Firewatch is a first-person point-and-click adventure released in 2016.
It tells a story of grief and loss that will appeal mostly to people aged 30 or more. The main story is told through a series of radio conversations between Henry, a man in his early 40s, and his supervisor, Delilah. The game does an admirable job in having both Henry and the player quickly form a bond with what is essentially just a voice on the radio. This is in no small part due to the excellent voice acting. Suspense keeps the story moving and makes sure it doesn’t become stale. There are several interesting story lines throughout the game, but unfortunately the ending doesn’t manage to conclude these properly.
The game’s cartoony style works surprisingly well for nature, and the lighting is excellent. The environments you encounter are also quite varied: you’ll spend time in the forests or by the lake, hike through a canyon, go spelunking in caves, there’s something here for everybody. The engine can be a bit choppy at times, but it’s not so severe that it breaks the magic.
Controls and UI
The controls and interface are quite barebones, which allows the player to focus more on the story. You’re eased into the controls, but the game sneakily withholds telling you that you can run until later on, once you’re already used to the more laid-back pace of walking around. You can even hide what little user interface you do have. One thing I’d recommend is turning off your location on the map, this makes the game much more immersive and realistic.
The sound design is excellent in its minimalism. There’s the occasional subdued guitar at key points in the story, but really it’s mostly wind, birds and silence.
The vast majority of the game is spent walking from one place to another, and that’s exactly the point. Walking through the woods and enjoying the way the light plays through the leaves is what it’s all about. Firewatch embodies the journey being the destination. You just walk, occasionally consulting your map and compass. You might stumble upon supplies, or if you’re of the lawful good alignment, the game even lets you clean up other people’s trash.
Unfortunately, exploration both in the physical world as well as through dialogue options is rather linear. While you can sidetrack, wander around a bit or change how Delilah responds depending on what dialogue option you chose, ultimately the game always shepherds you in a single, preset direction. Many people expect to make meaningful decisions and that is something you just cannot do in this game.
Both the games industry and its audience have matured to the point where a story about grief and loss in a package that is mostly devoid of any action can still turn heads. While the game has its flaws, the graphical style, excellent voice acting and general atmosphere of the game will make sure you’ll revisit the forests of Wyoming more often than you’d think.