Firewatch was one of those games that I overheard everyone I knew talking about whilst me, being somewhat of an outsider, had never heard anything about it until that point. I decided to look at some screenshots for the game to see if I could grasp the same excitement that everyone else had over it and after seeing the graphical style of the game I was immediately intrigued. I immediately found the trailer for the game and almost immediately after watching the trailer I’d gone straight to the PlayStation Store and started my download.
From the trailer and the screenshots I’d seen, I went into Firewatch expecting an open-world experience driven heavily by story and exploration. When I began my endeavour into the world of Firewatch I wasn’t greeted by my expectations, in fact I was greeted by something that I don’t think I could have ever expected it to be.
Through a very cleverly crafted introduction sequence we are introduced to Henry, our main character, who has recently taken a job as a fire lookout in Wyoming at Shoshone National Forest. Henry wants to be alone, for reasons that I won’t go into, and throughout the game he gets exactly that – throughout the game you will never seen another person, which perfectly allows the player to bond with Henry as the only two people in contact with the world of Firewatch is him and the player. Well, that’s mostly true as Henry is always equipped with his trusty radio that he uses to contact his boss, Delilah. The player can use the radio to contact Delilah and, whilst doing so, make choice that can change how some aspects of the game play out – as an example, early on in the game you’ll come across a steep slope and Delilah let’s you know that this particular slope doesn’t yet have a name and the game allows you to choose from three different speech options that allow you to pick a name for the hill that will forever be used throughout the rest of the game, my personal favourite being ‘My Shitty Boss is Trying to Get Me Killed’.
Over the course of the game Delilah sets Henry many tasks, all of which send him out into the luscious woodland environments that Firewatch has to offer. All of the tasks are completed by regular human abilities, such as climbing slopes, rope climbing down the face of cliffs, chopping down trees, jumping over already fallen trees, paying attention to his compass and doing other normal person things that really do make Henry feel as if he were an actual human being like you and I, not some all powerful video game protagonist that can leap over obstacles with absolutely no effort – Henry really is just a normal guy, going about doing his job.
The world of Firewatch is incredibly uncomfortable to be in, the reason being that as days pass Henry and Delilah begin to uncover some things that really aren’t as they should be and the game does a tremendous job at making you feel just as scared and alone as the two fire lookouts. Although at points it can be extremely unnerving, I wouldn’t class Firewatch as a horror game. It’s as much as a horror game as Gone Home is. The environments and events evolve throughout Firewatch to put you in situations that feel more terrifying than they should because your character is just a normal person and is placed in situations that the player would be petrified if they were placed in the same circumstances.
Whilst the core theme of Firewatch is loneliness and what it is to be truly alone, it is also about breaking free from the grasp of loneliness and forming new bonds with new people. Seeing as Delilah is the only form of human contact available to Henry, you’ll find yourself talking to her a lot. Radioing her to talk about almost everything you see, or even trying to radio her when the game doesn’t give you an option to do so, and I really found myself doing this pretty often as the feeling of loneliness really starts to sink in when the only thing that breaks the silence is the sound of your own footsteps.
Now I experienced Firewatch on the PS4 and this particular version of the game does look a tad rough around the edges with the frame rate constantly struggling to keep up with what’s happening in the game and the textures can look at look a little bit sketchy at times, but it’s not enough to distract from the sheer beauty that this game offers. The unique art style of Firewatch works marvellously with the minimal but effective colour palette that Campo Santo chose to use.
Firewatch is a game that can be played start to finish in an afternoon of continuous play with the game only being about 3-5 hours long, but this isn’t a negative in the slightest. Firewatch is short outing, but everything contained within those 3-5 hours were thoroughly enjoyed and something that I’d love to return to in the future.