough, while on his assignments, Henry will come across stranger and stranger things for which he won’t have any explanations, but instead he’ll have more and more questions and a growing paranoia, which not even his alcoholic radio-friend can help with. This will slowly create a mystery that will be the main drive of Firewatch and your goal in this game. However, beneath the main story hides a rich layer of other elements which add an equally important gravitas to the game. Firewatch is a mystery, but also a romantic drama, a comedy, and even a national park documentary. It’s simply impossible to just categorize the “main” story of this interesting game, because if you take a better look after you finish the game, you’ll easily come to the conclusion that the whole main story is actually a background story and vice versa, the “background” is what the game is actually all about. And the game is truly brilliant at this; both of our main characters are incredibly tangible and “real” persons, their ordinary, every-day voices suit them so naturally (thanks to the amazing work of the voice actors), and their conversations are silly and spontaneous, and never do they seem like a scripted text. Throughout the whole game we keep patrolling our region and we get a realistic feeling of “hiking” which adds to the overall atmosphere of the game, and we really get the feeling of kilometers crossed.
The gameplay is the popularly (or mockingly) called Walking Simulator. There really are no serious assignments or puzzles, and everything comes down to walking from location to location and reading/hearing the evidence you come across. The authors of the game even made all passwords for rations to be 1234, which is, on the other hand, completely in keeping with the lazy character trait of our main heroine, who found those to be easiest to remember. Besides walking, there is climbing and descending, which is done using mountaineering equipment, which also adds to the feeling of harsh natural terrain that needs to be overcome. Moving across open expanses isn’t difficult and you will quickly find and memorize all the main routes in the national park. Gameplay-wise, Firewatch is most similar to Kholat, which also takes place in an open mountain landscape, only instead of the unforgiving winter, here we have a hot summer. And just like in Kholat, we move using a map and compass, but traveling around in this game is made much less difficult, since the authors’ goal wasn’t to get you lost, as we have all too often in Kholat.
What amazed us the most in Firewatch was the original visual design of the game. It appears that the game uses a very mild cell shading effect, and it makes it look stunning. Long walks through Shoshone park are not going to bother you at all, because they will give you more than enough time to appreciate the detailed and rich forest whose warmth is very pleasing to the eyes. It is very obvious that a great amount of care and attention to detail were needed to make the world so believable. There are various elements inserted at every step with the sole purpose of enriching and helping bring the game world to life, and every single one of those elements can be analyzed, kept and even talked about with Delilah. We could tell you all about the details that caught our eye, but we wouldn’t want to spoil some of them for you, so we’ll leave it up to you to discover them on your own.
What didn’t we like about the game? Sadly, it has many bugs, some of which can be extremely frustrating – like random freezing of your character between two rocks or him becoming unresponsive to controls. It’s also annoying that you can’t answer any of Delilah’s radio calls while looking at the map and the game requires it to be almost constantly open, but also to constantly talk on the radio, so juggling between the map and the radio can become quite frustrating. For many, one of the biggest disappointments of the game is the ending itself, but we’re going to take that critique with a lot of reserve since it is after all subjective. Sadly, we can’t analyze the ending with you, since it would ruin the enjoyment of the game, but you can look up analyzed Firewatch story online once you finish the game and make your own conclusions.
If Firewatch was a movie made in the 80’s with that “hot summer of eighty-something” vibe, it would certainly win an Oscar in at least a few of the categories. But, since this is 2016 and a video game, our scale will stop at a very tall eight. If you want to enjoy a few hours of interesting mystery, life drama and amazing landscapes, spare a couple of hours for a weekend and play Firewatch. We believe that older gamers will know to appreciate the experience this game brings, not for being “old-school” but for a somewhat more serious note that the game’s story brings.
Author: Nikola Savić