Throughout the course of one’s life, we are treated to moments of true happiness. Yet, it doesn’t tend to always stay that way. Every once and a while, even at the most inopportune times, life rears its ugly head and reminds us that we aren’t living in some fairy tale out of a Disney movie. This is how the story begins for Firewatch’s own protagonist, Henry. Without spoiling too much, Henry has seen better days, and the only reprieve in his mind is to escape his home in Boulder, Colorado, and head to the untamed wilderness of Wyoming to become a Fire Lookout.
While the game sets up Henry’s backstory in a great and heart-wrenching way I won’t ruin for you here, the premise of this title by Campo Santo is relatively straightforward. From a first-person perspective, you get to experience Henry’s Summer of 1989. Throughout your stay in his mind, you are accompanied by a fellow lookout named Delilah. However, since she is stationed at another tower you can see in the distance, the only form of communication you have with her is through a trusty walkie-talkie. Whether it be something as mundane as talking about the different areas of the Two Forks Lookout Area you both find yourself in, or all the way to reporting on the mischievous deeds of two teenage girls, these talks are always engaging and entertaining. Whereas in most games you would be getting context of the world through audio diaries or written notes, which there is a bit of, you are mainly learning through natural conversation between two people simply living their lives.
Throughout the four-or-so hour campaign, you really become familiar with not only Delilah, but Two Forks as well. The story takes place over many days, and you are a part of the highs and lows of some of them, leading up to a conclusion that rubbed some the wrong way. Personally, the story told and ending are what I truly respected and appreciate about the game, and what makes Firewatch so special.
This is not a tale of epic proportions and huge set-pieces. This is a story about a man whose life is in shambles, and focuses on his journey to figure out how to pick up the pieces. More importantly, it puts a proverbial mirror in front of you, as the player, and asks you to help define who “your Henry” is. If this notion compels you, you are welcome to ignore most of Delilah’s attempts to speak to you. Alternatively, you can choose to try and be a good friend and professional lookout. A la many games, such as Telltale’s extensive library and Mass Effect, you are given dialogue choices and given the opportunity to craft this story to your liking, within a set path. For even though there is a defined story in place, you are given the chance to make it your own and inject some of your own life, and even flaws, into it.
However, not everything is perfect in Wyoming. On PlayStation 4, I ran into a fair amount of performance bugs. From a constant dip in frame rate to some jarring pop-in, there were plenty of moments where I was pulled out of the lush and gorgeous environment, and reminded I was sitting in my living room and not a part of this wonderful world. Also, even though I personally loved the way the story wrapped up, some of the events leading up to the credits felt a little out of place.
Also, it’s important to note that this game is very similar to a game like Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture. There are a few puzzle-lite elements, but a vast majority of the game consists of simply walking through a forest and talking to a voice through a walkie-talkie. There are some extra notes and collectibles to find if you go beyond the beaten path, and even a pet to own (!), but nothing too revolutionary.
What also stands out is the lack of technology in this setting and how it affects the gameplay. You truly are isolated in the middle-of-nowhere. Without the burden of iPhones or snapchat, you are free to walk through the wilderness undisturbed, and what a beautiful wilderness it is. Firewatch’s art style is special and something to behold. Not only can you feel the beauty of your surroundings, but you can see the history in it as well. Lookouts-past have left their mark and you are given glimpse into their lives and what your very job was like years prior to your arrival. You are also given the sense that this place will continue on, long after you are gone. This is both humbling and somewhat depressing, but adds to the weight of the story. You are just a passerby, trying to find answers like many countless before you, and like many who will one day walk in your footsteps.
Firewatch is a special game from the newly formed Campo Santo. It’s a game that is over pretty quickly, but stays with you for a long time after. Unlike many games and movies, this game adds a layer of real-life that is sometimes lacking. While it may not be the perfect story and neat wrap up we all want to see, it is a story about life as it happens, regardless of our desires. It is a perspective that is very important to understand, and gives it a sense of meaning, because it feels as though this could be happening to you.
For the price of $20 and four-or-so hours of your time, Firewatch is a must-play. It is an experience that deserves attention and discussion. I can’t recommend highly enough spending time with Henry and Delilah, and thinking inwardly. Enjoy this peek into the life of a troubled man, and learn the tale of a Fire Lookout, simply searching for the meaning of his life, as so many of us are. The future is bright for developer Campo Santo, and I can’t wait to see where they take us next.