Firewatch is one of the better first person narrative games that I’ve played. It is a unique experience that explores themes such as relationships, isolation, illness and, of course, fire watching. I enjoyed the 4-5hours that I spent with the game, although I was not satisfied with some of the developers design choices. Continue reading below for my examination of what I did and did not enjoy about Firewatch.
Be warned: The following contains spoilers. If you haven’t played Firewatch, stay away … and go play Firewatch.
Firewatch is a gorgeous game. The cell-shaded Wyoming wilderness instantly drew me in. I was exploring the vast landscape and sharing my discoveries with Delilah long before I ever set out to investigate who was launching the fireworks. This style of graphics has a tendency to hide blemishes and leave the game appearing timeless. Firewatch is no exception. Henry’s disposable camera became my weapon of choice as I utilised both it and the PlayStation 4’s screenshot feature to capture sunsets, squirrels, and of course fires. It’s easily the best looking cell-shaded game since Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and its recent HD update.
For me, the other selling points were both the games top notch dialogue and voice acting. The banter between Henry and Delilah is some of the smartest writing I have experienced in gaming. It’s the type of playful dialogue that might occur between two strangers engaged in online dating. Actors Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones completely own their respective roles. The dialogue and gameplay reminded me of 2015’s Soma, where you play as Simon, the male protagonist who is guided through a foreign landscape by the female voice over Catherine. Although Firewatch had the additional benefit of alternate dialogue options for me to tailor the conversations to my own preferred play style.
… And this is where my praise ends. To be honest, I was greatly disappointed by the time the credits rolled, as I realised that my choices had absolutely no impact on the story. The final decisions you make within the game appear to determine If Henry and Delilah go their separate ways or attempt a relationship. It makes no difference what you choose, as all options eventuate to the same final scene of Henry boarding the chopper alone. I could have been a nice guy or an arsehole and ended in exactly the same place. So what was the point of giving me choices if they meant nothing? I believe Firewatch would have greatly benefited from alternate endings that adapted to the choices made by the player.
The more I reflect on my time with Firewatch, the more annoyed I become by how much of Henry’s isolation and paranoia felt forced. The majority of the game is spent investigating who else is in the wilderness with Henry and why they are following him. This left me with paranoia, distrust of Delilah and I had a constant sense of being watched. I loved that it was able to evoke this response from me, particularly when it is in no way a horror game. My issue is that I was forced to deal with this in a manner that didn’t feel logical to me.
What I believed to be logical solutions to these problems were different to what the developer Campo Santo had in mind. There were plenty of opportunities for Henry to further investigate or remove himself from the situation. Instead, by design you were forced to wait until it was too late to explore those options. This is the type of behavior I expect from the drunken, horny teenagers in horror films. Most importantly, I do not believe that Henry and Delilah could communicate to each other for 80 days via walkie-talkie and have no desire to meet each other in person until the end of the fire season.
Maybe I‘ve overanalysed Firewatch. Maybe it’s a work of art and I’m too critical to see it for what it is. I’ve read many opinions online where gamers praised the open ending, citing that it was a reflection of real life. That here in the real world, we don’t always get closure or the happy ending. This is true, but Firewatch is an interactive story, not real life. I believe the developers succeeded in many ways, it’s clearly a beautiful game to the eye, and yet I am left unsatisfied. I’m sure that its story and themes will be interpreted and reinterpreted for years to come, perhaps that’s its ultimate reward to us as players and to itself.
So, have you played Firewatch? Do you agree with my assessment? Be sure to let us know what you thought in the comments below.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer who believes that if he spends the summer alone in a tower the crazy would set in fast.