Running away from the past is hard. Running away from the present is even harder. For Henry, a man in his 40’s going through some personal issues, taking a job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness is the solution to all his problems. Or so he thinks…
The adventure begins the moment Henry arrives at his watchtower. Delilah, Henry’s supervisor and fellow fire lookout who’s stationed in her own tower miles away, radioes in to wish him a good morning only to be interrupted when they notice fireworks lighting up the sky. From there, we’re immersed in a good ol’ mystery adventure that works to build up the paranoia of man alone in the middle of nowhere with only a radio as his lifeline.
Home sweet home…
The gameplay is fairly easy to get used to. There’s a lot of walking around and exploring, with the occasional reading of notes or grabbing things. Though the latter is rather pointless sometimes…especially when it comes to examining things. Sure, the important stuff, you can take and keep, but there are other objects strewn about that really serve no purpose other than to add detail.
Which actually leads me to the inventory screen – there isn’t any. The notes and clues you come across can be viewed with the press of a button if you saved them. But, other than a disposable camera that you can bring up to take pictures, the only other usable objects you carry automatically get equipped only when you need them. Sadly, the excitement I got when I found an axe (er, sorry, I mean pulaski) was quickly marred when I found I couldn’t wield it any time I wanted.
You’re also supplied with a map, that can be updated at the supply caches, and a compass. The compass, especially, comes in handy when you have no idea where to go or what to do (which happened to me in the beginning). Handy tip? Pay attention to Delilah. That map will make no sense to you at first – I may or may not have gotten lost a time or two ’cause there are no quest markers (or quest screen for that matter), only a vague “find the campers” type of notation at the top of the map. Obviously, the more you play, the more you get to know the area, but at the start of the game, it’s a good idea to listen to Delilah when she’s telling you how to get somewhere.
Additionally, don’t forget to enjoy the view. Campo Santo did an amazing job of capturing the hauntingly beautiful wilderness landscape. The lighting is incredible and serves to set the ambiance. Warm, neutral colors surround you in the early morning and late afternoon, while more pastel-y, bright hues highlight the daytime hours.
But while the environment you explore is certainly a stunning and prominent feature of the game, I think Firewatch‘s forte lies in the narrative. And I’m not talking about the mystery that you’re trying to solve (which I’ll get into in a bit). The writing is really top-notch. Henry and Delilah are two complicated characters who forge a friendship over a walkie-talkie radio. I seriously can’t stop singing the praises of these two voice actors who did an unbelievable job of voicing their characters. We never physically see Henry or Delilah (it’s first person point of view and the closest we get to seeing what Henry looks like is a drawing and a photograph), nor do they ever actually meet in person. The story is driven by the conversations they have as Henry treks around the region he’s assigned to and investigates the strange incidents that began as soon as he arrived. The dialogue tree is not very varied (which works since it’s a timed response) and you can also choose to say nothing at all, but this only leads to clipped replies or even silence from Delilah. I often chose the quippy, sarcastic dialogue and found that to be the most engaging and probably preferred dialogue as it opens up funny retorts between the two.
The mystery, however, is arbitrary at best and, in my opinion, often misleading. It plays up to the paranoia of a man living in essential isolation. But…it works. And I think that’s what the developers were playing at. They give you just enough information to pique your interest and then discreetly throw curveballs at you so that you start to doubt not only yourself but also Delilah.
Although the storyline is very linear with a predetermined ending, I found Firewatch to be very enjoyable and the search for clues, coupled with the pleasant conversations between our two characters, was very entertaining. This is a relatively short game that’s definitely worth a second playthrough…especially if, like me, you missed some stuff the first time around.