Well I finally finished it! After months of playing and delaying I finally completed Firewatch. It has been a long time coming, but I am quite happy to have finished the game and boy am I certainly happy with my experience. While this year has not been a stellar year of video gaming, it is still quite an honor to be counted as one of the best games of 2016 which is exactly where Firewatch finds themselves today.
Firewatch is the story of a man named Henry. After his wife, Julia, is unfortunately diagnosed with early onset dementia, Henry takes up a job in a firewatch tower in Wyoming. While there, he meets Delilah, his boss, over a radio chat. The two begin to hit it off, isolated in the woods. However, it is soon discovered that they are not alone. It turns out that there is someone following Henry as he goes out on his excursions and is listening to their radio conversations. The two then have to discover who it is that is stalking them and why.
The Story and Relationship Between Henry and Delilah
The crux of this game is the story told between Henry and Delilah, two firewatchers living in isolation for the summer in the Wyoming wilderness. Henry is a lonely person whose life has been thrown into complete upheaval after his wife was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Henry took the job in order to put his life on pause and collect his feelings before returning to his and his wife’s home in Boulder.
Delilah is his boss and a somewhat fun loving free spirit. The two hit it off quickly and become fast friends and, dependent upon your decisions, can be something a little more. It is an interesting dynamic between the two due to the fact that they barely know each other and have never seen each other face to face. However, Delilah represents something that Henry needs, a person in order to help him cope with the fact that he, for all intents and purposes, has lost his wife to a horrific disease.
Regardless of what happens between Henry and Delilah, the story of Firewatch is the tale of someone coping with tragedy. Whether that is to move on with life or to accept the hand that has been dealt to him, the relationship is something quite beautiful to behold.
Exploration is Key
The game has a central plot, but that is only half of the fun that comes from Firewatch. Most of the fun can also come from a sort of “collect all the conversations” mission as you explore the game and find different things you can interact with and ways you can interact with Delilah. If you are someone who is completely plot driven, you may miss a good amount of material that goes into the game play experience.
Organic Suspension and the Fear of the Unknown
One of the strongest aspects of Firewatch is the subtle use of fear. Fear is a powerful emotion and can be used in a variety of different ways. I will state before I get into this that all of these games, including Firewatch, use isolation as another powerful factor to their scares so consider that a blanket topic.
Five Nights at Freddy’s used jump scares, shock terror, and the fear of powerlessness in order to create dread in characters. Silent Hill is known for its use of dread and gore in order to inspire fear. Games like SOMA and Amnesia: The Dark Descent also play off powerlessness but use the fear of an all knowing stalking presence in order to inspire fear in the player.
Firewatch is similar to the video game Gone Home in its use of fear. The game does not resort to jump scares, dread, or gore in order to inspire a sense of unease, but instead offers a fear of the unknown. You know, as a player, that you are playing a game and that a game like this needs to have a conflict. You know something is following you and something is watching you, but you are not sure what it is, how it is going to affect you, or even if the entity has nefarious purposes. The antagonists intentions are completely unknown, thus making the antagonist completely unpredictable. As the player, you have no idea what this person is going to do or even if it is even a person at all. It is one of the best aspects of the game and one of the driving factors that keeps players playing.
All Suspension, But Very Little Action
While it is a minor nitpick, it is one that cannot be ignored. The game does a good job of shielding the fact that, for the most part, the only real thing you are doing in this game is walking and vaguely interacting with your surroundings. Sure, you get to have radio conversations, shape some of your background, and the game seems dynamic. But the only real dynamic of the game is “go to X, have a conversation about X, go back to location X.” I would have liked a little more interaction from the game. More proactive decisions and an ability to interact with the surroundings besides talk to Delilah about X, pick up X, or do X action because the plot tells you to at that moment. Besides this minor con, the game is solid.
Is Firewatch a perfect game? No. It is quite a bare bones game that allows some of its more positive qualities shield some of its short comings. Is it a great game? Most certainly! Is it one of the best indie games I have played in some time? YES! The story is excellent, the suspense keeps you interested in the story that is being told, and the still illustrations are quite beautiful even if some of the human animation can be somewhat blocky.
You grow connected to the characters in the story without ever seeing any of their faces until the end of the game or in photographs. It is one of the best told stories that I have seen so far and I definitely look forward to what else Campo Santo has coming out in the future.
Final Score 4.5/5
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