Release Date: 2/9/2016
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I just played this game in one long 4 hours sitting and I’m a little emotional about it. The game is completely story-driven and not one of those shitty Steam Early Access survival games that are becoming a plague. Instead, we get a linear adventure game with no combat and just beautiful visuals and a great story. You play as a man named Henry who’s suffered the loss of his wife’s mental state due to Alzheimer’s. The game starts out with just some text about how Henry came about to take this job as a Firewatchman. In just a few minutes and several lines of text, you grow feelings for Henry and his Wife which is really tough to do. The words are carefully chosen and arranged in just the right way.
In between this text, the segment is a mini tutorial with Henry making his 2-day hike to his watchtower. In unobtrusive and feel natural and organic so when you take full control of Henry you’re ready to start playing. When you do the game starts out with simple missions from the head watchtower Delilah. Your only communication with her is your walkie-talkie and you never actually see her in the entire game. It’s a sense of mystery that allows the player to paint their own picture like a book would. The first missions have you setting out to stop some teens setting off fireworks and this is where you get oriented with the map and compass. There’s a dot where you are so there’s no need to memorize anything or do aimless guesswork.
Once you get to the site you realize it’s two female teens who are completely naked, drinking beer and blasting music. They get upset with you like any rebellious teens would and threaten you. The first 3 days of being a fire watchman are played out however the game gets darker and tenser as you progress. There are little subtle things that freak you out such as seeing a man on your way back to your watchtower, discovering someone’s watching you and listening to your conversations with Delilah, and so on. It’s all very organic and the fact that it is subtle makes it scary and gives a tense atmosphere without using cheesy ghost stories and jump scares.
There were several moments where I wasn’t sure what kind of story this was. Supernatural? After an hour into the game, I figured it wasn’t that. Was it a slasher flick-type story? Not when I realized there’s actually no violence in the game. Was this a murder mystery? Maybe, something with aliens? Not at all. It was great to go down this twisting path to finally discover what the true threat was which I will not spoil here.
The only lighthearted nature of the game is the relationship between Henry and Delilah growing through conversation, however, I was always never completely trusting of her due to certain dialogue exchanges and slip-ups on her part. Firewatch is a roller coaster ride of emotions and story-driven feelings that most games can’t get right. In fact, Soma was the last game to make me feel this way.
Overall, Firewatch actually has a few flaws that keep it from being perfect. Outside of the story, there’s a lot of aimless backtracking as after the second hour you have already discovered this entire area. The Metroidvania-style gameplay to recover equipment to get to new areas seem natural, but it just exaggerates how much this game relies on backtracking to extend game time. Firewatch does have some excellent visuals though, but nothing that will make modern PCs sweat. I personally had a small connection with this game as I grew up in this area of Wyoming where the game is based. They mention the cities of Casper and Gillette which I grew up in both throughout a lot of my childhood. I also visited Yellowstone so the environment is very familiar to me and made me feel like I was back at home as a kid.
Play Firewatch for the great story, but don’t come in expecting a slaughter-fest, survival game, horror jump scares, or any of those cliches. The game is quite mild gameplay-wise, but the story will have you thinking days after finishing.