My detailed review of the lovely Firewatch

Firewatch is a very stylish and atmospheric narrative-driven adventure game where you play as Henry, a would-be writer who seeks escape from his problems amidst the wilderness of Wyoming.

Your only contact with the outside world, and in general, is your snarky but genuine supervisor Delilah. Together, the two of you have a simple job, ensure that the park doesn't get engulfed in a blazing inferno. But simple things don't usually stay very simple for long and soon enough you are dragged in to a mysterious adventure that will have you hiking, climbing and falling all over the park in search of answers.

 

And what a park it is! Firewatch might just be one of the most visually gorgeous games I've played in years. No matter where you decide to hike your companion is going to be a rich and lively scenery that is filled with all of the colors of nature, everything from the muted yellow of old dry grass to the vibrant green of freshly sprouted saplings to the crystal blue of small bubbling streams. To top it all off the park is also a very serene place and outside of some late-game scenarios you'll be able to explore and enjoy it at your leisure, which I do recommend.

The lifelike greenery aside it is the lighting that truly elevates the environment in to something simply spectacular. As you hike across mountain trails and over meadows the time of day will progressively change, resulting in the forest taking on a whole new look. This is especially apparent during mornings or late at night when the Sun's rays hit the forest canopy at an angle resulting in quite a scenic view.

But not everything is always fun when you're out alone in nature, as those that have extensive camping experience will attest. During the day the rustle of leaves and the bending of grass is a cheerful companion as you travel across canyons and fields but the same trip during sundown is a terrifying experience as the looming shadows and howls of wind start playing with your mind. With very few points of reference and the mysterious story having you on edge you might feel like you're being stalked by someone whose always somehow out of sight. While Firewatch never goes in to full blown horror mode expect to have some very, very tense moments.

Firewatch can have a very creepy and mysterious atmosphere

Nothing like someone flashing a light in to your eyes in the middle of nowhere

While the scenery makes it well worth exploring the national park Firewatch takes place in, the game itself unfortunately doesn't reward you with much for wandering off the path. There are almost no optional areas, that I could find anyway, that are simply there because they are an interesting place to explore. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of nifty locations for you to rummage through but each of those is a part of the main story and you will be "forced" to go through them eventually. What I'm talking about is the lack of completely optional side-areas of no plot significance that simply serve as eye candy to the dedicated few.

Another issue I have with the exploration is the overly long climbing, hacking and jumping animations that while flavorful and realistic end up being very annoying after the half way point when you begin crossing large sections of the map repeatedly. Climbing up a steep hill is exciting the first few tries but when you do it a dozen times in half an hour it starts feeling like Firewatch isn't valuing your time very well.

Firewatch 2 has hilarious dialogue

I hear its a popular tourist destination

But even though I ended up being a bit disappointed with the "off-the-trail" exploration, the areas you do get to visit are all well done and rather unique, each with its own story to tell and items to peruse. To Firewatches credit the objects and letters you find out in the world either have plot-foreshadowing features about them or serve as a way to deliver a couple of actually funny jokes through your conversations with Delilah. My favorite example of these items is the rather large amount of books you can find, each of which has a detailed cower and readable plot synopsis on the back. Its a small thing that's very easy to miss but it gives you a good insight in to the characters and their tastes.

While on the topic of exploration, you will find a single use camera early on in Firewatch that ironically contains more than a single use, about twenty of them actually. You can use it to capture some scenic vistas or memorable locations you come upon and I heavily recommend you do so. The reason for this is that once you're done with Firewatch you'll be able to order a full set of physical prints based on your photos for $15 (with shipping included). While not something I personally care about this is definitely a cool idea that I do appreciate being put in to Firewatch. There's nothing like a couple of photos to remember your journey, even if its a virtual one.

Firewatch allows you to explore and inspect everything

You are able to mess around with just about anything

And nothing makes a journey as interesting as traveling with friends does. In terms of Firewatch that means you will be spending the majority of your time chatting to your boss and supervisor, the extremely sarcastic but still caring Delilah. I'm not sure whether the two voice actors were locked in a room with the key thrown away or what but the chemistry between them is simply astounding. When Henry, the character you play, and Delilah first talk over the radio they are somewhat distant and a bit defensive but as time goes on and in-game days roll over they start acting like real friends.

When I say friends I don't mean that Hollywood movie sort of friendship where everyone is always nice. No, actual real friendship where the two of them constantly mess with each other, swear without censoring themselves but always stand ready to go above and beyond what's expected of them if the other needs help. The best example of how well their chemistry works is that the very first joke Delilah uses to break the ice with you is also the final spoken bit of dialogue in Firewatch, a moment made extremely powerful because of it.

It also helps that the voice acting and the writing in general are top notch. Which is a good thing indeed because I'd wager 50% of the gameplay is spent with you talking to Delilah and if that was either poorly written or acted I think I would've been driven insane. Luckily it is so good that I don't have any major complaints about it. Both characters act like real people would in the circumstances they're in which a great boon to immersion because when the mystery ramps up later in the game the panicked dialogue and confused voice-acting add a lot to the experience.

Firewatch is a very humorous gam

Its not easy being a fire lookout

While there is a lot of pre-set dialogue you still get a decent amount of choice and control in terms of how the story develops, which includes your relationship with Delilah. In my playthrough we ended up being best buds and spent the majority of the long summer nights talking about random nonsense and simply joking around. But, if you keep choosing the more closed-off and snarky responses you can end up being simply a lookout and his boss at best or bitter rivals at worst. I'll admit I didn't test how extensively you can piss Delilah off because I started to feel pretty bad about acting like an asshole so I called the experiment off, but the choice is there for you if you want to run around in silence.

As for the main story itself I would absolutely love to talk about it but the fact is that even mentioning that certain events might or might not happen would ruin the experience for you. So I'll be smart, for once, and keep my mouth shut as far as the main plot goes. What I will tell you is that I went in to Firewatch with the idea that I'll spend a few evenings in a care-free atmosphere running around the woods but instead I ended up leaving with a lot of conflicting emotions that will take a few weeks before I can properly process them all. It might not seem like it on first glance but Firewatch is a very touching tale about how different people deal with love and loss, and the consequences of ones actions.

Verdict

Firewatch might have a few small annoyances and its not the most gameplay heavy title out there but what it does offer is a beautifully realized world to explore filled with interesting characters, compelling dialogue and a narrative that will stay with me for many months to come.

So if you are someone that greatly values story and exploration then I don't think you will regret donning the fire lookout outfit and stepping in to the wilderness of Firewatch.

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