Firewatch left me hanging.
Without a doubt, Firewatch is one of the most beautiful, intriguing video games I have played in the last few months, and certainly a great starter to the 2016 release year. As a long-time fan of the Adventure genre, Suspense or Thriller undertones, and a sucker for Mystery plotlines, I was super excited to give Firewatch a try. Unfortunately, what I found was a mixed bag of elements that, in the end, failed to deliver a satisfying finale to what could have been an incredible gaming experience.
Firewatch is the perfect example of a video game that begins with a tremendous amount of potential that spirals into an ending that is the exact opposite of that stellar beginning. Still, there is a lot to be had in this trek back into 1989, and there’s a definite Pros and Cons list here if you’re thinking about giving this Indie title from developer Campo Santo a try.
Dear henry, what brings you to Wyoming?
The Introduction is fantastic and expectedly touching; I felt like I was in an interactive, text-based version of the film ‘Up,’ and I was deeply moved while learning some of our protagonist’s history. Henry, our intrepid fire-watching, hiking-enthusiast main character, has had a rough life prior to finding himself in the Rockies; I don’t want to give away too much plot here, but suffice to say that Henry knows how cruel and shocking life can be with its twists and turns. He leaves his life behind in Boulder, Colorado, to spend the summer in a Lookout Tower, monitoring what can be exceedingly unpredictable, dangerous fires here in the Rockies.
The best dialogue award goes to….
At this point we know Henry’s background, and we meet Delilah (the other main character of Firewatch) via handheld radio. The voice acting is absolutely superb, easily some of the best I have encountered in the last few years if not ever; I really cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed the narrative between these two individuals.
The characters in the story are the true stars in this video game, though the plot does have more than enough hooks to get the ball rolling. Delilah is witty, shrewd, and clever; Henry is sweet, awkwardly charming, and eager to learn his new job role. They banter back and forth, and the player gets to decide Henry’s responses from a drop-down menu. While your choices don’t ultimately influence the plot of the whole story, nor do they unfortunately single-handedly provide more replay value overall, it is really fun to decide which angle Henry takes in response to Delilah’s inquiries.
The bittersweet ending and a world on rails
I am still deeply saddened that Firewatch left me hanging, waiting for a gratifying ending that just wasn’t in the cards. There was so, so much potential here, between the scenery and the mysteries encountered by our phenomenal main characters. As the story progresses it takes on a Thriller tone, one that blends perfectly with the ongoing mysteries that are plaguing Henry (and eventually Delilah, too). I was surprised by how suspenseful it felt to explore those woods, opening caches to gain new map locations and a whole library worth of books to choose from.
The biggest frustration for me, prior to the ending, was the navigation within the game. Instead of it being a free-roaming opportunity to explore the gorgeous scenery, I was walking around on rails, and the interaction with obstacles is unnecessarily clunky. Having to press Space to hop over a log, climb a ledge, or navigate a broken bridge isn’t automatically problematic, but it tend feel monotonous after too many encounters. I’m sure the developers were attempting to aid in immersion, but honestly the static camera moving around as Henry bobs and weaves left me feeling more prone to motion sickness than locked into a character.
Firewatch has a lot going for it: The graphics are beautiful, and the overall atmosphere is really top-notch; the conversations between Henry and Delilah are probably my favorite part of the entire game, and I definitely think they make it all worthwhile if you’re an Adventure-genre lover. The initial opening and progressing of the mystery within the game is interesting and enjoyable, even if it falls short in the end.
I definitely think this one is worth picking up on sale, even if I wouldn’t recommend it at the $19.99 USD price tag. If you can grab this under for a quarter of that price, or pick it up in an Indie Game Bundle somewhere, I absolutely would go for it. I don’t regret my decision to plunge into the world of Firewatch, I simply wish the resolution would have been far, far more satisfying; I feel this video game was one that hovered right on the cusp of being a spellbinding example of interactive, immersive storytelling, only to fall just short of the prize.