Firewatch has, by some, been unfairly labelled as just another run of the mill walking simulator. However, I think Campo Santo have managed to create a truly outstanding game which, nearly two years later, is still a phenomenal experience.
The opening of this game is completely breath-taking, almost immediately kindling feelings of loss and grief. Being thrown into the aftermath of such a sorrowful event (his wife’s diagnosis of early onset dementia) it’s understandable why our protagonist Henry, felt the need to escape his despair. A theme that you’ll find flows easily through Firewatch is that it is easy to put yourself in Henry’s shoes and understand his situation, both pre-and post-taking a job in the fire service.
Your time in Firewatch will be spent in almost complete isolation. Henry moves to a Wyoming forest to become a forest fire lookout, escaping the emotional torment of his failing marriage and his wife’s illness. I spent hours in the wild forests of Shoshone National Park as I found myself getting lost in the game. Firewatch has an intriguing story, one that carefully branches out as the summer continues and the relationship between Henry and his boss Delilah begins to blossom. Chapters take place over the duration of minutes, days or full weeks and particularly short chapters leave us clinging onto the dialogue, wishing that we could stay a little longer with our protagonist.
Visually the game is stunning, with fiery red sunsets and block colour landscapes so striking that we must shield our eyes from them. Firewatch is effortlessly beautiful. Warm red and orange hues are prominent in the day and the nights are filled with deep blues and soft greys. The difference between day and night in Firewatch feels almost like two separate games and, from the time that we first witness a fire, it’s so visually stunning against the black starry night that I was taken aback in awe. Scenery is powerful enough to force our emotions almost instantly from one side of the spectrum to the other. Strolling through a well-lit meadow in the heat of a spring day can make you feel at peace and secure but once night falls that same landscape transforms into something more menacing and the dimly lit trails and worrisome sound designs makes you rush back to your tower.
Emotive dialogue pours life into our two beloved characters whose conversations are the most intriguing part of the missing person mystery central to Firewatch. Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer are fantastic voice actors and their efforts pay off as we watch Henry and Delilah’s relationship shift from professional to something more. For a game with cartoon graphics the main plot of Firewatch holds many dark themes, and as the game progresses it drags the player into a cold world of despair and desperation parallel to the warmth that the environment and colour palate suggest.
Small touches to Firewatch make this game so perfect to me. Henry and Delilah’s witty conversations, the often-stunning sunsets and the intensity of the story. The simple design which evokes so many emotions from the player whilst the charming music massages the story along. The sudden turns and twists which evoke paranoia and hesitance into the player play off so well, especially as Firewatch didn’t showcase itself as a thriller at the time of its release.
Unfortunately, the ending of Firewatch is disappointing to say the least. For an emotive game with a big build-up of character development to suddenly just stop felt almost sad. Whilst the main game is a fantastic exploration of both the forest and the characters of Henry and Delilah the ending is so abrupt and brisk. Putting the ending aside, however Firewatch really is an extraordinary experience, it’s just a shame that its tainted by its disappointing finale. Still, I am more than sure that Firewatch is a game I will return to time and time again in the future.