Firewatch is a first person adventure video game from developers Campo Santo. From the moment it starts, Firewatch is visually aesthetic, with a haunting piano track, and a story-line opens introducing Henry.
There is some dialogue between Henry and Julia (his girlfriend to be), and you have some choice in dialogue options, though it becomes clear quite early on that Henry is a bit of a jerk. Initially that’s ok with me, because he is a lovable jerk, and the story-line is funny, and Julia still seems to like him even when I’m choosing the most selfish of the options.
Bearing in mind that there is usually only a slightly selfish option and a heavily selfish option to choose from, the game seems geared towards an inevitable outcome. Though I do still wonder what consequences my choices will have on the story. I do end up feeling a bit guilty as the initial story-line progresses because Henry being a jerk has some pretty profound effects on Julia. And you don’t have any way of avoiding that. Usually in choice and consequence games, you’ve got the option of being a saint or a sinner – and in Firewatch, you are either a jerk…or a jerk.
When I first meet Henry, he walks out of an elevator into an underground carpark. It looks and feels a little bit like he’s in The Stanley Parable, and I’m expecting a narrator to start telling me where to go. Or to whoosh me back to the beginning so that I have a chance to make it all better. Except Henry stays in the carpark; it’s dark and he is alone, and there is no narrator. Whether it be through selfish choice or Henry’s inadequacy – or simply an unavoidable twist of fate – Julia suffers irreparably, and Henry makes a selfish decision to take a job far away from her.
This is where Henry meets his new boss, Delilah. She shares the same sarcastic wit as Henry and right from their first conversation it feels as though they will have a charismatic relationship. That Stanley Parable feel is knitted throughout the whole game with Delilah as the Narrator. She gives Henry instruction and if he is compliant, she is happy. If Henry is rude, or insubordinate, then Delilah is irritated, and may verbally lash out at him, though in either case both remain wedded to each other through the walkie talkie for the purpose of the job – keeping a vigil and watching for fires in their section of the Wyoming wilderness. There is a point though, where I start to wonder if Delilah can be trusted after a few events happen that seem downright creepy. It’s difficult to decide whether she is manipulating Henry, or if she really is becoming his friend.
When playing games with multiple story arcs, I often opt for the choice that ultimately ends in me getting in trouble. Personally I find it funnier and there is often an increase in difficulty as the game throws punishments my way. I got a sense early in my first playthrough that it might not be the case with Firewatch, and that the point of the storyline is to watch as Henry attempts to ignore the pain of his past by immersing himself in his keen interest of hiking and the great outdoors. Initially, even though I am accustomed to choosing the selfish options, I found myself wanting Henry to rise above that and to develop coping mechanisms to come to terms with what happened to Julia, and maybe to learn a thing or two about life and relationships along the way.
There is a heavy focus on orienteering and Henry needs to use his rope, map, and compass a lot. Which is fun, but there is a lot of walking around with no action. There is one point where Henry gets sent from one corner of the map (to investigate something for Delilah), to the other (because the spot he had to investigate was blocked and then Delilah sends Henry to seek aid from someone she thinks will be there), and then back again (to the original spot – without finding the help that was supposed to be there). So instead of waiting for the next plotline to trigger, I’d suggest immersing yourself in the beauty of Henry’s surroundings, and take time to look for the hidden secrets. Or snap a couple of pictures with your disposable camera! You’ll see why after the credits.
Playthrough can take between 5 – 7 hours, or a lot longer if you are a sandbox fiend, as there are plenty of hidden gems and possibilities for discovering a new arc. Some of the discoverable places and objects don’t appear to affect the outcome or even the dialogue, but they are interesting to investigate anyway. Often the secret parts that I investigated added mystery and an air of suspense to the game, and in part made me wish that they did lead to alternate endings, or even additional quests. Even though the narrative can be manipulated by implementing your own strategy in the dialogue choices, there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) divergence to the plot or the ending. (Aside from one alternate ending, which really isn’t all that different to the standard ending).
Firewatch was initially released in February 2016 and is available on PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS.