Firewatch Review

Firewatch is a walk-and-talk narrative game set in the heart of the Wyoming wilderness and played through the eyes of Henry, a part-time forest lookout.

Firewatch is like being on holiday and having a relationship bloom during your time away from reality. It’s the magical moment where this relationship is new and exciting and is starting in a place completely closed off from the rest of the world. All senses are heightened in this encapsulated place, the smallest word spoken means more here than it does back in reality. Firewatch is this, or it’s your first friendship in an online game, a friendship that could be transforming into something else. It’s the moment when you wait to hear that other person’s voice, even if you mightn’t ever see them.

Firewatch Night
Firewatch Night

Firewatch was an evocative experience that nearly brought me to tears within the first few minutes. Campo Santo managed to create a relationship between two people, to spell out their entire life story, how they met and their first dog, and managed to make you fall in love, only using text. But the story stops halfway through their life as you take control and begin walking away from your problems. You, as Henry, walk away from your life to take a job for a few months to seemingly get away from reality. Despite it being a job, this will be your holiday, a new place with new experiences, and a chance to get away from it all. And so begins Henry’s life for the next few months as a fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest.

Firewatch Lush Valley
Firewatch Lush Valley

I wasn’t expecting the emotional journey I received when I started Firewatch. The entire game left me feeling hollow, depressed, but ultimately knowing that the right thing happened. It’s the perfect example of making a choice, whether it’s right or wrong, and feeling a sense of guilt and dread despite your decision.

When you arrive at your lookout you’re greeted by Delilah, the overseer of the entire valley. It’s her job to give tasks to each of the other towers and to generally make sure the forest doesn’t burn down. Delilah is one of few people you ever know in the game, if only through a walkie-talkie. The relationship between Henry and Delilah starts out shaky, having drunkenly welcomed him onto the job on his first night, but it quickly transforms into something sweeter. These two people are out in the middle of nowhere with only each other to talk to. As I mentioned above, it feels like every online relationship you might have had, either friendship or something more. Only knowing someone by voice allows the imagination to run wild. Never meeting someone pours fuel on the imagination fire about what could happen and leads to discussions like what Henry and Delilah have, “What would you do if I was there?” It’s naughty and exciting and it’s everything Henry needed in his break from reality.

Firewatch Night of Romance
Firewatch Night of Romance

Imaginations are a powerful tool, sometimes being stronger than reality. It’s why the idea of a monster is often scarier than finally seeing it. The build up to seeing the monster is what keeps everything alive, but when you see it, the excitement can potentially evaporate. The same can almost be said for Henry and Delilah - the excitement is in the imagination. You can only just see her tower, and she can only just make out your figure, and with no way to traverse the canyon, it’s almost like you will never be able to see her. The not-knowing holds a lot of the magic and mystery. Even though it shouldn’t, an experience can often be tarnished when you face what you’ve wanted all along. It’s human nature to build something up in your mind, only to be disappointed with reality. Even relationships are just as susceptible to this human flaw.

Relationships in Firewatch are tormented and strained. Everyone has a secret and everyone is trying to escape from something in their past. The Shoshone National Forest location is a point of escape for everyone involved. Campo Santo has crafted real and believable characters in Firewatch. People that could easily exist in real life. If there is one thing that Firewatch must be praised for, it’s the finesse and precision that the characters were created and voiced. Rich Sommer as Henry and Cissy Jones as Delilah performed a miracle. They made me fall in love with two people I’ve never met.

Firewatch Vista
Firewatch Vista

Beyond the endearing relationships is the breathtaking beauty of Firewatch. The scenery that stretches out in all directions is worth hours of exploring. Look in any direction and you’ll see an image work saving. The art style used in Firewatch is soft and colorful, with only the bare necessities detailed. It makes for a dream-like experience with muted colors, where rocks don’t have a hard outline to separate them from the sky. There’s a believable layer of fog as the distance extends away from you with the mountains on the horizon painted with only the major shadows. Every day brings with it a new hue. An early morning will bring with it a thin layer of blue fog that obfuscates details, midday is completely clear and sharp, with dusk washing the land in earthy reds and yellows. Two points in the game will look drastically different each time you see them. The world of Firewatch feels alive.

Firewatch Muted Colors
Firewatch Muted Colors

There are only a few small things that could be seen to let Firewatch down, but most are minor issues that, when compared to the game as a whole, seem insignificant. Though the game takes place in the wilderness with seemingly limitless places to explore, the pathing is rigid, with few places to wander other than alternate paths that you need to traverse in later missions. Firewatch uses a sort of open-world corridor system, where the game funnels you through vastly open and breathtaking scenery but prevents you from cutting across a field or climbing up rocks and exploring. However, Firewatch was never about exploring like in Skyrim, it’s a walk-and-talk game driven solely by its narrative.

Firewatch Map
Firewatch Map

The daily tasks of a ranger or a lookout scout could have been played up in the introduction to a greater extent. Your first mission is to set off and scold whoever is setting off fireworks in the middle of the forest in the dry season. Savor the real-life job moment because that’s all you’ll get, the following days involve investigating what the hooligans have done in retaliation. You never return to just being a lookout person whose job it is to keep an eye of the forest. Your brief escape from reality begins to crumble as the holiday and relationship are jeopardized.

As stated, Firewatch is a walk-and-talk game, so if you were to enter expecting action sequences you will be disappointed. There’s plenty of securing rope to rappel down a shale slide, an axe to fell a tree in order to cross a ravine, or even the ability to climb up small rocks, but if you expected to fight people off with an axe or gun you are playing the wrong game. Your tools are used simply; the axe is to clear a new path or to hammer in a rappelling anchor, and nothing more.

Firewatch Axe
Firewatch Axe

What Firewatch does right is build the relationships within the game. The relationships feel real and heartfelt. Every day that passes sees Henry and Delilah growing closer together despite the gargantuan distance between then. But Firewatch is a game about isolation and escapism. These two people meet and grow together over common personality traits, they’re both escaping. I could have cried at the beginning and I could have cried at the end. I was surfing the high during the middle and riddled with suspense over what was happening, but as it unfolded it was all making sense and I had the dreaded feeling it was heading in a direction I wasn’t going to be able to recover from.

Firewatch Thunder Canyon
Firewatch Thunder Canyon

The ending has divided the entire community, with some people feeling betrayed or that the lead-up sold them an ending they didn’t receive. Others lord the narrative as perfect, an allegory for real life relationships and experiences, that the ending perfectly encapsulated that feeling we’ve all experienced. Henry had been running the whole time, and for him to continue running would have felt incorrect. The work-holiday was his little escape from reality, and that’s all it was, a momentary escape. It was to help him deal with the life he was escaping from, to understand it and revisit it.

Firewatch is a short game, but extremely sweet. It will speak to a part of you that has loved and lost. Holidays are a form of isolation, where emotions are amplified and adding a romance creates an entity that feels more powerful than it really is. But these things tend to end. We know they end. They must surely, because each party involved must return to real life at some point. Living every day as a holiday would lead to a sense ennui. Firewatch takes this idea and runs with it.

We’ve all experienced that moment of love and even though, deep within yourself, you knew it was only a small blip on the timeline of your life, that fleeting instant was your entire world. You would never admit it was nothing, but at the same time you know the real world is different, that what you experienced could only have occurred during that time. It had a moment for itself. It couldn’t have happened or survived outside of that moment. Firewatch is that moment, it’s a beautiful representation of real life and the struggles we all face, the brief respite from the real world and our moments of escape. Firewatch, like life, is beautiful, even in its sadness.

Firewatch Review

891
/ 1000
The Good
  • Phenomenal story
  • Crisp environment
  • One-sit play
The Bad
  • Short
  • Low on action
  • Repetitive

Sam Chandler

Australian writer who has a penchant for Souls games, an addiction to Destiny, and a love for the indie.

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