A walk in the park.
If there is one thing that you just cannot take away from Firewatch, it is its ability to suck you in. From its incredible visual style; created by artist Olly Moss, to its captivating performances from Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones; Firewatch draws you in to its world effortlessly. At its best, Firewatch is the best in class at narrative; even though it couldn’t quite keep it up all the way through.
Set in the late eighties, Firewatch tells the story of Henry; a man looking to get away from his life for a few months who decides to take a summer job as a fire lookout in a national park. What Henry hopes will be an easy way to forget his troubles and earn a little cash turns into a bizarre mystery, as events unfold and strange things start to take place. I will leave the synopsis there, as I don’t want to spoil anything for you lovely readers.
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (Reviewed)
The main focus of the game is the relationship between Henry and the head lookout, Delilah. Their only communication is via walkie-talkie with conversations ranging from idle chit-chat to full blown conspiracy theories, and it is these conversations that elevate Firewatch from just a standard exploration game. Not only is the dialogue expertly written, but the performances of the main leads are of such quality that every conversation feels natural. Whenever Delilah speaks to Henry, the player will be given a selection of responses to choose from. Each response will lead the conversation in new directions, and will also play into how the relationship develops throughout the course of the game.
The choices the player makes doesn’t affect the outcome of the game, but replaying the game and choosing different responses will result in completely new dialogue between Henry and Delilah, certainly making it worthwhile playing Firewatch through at least twice. It isn’t a long game either, lasting between two and three hours, but this isn’t a bad thing, as the game never outstays its welcome. Campo Santo set out to tell a story first and foremost, and as such the length of the game doesn’t matter.
What each player gets out of the story will be different, and when all was said and done I felt a little let down as the game came to its conclusion, and again, I will try and be as vague as possible. For the first two thirds of the game I was enthralled. The mysteries surrounding the event in the park had my brain racing as to what on earth could be going on. But that feeling subsided as I got towards the end, as the explanation for all of the events felt a little mundane. Did the story make sense; yes it did. Are there other hidden little mysteries to be gleaned from the various interactions between Henry and Delilah; most certainly. It’s just that the way the story was developing, I was hoping for something more. But this is the story they wanted to tell, and the main thing is that it was told expertly.
Along with the main game, the Xbox One release also adds two new features (which will also be added to the PC and PS4 versions via an update); the Firewatch Audio Tour and Free-Roam Mode. The free-roam mode allows the player to explore the Shoshone National Park at their own pace, with all areas unlocked and a few secrets to find. The Audio Tour adds a dev commentary to the game; giving an insight in to the development of the game and struggles and joys a small team have in seeing their project go from the drawing board to the gamepad. These additions add a little extra value to the game and give a great reason to revisit the game, especially for those that played it when it was released on PC and PS4 earlier this year.
The phrase ‘Walking Simulator’ has started to become a derogatory term applied to games that have you do little else. Games like Dear Ester and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture have been labelled as such recently, as has Firewatch. But I can’t see anything wrong with games that want to take a slower approach and tell a story; not everyone wants to fire guns all of the time. Firewatch is a perfect example of a game that has something to say. You may not like the story it tells, and you may not feel totally satisfied with the outcome; but when the story is told in such a well crafted manner it doesn’t really matter. Anyone who appreciates a good mystery will definitely get something out of Firewatch; just don’t let your mind race to much, as you may end up feeling a little let down.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.