Before it came out, I was only vaguely aware of Firewatch. I’d seen a logo here, a bit of artwork there, but hadn’t really paid attention to it, what it was, or when it was coming out.
Now that I’ve finished it, I am so, so glad that I went into Firewatch completely blind. It’s a fascinating and lovely, if sometimes bumpy, experience that is definitely my first true contender for the best game of this year.
Developer: Campo Santo
Publisher: Panic Inc. and Campo Santo
Released: February 9, 2016.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4
Firewatch places you in the shoes of Henry, a depressed man who’s escaped from his personal problems to an isolated job keeping an eye out for fires in a national park. Secluded away in your tower, far away from any civilisation, your only line of communication is with Delilah, your sarcastic and confident boss.
The game is a quote-unquote “walking simulator”, where Henry must hike to various locations in his sector of the park to uncover a growing, dark mystery while also trying to prevent any potential fires. There are two major components to any good walking simulator: a beautiful world to explore, and a narrative that can really hook you in. While there is one area where the game stumbles, Firewatch manages to succeed on almost all fronts.
The world is absolutely gorgeous, with its colourful and low-poly style. While I didn’t feel particularly drawn to explore like I was in something like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, the environments I did go through were often memorable and a treat to look at. This was emphasised by the really cool camera mechanic, which gave me a limited number of photos I could take that would show up in the game’s credits, and could even be bought as physical prints. Campo Santo knew how good looking Frewatch was, and they weren’t afraid to flaunt it.
The layout of the forest was also very well designed, with enough alternate routes to dampen the irritation that came with the often frequent backtracking. Over time I grew from having to frequently consult my obtuse map because I’d gotten lost yet again, to being able to traverse through it pretty much from memory. This fit pretty really with the game’s narrative, which takes place over roughly two months and sees Henry grow into his role as part of the firewatch.
The biggest appeal of Firewatch by far were its characters. The game’s almost entirely carried by radio conversations between Henry and Delilah, and every single bit of dialogue I heard was written and acted impeccably. Stumbling across new conversation points was a delight, and they could deftly swing from being hilarious to emotional in only a few seconds. The chemistry between the two is so endearing, and I’d happily go as far as to say this might be some of the best writing and performances I’ve seen in a game in a very long time. I really hope we get to see some more of Henry and Delilah at some point, even if it’s just as a prologue.
Unfortunately, my biggest complaint with Firewatch is with the actual story itself. It’s not an especially long game – my run was about three hours long, which is fine considering how high-quality everything else is – but it still drags on a bit with the mystery’s build-up, only to follow it with a very unsatisfying and kind of rushed conclusion.
For the majority of the game I was completely engrossed in the mystery, only for it to all be brushed away with a naff explanation in the last twenty minutes or so, leaving me wishing I’d taken more time to explore instead of getting so caught up in the events.
Despite that, I think Firewatch is a game that’s about the journey rather than the destination. Simply listening to Henry and Delilah’s conversations, listening to them work through their personal problems, and watching them grow to be more comfortable with each other while explore a beautiful park was good enough for me.
If you’re looking for a groundbreaking plot or deep mechanics, I’d recommend you look elsewhere because I’d argue that isn’t what Firewatch is really about. If you want a fantastic world to hike through with some exceptional dialogue that isn’t afraid to explore some darker topics, I absolutely and completely recommend you take a look at Firewatch. You won’t regret it.