I had no expectations from Firewatch with the exception of wanting to play it ever since I saw the trailer. It was intriguing enough to pre-order and the last few days before release were torture. Then release day comes, I sit down and surprisingly finish the game in one sitting. Was it everything I wanted and more from what the trailer teased or was it a pre-order buyer’s remorse? Let’s take a look at one of the more interesting releases from this year.
Firewatch’s story can easily be described as very adult-dealing with forgiving others and yourself, love, careers and what you want and to be in life. The game heavily focuses on these things and more on storytelling than gameplay. You play the character of Henry, a middle-aged American who finds the love of his life named Julia at a bar and his experience working as a lookout in Yellowstone Park. The game starts off with dialogue on how you met Julia and how you got together with her and end up getting married. As you progress through this dialogue, you’re given choices on how your relationship will pan out but get the sense that Henry can be unreasonably selfish. Henry and Julia’s marriage “ends” with Julia having dementia and as Henry, you decide to work at Yellowstone Park with another lookout named Delilah to try and find some answers while strange events happen during your stay.
Let’s get this out of the way and it’s obviously evident, Firewatch is beautiful. The environment is lush for a forest that’s slowly burning down. From its lowest to highest setting the game looks amazing. You can just keep walking around and you know, appreciate nature. It sounds incredible as well, albeit some places lack depth in terms of sound, as if they were in the same room as you instead of being outside in the wilderness. However, the ambience and musical cues do make you feel like you’re smack dab in the middle of nature. It’s cinematic through and through.
The gameplay is simple with no messy key combinations to fumble around in. Firewatch’s map and compass system is good but easily overshadowed by gaining information from supply caches and copying the paths from it. Having the path information makes it way too easy to navigate Yellowstone Park and there’s nothing to see outside of the given paths in the game.
With that said, the game feels as though you’re given a lot of areas to explore and that there are a ton of answers out there but you’d be surprised at how linear and sometimes limiting exploring the game can be. Firewatch rarely lets you stray off its designated storytelling path. It’s like I’m playing this story book with tiny fun facts scattered in well-positioned spots and those bits of information barely add anything to the game. There’s nothing wrong with playing a story book, especially with how well-timed the cliffhangers in this game are, but a lot of the answers given by the story were unsatisfactory. You’re trying to solve a mystery that happened a few years back but you focus on Julia and then your weird romantic relationship with Delilah and then teenagers that could’ve died because of you. The game can be disjointed with its story and how it’s resolved towards the end. Henry and Delilah would be all over the place, worrying about a current problem, forget about it and then get updated later on in the game that it was all cool. It’s like a quick fix for the game’s MacGuffins.
The game’s dialogue can also get jumbled, jumping from a current subject to a report you have to radio in. Conversations between you and Delilah would play out weird because you’ve discovered something in a supply cache or the current area you’re in. One situation I had was with Delilah opening up to Henry about her love life and how she ended up in Yellowstone and as soon as that conversation ended, you could easily interrupt her with a fossil you found and she’d sound as if she just hadn’t poured her heart and soul a few seconds ago. You could avoid this problem by pacing your conversations with Delilah but you’re given a window in which you could react. If you can’t react in time, the conversation dies and you have to look for another object of interest to start another conversation, wait for her to tell you something or phone in another report. This actually does play a role in how your relationship with Delilah develops, but after playing through the game, I don’t think I’m ready to revisit Yellowstone Park just to see how different the relationship can be if I reacted differently or at all.
Overall, Firewatch’s story and gameplay has a lot going for it and leaves you questioning the morality of your actions and it gets you involved with Henry’s decisions and life but the game feels like it’s throwing solved problems at you and that you just have to go through the motions instead of solving them. I wish there was more to do in the game besides its story. It wasn’t completely satisfying but I wouldn’t say I was completely disappointed either. I would probably read a review instead of buying it given the chance.