Developer: Campo Santo
It's strange to think that this is my third review released from "quarantine" - and I only write reviews every two weeks. I'm slowly easing off my overindulgent consumption of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and getting to play more indie games I've had on my list. A very well known and critically-acclaimed indie, Firewatch has been on my backlog for over a year now. It was one of those games I saw on my list and was so excited to finally get to it. It was recommended to me as being somewhat like Gone Home, one of my earliest reviewed games. Firewatch is a first-person adventure about a man who leaves his complicated life situation to take on a job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Firewatch places you in an environment where everything feels very real, from the solitary wilderness to the heavy emotional burdens, while also giving you incredible freedom to spend this isolated time however you see fit.
Firewatch starts off as choice-based visual novel where you play a middle-aged man named Henry. You help craft the story of Henry's life, although this story then quickly turns tragic and the decisions aren't so simple. You get small glimpses of what the last couple years of his life have been like through short burst of gameplay. The themes and dialogue of this game somehow feel more "adult" - not in a way that implies explicit or racy content, but instead focuses on the types of complex struggles and pain that everyday people go through in the later stages of life. Soon after, you start your adventure in a huge wilderness area where Henry starts his job as a fire lookout. Your only form of contact with the outside world is Delilah, your boss who gives you instructions every day via radio. She's silly and easygoing, and her constant asking about your life quickly leads to the two of you developing a bond.
Firewatch does have the very free-form walking simulator gameplay I really enjoyed from Gone Home. Despite the tasks and mysteries at hand, there's no rush to go get anywhere fast most of the time, and there's a lot of random items that you can inspect - and throw, of course. I didn't realize how many items I would come across along my trek through the wilderness, so the first time I found a loose pine cone I decided to carry it with me all the way home. When I got back to Henry's station area, I found there was much more than pine cones to carry around. Interacting with items will often elicit commentary from Henry or lead questions he'll ask over the radio, so this helps contribute to understanding more about the characters. Of course, once I'd looked at every item I decided they should all be tossed either on the bed or outside. These little interactions are made even more satisfying by the game, like the splash you get when you throw a book in the river. I had this elaborate plan to pick up Henry's wedding ring from his table and take it all the way downstairs to the outhouse to throw it in the toilet, but... Unfortunately I threw it behind the oven and couldn't find it again. Sounds like a real life issue.
Although the adventure starts out fairly simple, going on assignments to check certain parts of the forest, you soon start discovering strange incidents and items that lead you down a path of mystery-solving. Your main objective becomes to find the source of the strange happenings, while at the same time your conversations with Delilah lead further into details about Henry's life and how long he can continue running away from his real life. Despite a blossoming relationship with one another, often times Delilah and Henry doubt each other and question their trust. My own feelings about her fluctuated quite a bit throughout the game. Just like Henry, she's flawed and complicated. These interactions made me think about how sometimes, in a way, we don't really know anything about someone if we only go by what their words. Firewatch touches on other dynamics and emotional pitfalls that isolation can lead to - a very relevant topic at the moment. Despite the vastness and emptiness of the wilderness, it also contains very human traces and items left behind. You learn about other people who have been here before through letters and belongings left behind, despite being miles away from anyone else.
A game about being completely alone and isolated in the middle of a huge national park may not seem like the ideal choice for the current state of events, but I actually felt it was a perfect fit. I'm not much of an outdoorsy person, but I feel like being trapped indoors all day has me feeling an urge to go out, get some sun, and take in the scenery. I felt a sort of relief and peace when I walked slowly and explored the world of Firewatch. Obviously it's not the real thing, but watching the sunset just gave me such a positive feeling of serene solitude. The game actually expects you to make a full, long walk back and forth to places you've been before. This actually didn't bother me - it made me start to learn the map system that I found very confusing at the beginning. Just like in real life, sometimes you get kind of lost and having to stop to figure out your surroundings. The art style manages to feel realistic while also looking very smooth, and it somehow makes the environments look alive despite not being photo-realistically detailed. It's especially impressive when you look up at landscape, or climb up high and survey the canyon below. I took many more screenshots during Firewatch than I normally do, simply because I would happen upon so many beautiful areas I wanted to remember.
Firewatch is a welcome escape to the great outdoors, or at least the best substitute we have for it at the moment. It's not a difficult game by gameplay standards, but the decisions you have to make, often under limited time constraints, are challenging and thought-provoking. I recommend it for any fan of mystery adventures, as well as anyone who's a fan of camping and hiking through national parks (although I myself am not into hiking). Firewatch is a very human story of loneliness and escaping from ourselves, while also being an excellent adventure full of mystery in a limitless outdoors.
Firewatch is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 6 hrs