Firewatch is a first person adventure game released in 2016 by Campo Santo. The game follows the story of Henry, a fire lookout, trying to find something to do with his life. The player is introduced to Henry through a string of text options and descriptions. This explains all the events in his life important to the lead up of the game. We are given flashes of his old life, while walking to where the game will start, and then we begin. Without giving any spoilers I’d like to launch into what I like and did not like about the game.
When Firewatch does something well, it does it amazingly. Two examples of this are the environment and the characters. The forest that the game takes place in is beautiful. Light glitters overhead as a brook babbles nearby. We get to see much of this map throughout our adventure and explore our way through the national park. The environment doesn’t hold the player’s hand either. Often times trails that appear to go the correct way drop us into a valley we have to forge through to make it back. The only way we can travel is with features we can mark on our map, and a compass. We have to actually find our way through the game and because of that, the player becomes attached to the area, further immersing them in the game.
Next, the characters have realistic flaws and emotions. I know it might sound weird to say that good characters are just real people, but it’s true. We only really interact with Henry and Delilah, his boss. However, through their conversations and interactions we learn a lot about the two: their morals, their history, and generally who they are. The player gets to learn the story of these two people without the game coming out and specifically saying anything. Oh, and you never see Delilah. You get to know her very closely, but only over the radio. Even with this setback, the characters and story they told were one of the best parts of this game.
However, I’m conflicted on the overall storyline. On the one hand, the first two-thirds of the story are very intriguing. The player has to try to figure out how and why strange things are happening and every twist and turn at the beginning pulled me closer to the computer. Unfortunately, even though this game has great aspects, it also has elements that fall short. The last part of the story fell flat for me. It has a very good buildup, and the first part of it had me pulled in, however, the conclusion wasn’t nearly as big as the rest of the story had made it seem. Not to say that the ending was bad–it was natural and made sense–but the early story had built it up to be much more.
Additionally, the map could have been used better. There’s a whole forest section that is open to the player but it feels like there were only four or five important areas where all of the action happened and the rest of the game was walking between all of them. The map can be explored anyway, but for the missions only a few areas seem to be relevant. The game is a walking simulator. Meaning that next to nothing gets done except walking around doing quicktime events. This is a small genre that has become larger in the last year or two, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just want to warn everyone playing the game that most of it is story-based and not action-centered.
My last thoughts on this game are positive. I really enjoyed playing it, but I feel that had the ending been a little tighter and the map been used more fully, it would have been one of the best narrative games I’ve played in a while. However, even with its few shortcomings, I found the game very enjoyable and objectively good. I rank it 5/7 and consider the way it handles characters with the tools it has to be one of the more creative design choices I’ve seen in recent years.