Alone in the woods… right?
On a beautiful morning in the Wyoming wilderness, during the summer of 1989, Henry sits on the top of a lookout overlooking a wide range of the Shoshone National Forest. His mind is clouded with questions, memories of the unexpected mess his life turned out to be. He left it behind to gain clarity, or to give himself space, as much space as possible. His solitude with his thoughts is interrupted by the crackling radio and the voice of the only other person for miles around and for the entirety of the summer, Delilah.
But all is not as it appears to be as a mystery rears its ugly head within the shadows of the forest’s past and the pair discover that the many conversations they shared over the summer, with all of its quirkiness, intimacies, and lack of inhibitions from seclusion, have all been followed and recorded. All of a sudden, a simple job involving keeping watch for any sign of a fire becomes a desperate bid for survival, where the only person to trust is on the other end of a line that someone you don’t know is listening in on.
Firewatch brings the unique experience of a hiking simulator striving for a great amount of detail with a compelling mystery and two characters that quickly become familiar and even precious. Henry, the protagonist, suffers through a heart-wrenching story with his wife Julia. It rushes him through an emotional rollercoaster that begins to spiral Henry’s life out of control. Players choose some of the important events in the relationship between Henry and Julia that determine some of Henry’s personality traits and his painful memories. With nowhere else to turn, and uncertain as to what his own future might hold, he takes a job for a firewatch lookout in the paper and prepares himself to spend the entire summer removed from society.
His only point of contact is another lookout with a bubbly personality and nonstop chatter, Delilah. Though all you receive is a voice over the radio, it takes very little time for her to define the kind of character she is. Henry can respond to most of her comments or questions through the walkie-talkie on hand, and the player can select from a number of choices to get a different response from Delilah, including silence. The dialogue that passes between the two is sometimes hysterical, sometimes dramatic, and other times heart-wrenching, voiced expertly by Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones respectively. A decent part of the game is focused on this relationship as each response can bring the two closer or push them apart as the summer goes on and the mystery begins to intensify. Unfortunately, this variety in emotional paths for the two characters does not affect the outcome of the game’s story itself. Even the namesake of the game, Firewatch, is little more than a plot device. There are a handful of firestarters encountered in game such as fireworks and smoldering campfires, but whether they are extinguished or not doesn’t have an effect within the game.
The story itself takes players through many twists and turns that are jarring and slowly increase Henry and Delilah’s sense of paranoia. Even my fiancé, who was watching me play the first time through, felt creeped out the deeper we delved into the story in many different ways. For one thing, each clue that Henry encounters is only something that Henry can verify, even as he tells Delilah who can do nothing but take his word for it. Sometimes even Delilah is affected by events that Henry can’t see or hear, and can do no more than listen to what she has to say before moving on about his business.
Firewatch does give players a wide load of visuals as they hike mountain paths, climb sheer rock slides or rappel down them. On top of that, players must use a map and compass to navigate their way from one point to another, though they are given a helpful “you are here” marker to keep from getting too lost. Some of the attention to detail for the game is surprising and provides a lot more insight into how Henry feels about everything by looking over the pages of his journal and his entries. In this way, the game rewards those players that take the extra step in exploring different areas, finding what’s inside many different supply caches, or taking pictures of a particularly striking scene. The soundtrack is also subtle but great for the atmosphere, sprouting up during moments that put your hair on end and leaves you feeling terrified that someone’s just around the corner.
Ultimately, Firewatch is a game that offers a narrative not found in any other type of game. It offers a dark and mysterious story and allow players to explore the unique relationship between Henry and Delilah. This is not enough to offer any real replay value however, as the main story doesn’t change, nor do some aspects of Henry and Delilah’s decisions throughout the story. Even so, the journey is immersive, with heart-pacing moments as mysteries and paranoias build. I recommend it for anyone looking for a new way to experience a good story.
Tested on PS4