Okay! Let’s talk Firewatch!! Remember, spoilers will be clearly labeled from start to finish! Read on with no worry. 😉
Becki’s Rating: 8/10
This game follows Henry, a man who flees his less-than-ideal home life for the wilderness of Wyoming. He spends the summer as a lookout, scouring the forests around his isolated perch for potential fires. It’s set in 1989, a time when radios were the best way to communicate, and plays up a friendship / romance with fellow lookout, Delilah, over said radio.
It’s a mystery that focuses on the human element of storytelling, which is pretty interesting. As Henry, your radio control takes the place of any guns or weapons in traditional video games. The entire game took me about 10 hours, played in two sessions.
My favorite part? You spend the entire game roaming around absolutely gorgeous scenery. Like, seriously, who doesn’t want to virtually hike Yellowstone National Park? The art style is simply sublime. I mean, just LOOK at these screenshots.
Overall, I was very impressed with the storytelling aspect. Other than the art, this takes front and center. The game does an excellent job of amping the paranoia as you progress. There’s a lot of isolation–throughout the entire thing, you never even see Delilah face-to-face–so when you realize there are other people in the woods with you… well. Imaginations run rampant, and not in a good way. And that was a pretty awesome thing to inflict on an innocent gamer.
Okay, let’s talk bads. The biggest issue I had was the controls. Although the hikes were beautiful, navigation was incredibly tedious. And there wasn’t any kind of fast-travel option. The developers did a good job filling those boring runs around the Shoshone with conversations between you and Delilah, but there were still stretching moments of silence where I felt seconds of my life ticking away. Especially when you get lost. XD
Also, why can’t Henry gently put anything back down? When he picks up an item, it’s like it personally offends him, and he throws it to the ground. Books, fireworks, his wife’s picture, his wedding ring… it doesn’t matter how sentimental or fragile. My sister walked into the room and went, “Woah, why is he so angry?” And I was like, “I don’t know!”
But otherwise, this game was really, really solid. It’s short enough that those above annoyances don’t really intervene with your gaming experience.
Now, let’s get to the………
OKAY. The reason I didn’t knock this up to 10/10? I felt the story was anticlimactic.
The whole time, they’re building up this crazy conspiracy. People all over, threatening notes, government research labs, etc. And in the end, it’s one guy. And you don’t even get a confrontation with him. He literally just up and leaves after apologizing for all the trouble he caused.
I read the article that analyzes the themes of Firewatch, and I agree with most of it. Of course a game set in the Wyoming wilderness would be about escape. But as a storyteller? As a writer? I was thoroughly unimpressed with the ending.
Readers–consumers in general–expect you to make good on your promises. If you promise there’s someone hunting Henry, we need to see a real DANGER of this person closing in. You can’t just build the suspense, then have the killer leave an apologetic note and vanish into the woods. You can’t have the romantic interest just leave on a helicopter for no apparent reason, while you’re still fleeing a wildfire and only minutes from her location.
But more than that. We want to know why Henry, specifically, is the POV character for this story. It’s abundantly clear that he had no stake in the crux of this plot: Brian’s death and Ned’s subsequent abandonment. Yes, there are definite parallels between Ned and Henry. But ultimately, they’re just two guys who never met. Delilah would have been a far better POV character for this game, and there were tons of times when I wondered why she wasn’t coming down from her tower to investigate this close, personal friend of hers.
I appreciate the themes of abandonment and escape, especially when you consider the valid point that, to us, video games ARE about escape. And ultimately they end, and life is right where we left it… problems and all. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that, as a gamer, I spent 10 hours playing through a story that promised a lot, and just didn’t deliver. :/
I know the above sounded harsh, but overall, I really, really enjoyed this game. I thought the gameplay was beautiful, and the story was definitely intriguing enough to keep me hooked.
I wasn’t sold on Henry as a main character, but as someone with dementia in the family, I totally understand his motivation for escaping to Wyoming for a summer alone. Dementia isn’t often mentioned in video games, so that was pretty cool to see its psychological impact on a character, even if he was fairly bland as a person.
My overall verdict? If you’re looking for a cheap, short game with a story you’ve definitely never seen before, give Firewatch a try! If nothing else, the AMAZING scenery will stick with you long after you’re done playing. 😀
Have you played Firewatch? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!!