All alone in the forest, what does a guy do?
Firewatch has been anticipated by a lot of folks since the initial trailer, myself included. Not only did it look beautiful, but it had an air of mystery to it. So with the release at people’s doorsteps, I started playing this feverishly with much anticipation and excitement. What I got after the 5 hour experience was not exactly what I expected, yet that’s not to say it was ultimately disappointing, just not quite what I hoped.
The basic idea behind Firewatch is a pretty simple concept. Henry has taken a recent job at a firewatcher station to do exactly that, look out for fires in the forest. There are personal reasons that he has for wanting to take a job in such a remote location, but that is something I’ll leave for the players to discover. As far as his duties, he takes care of things around the forest area he is designated, keeps an eye out for smoke, and reports anything that seems out of the ordinary. Soon after he arrives he meets a fellow watch tower employee by the name of Delilah via his hand radio. This sparks an interesting relationship and dynamic to the game that pervades the entire experience, and it’s what actually sells the entire experience of what Firewatch is about.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $14.99
How long to beat: Five hours
A map and compass.
During the game, players will take Henry out into the lush and beautiful forest to explore and do his daily upkeep of the forest. In one of the first instances, Henry has to deal with some partying kids, which gives a taste of what this job might exactly entail. Dealing with punk kids is never a fun thing, but players as Henry get to decide how things turn out. Yet basically the majority of gameplay is composed of two things, walking around and going to specific key areas to move the story along, and also to choose when to radio Delilah and what to discuss. There are usually a few responses that players are able to choose from, and the choices made effect that relationship. Stick to that instinctual decision because more than likely there won’t be a second time to answer differently, except with another play through. Sometimes Henry has to use ropes to rappelor an axe to clear the way, but mostly players will be hiking the wilderness in search of answers.
While the game looks extremely pretty with pastel like colors and grand vista that bring the forest to life, it’s the dialog and relationship that comes from Henry and Dalilah, at least as far as my choices are concerned, that seemed even more beautiful and charming. It’s odd to find myself laughing at the sarcasm between to characters that are in a videogame so much and that I’m relating to things they say or the way they handle some of these moments. They even cuss a lot, which isn’t always the most profound way of doing writing for characters, but here it feels like the same way I’d react to the weird things going on around me. Yes, odd and mysterious things are happening to Hank and D, and there are times where the players will be just as confused or downright creeped out as they are.
Lost on the trail.
Unfortunately as much as I love these two characters and the forest they look after, there are a few things I sat and thought about after finishing the story, which again only took me about two sessions and 5 hours in total. While the forest looks great and the atmosphere that comes from exploring and seeing the various story arcs develop, on PS4 performance can be pretty bad, and it’s odd as this doesn’t seem to be pushing the system to its limits at all. The framerate chugs from time to time, and it appears it’s either a loading or saving issue as it seems to occur almost on time or every so often in a repeating fashion. Most of the time outside of that the game seems smooth, but even then some areas of the forest cause some slowdown. It really puts a big blemish on what is otherwise a beautiful looking game.
The voice acting by Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones is outstanding, and if the writing and chemistry between the two characters wasn’t portrayed in such a way, the story presented here might not have felt as impactful. At the end of the game, things are pretty clear cut what exactly transpired, but it was after finishing that I sat and thought about everything else that was going on to that led up that moment and some of it doesn’t make sense at all for me. Red herrings all around possibly? Trying to lull the players into a false sense of guessing what might occur? I don’t know but the more I picked at the story, the more it sort of seemed to feel apart in ways. Yet I feel there is actually two stories going on here, one about the occurrences happening in the forest and surrounding the occurrences and the other on a much more personal story involving Henry, his issues, and what he is battling with. This is the element that had me caring more about what Firewatch is and who these characters were.
Only you can prevent forest fires.
Firewatch left me both disappointed but also pleased. The system performance on PS4 is a bummer and I can overlook it, as this is a game about its story and choices in dialog, so performance never affected my input to the gameplay. It just simply feels rough around the edges and it shows. Meanwhile, as hyped as I was for this and I can’t really explain this as doing so would spoil elements of the story, but things were not as I expected, and while it’s refreshing, sometimes elements feel like a cop out or as I said earlier, a red herring and that doesn’t always rub me personally the right way. I enjoyed my time with Firewatch and I really cared about both of these people… or characters I should say. More so then most videogame characters and that alone makes Firewatch worthy of playing at least once. Yet I feel that might be the most people ever play this, one and done as once you know the end result, it might be just a tad bit too monotonous to experience again, at least anytime soon.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.