I recently acquired Firewatch as part of the annual Steam summer sale. It had been on my radar ever since I had stumbled upon their gorgeous website.
The game starts with a lovely text based intro where you make some basic life choices before you emerge into the wilderness, which is the setting for Firewatch. You come here for the job of a fire lookout to get away from your complicated life. What follows is at once a lonely, thrilling and gripping experience all at the same time.
This is not a review of the game but an exploration of the emotions and feelings that the game evokes as you get further into it. The world of Firewatch is a lonely one. Your only human interaction is with your supervisor over a radio walkie talkie. Now you might think that this would make for a boring game. What holds everything together however is the forest, the central story line and the incredible voice acting by both the main characters of the game.
Firewatch is a relatively short experience lasting around 4 hrs. Any longer and it would have probably drawn out the experience unnecessarily. Firewatch can best be described as a exploration narrative. It's why the game dosen't offer much of a challenge in the game play area. So players looking for something more, won't find it here.
Walking alone in the wilderness
What it does have is an incredibly strong sense of place. The unique art style really draws you in. A sense of loneliness pervades throughout the game. Yet the world around you and your simple objectives continually drive you forward. There is a central mystery that kind of strings you along across the world of Firewatch. Your mostly navigating across the world from point to point with the help of a map and compass.
Navigating through the lonely yet beautiful wilderness
Your only companion on this journey is your supervisor Delilah. Your conversational relationship with her is the central driving force of the game. Every conversation has a set of choices that must be selected within a few moments of them being offered to you. While these choices don't determine the final denouement what they do is shape the your ongoing relationship with Delilah. It was a very rewarding experience to see how these small but frequent choices affected her responses towards you.
The watch tower and your home during your time there
Firewatch takes place over the course of only a few months and during that time you actually experience a relationship over a walkie talkie mature and grow in a way that actually feels real. The most important thing I realised was the game never puts a hard label on the kind of relationship that develops.
In the end it's all about the connection you as the player make with this place, and the people that traversed it before you. It's about reconciling a past relationship while exploring the possibility of a new one. It's about discovering things about oneself in moments of intense solitude.
Go play Firewatch. Or rather go experience Firewatch. It's a prime example of the magic of video game storytelling.
The world of Firewatch is mostly a dreary one, yet a small unexpected moment like this does bring the occasional smile