Firewatch prides itself as a game with a unique setting and story. It follows the life of a lookout in a dry forest landscape that is perpetually at the risk of wildfires, but does it do enough with this premise to make it a worthwhile experience?
Meet Henry, a young man who decided to spend time away from civilization in the Wyoming wilderness acting as a lookout for fires. Armed with nothing but a compass and a map, Henry is tasked with preventing fires from starting and reporting fires that have already grown large enough for him to stomp out. Throughout the story, he continues a dialog via his radio with the slightly mysterious Delilah. She is situated in another lookout tower that initially appears far away from Henry's and she often gives him tasks to complete, aiding him through their walkie-talkie system as he traverses the mountainous landscape. Before you are thrust into the wild, you must read text that displays on the screen for around fifteen minutes which outlines your background a little by explaining how you decided to take this job in the first place. From the first line that I read, I realised this game is going to be pretentious. I made some decisions as I continued reading that were supposed to alter the storyline later. However, I didn't see any sign of this. For example, I chose that my ailing wife was sent to a home to be taken care of but in conversations with Delilah, Henry talked about how his wife was visiting her family in Australia. Maybe she went there for a break from the home, or maybe the game just gives you the illusion that you're making decisions to affect the story when ultimately they do nothing.
This short-lived adventure starts out intriguing once you make it past the many screens of text. Fireworks are spotted so Henry must rush to the rescue and stop the offenders from continuing to cause a fire risk to the woodland. The offenders turn out to be a couple of teenage girls that aren't happy when they're told they must stop. Later on, a small campfire is spotted and you are again tasked with putting that out. Due to the fact that you never actually see any fire close-up in the entire game, this might sound a bit mundane. Thankfully, the plot fast-forwards days or weeks at a time to get to Henry's more eventful days in almost complete isolation. Things start to unravel a little as you begin to realise that someone is surveilling your conversations with Delilah and plotting your walks in the woods. However, when it finally comes to a head, the conclusion is unfulfilling as it raises more questions than answers. Why did the person surveilling us lead Henry to a backpack that contained a key to a cave that clearly they didn't want him to see? How come Delilah claims to be unaware of the existence of a large fenced-in area with heavy equipment that's owned by the government and has clearly been around for a while, especially when the area she's responsible for doesn't even seem that big? There is also a side-plot around what happened to the girls that you confronted earlier in the game which starts to build into something interesting then abruptly meets a dull end. The whole story around those girls was completely unnecessary yet Delilah thought it was important enough to unleash a barrage of curse words and be overcome with worry. What a drama queen.
I have talked a lot about the story so far, but frankly that's literally all there is to Firewatch. You walk around the woodland in first person view using your compass as a guide to reach your destination. You'll find objects that have been left behind in some areas and you can pick them up and examine them, but why you would want to do that is beyond me since there is absolutely no consequence for doing so. Occasionally, you'll come across a rope that you either have to climb up or down, or a document that you can read. That's about the extent of the gameplay right there. When I first read about the game, I pictured being surrounded by wildfires and having to make my way out, but Firewatch is far from that. I saw what looked like a fire way in the distance, but didn't actually get anywhere near one.
Visually, everything looks decent. Before the distant wildfire starts to blur the screen with smoke, I quite enjoyed walking through the forest. You never meet another human through the whole experience except right at the very end for a couple of seconds, and there are sadly no animals to be seen except for one deer that runs away very soon into the journey. Firewatch does a good job of depicting a mountain wilderness with a mixture of dense forests, small waterfalls, canyons, a lake, and an underground cave. The audio is mostly atmospheric and seems to complement the game, but it's nothing to write home about.
I finished the whole adventure in one sitting and it offers absolutely no replay value. I'm always disheartened when a game can be completed so quickly and gives me no reason to ever play it again. However, even if Firewatch was longer, I don't think I would have kept playing if it offered just as much of a dull and messy storyline. I know I already mentioned it earlier, but the fact that Firewatch sells itself as a game that has a branching storyline and different endings is a complete joke. How come no matter how hard I tried to keep Delilah from wanting to throw herself at me she continued to go on with her personal remarks and questions about my life? The worst part is when it faded to black after she started speaking suggestively. I swear I did everything in my power to get her to not find me attractive yet these events still happened. Anyway, to get the regular ending you simply have to walk to a certain area within a couple of minutes (which gives you plenty of time), and to get another ending you just stand there like a dummy. You actually end up traversing the hillside to reach Delilah's lookout near the end of the game (sans Delilah), so why did these two have radio conversations for months when they were only a fifteen minute walk away? Talking about conversations, the writing is just plain awful. If I knew either of these two in real life, I would do everything I could to avoid them. Constant swearing and over-reactions to unfolding events made me want to throw the radio into the stream to finally get some peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, Firewatch left me unfulfilled to say the least. The initial impression I had of a survival game in burning wildfires with a focus on narrative never came to fruition. The gameplay is very bare-bones, the story is uninspired and confusing, and the dialogue sounds like it's being read from the script of a low-budget slasher film. In the end, I can only recommend this one if you find people walking in the woods while carrying on contrived conversations entertaining.
- + Environments are nice to look at
- + Interesting concept has a lot of potential
- - With virtually no gameplay, you'll be better off taking an actual walk in the woods
- - Sloppy plot never reaches any high notes
- - Dialogue is painful to listen to