Camp Santo has done a great job of weaving an intriguing and just plain well-written story into a video game. Often, I have found that video games sacrifice either narrative or game quality for the other, but Firewatch does the exact opposite. It weaves a story through a series of simple but realistic exploration factors and environment interaction mechanics to form a fluid overall experience.
Henry and Delilah are the two main characters in Firewatch. I rarely remember the names of characters in games that I play, but I did this time because of the excellent narrative that they were both present within. Henry’s tragic relationship with his wife, a detail you find out at the beginning of the game, really hits home as something horrible as does an event in the middle of the game that calls back to it.
I am a very restless gamer, and that tends to come out more with experiential games that want you to really breath in the air of an environment, look around and take stock of what your character is seeing and going through. Firewatch really brought that through for me, really carried out an amazing feat in terms of pacing and never quite making me feel bored. You could attribute that to its limited run time but it is more than just that. Every objective came across as sensible and realistic. The effect that has on immersion is immense, and each objective was separated in such a way that I never spent too long of a time seeking something out. The compass and map never felt clunky while navigating and the wilderness around my lookout felt real thanks to the clever placement of unique items, the audio that brought the forest to life, and the events that were pushing me through it all.
Its narrative is where Firewatch ties this environment together. There are only two characters, Henry and Delilah, and each of them is someone you can identify with and comes across as a personality. No sir, no 2D cardboard cutouts here- Both of the characters had dialogue that fleshed them out and showed you what kind of person they really were, the challenges they were facing, and how they coped with each one. I never felt limited because I chose what my character said to the other, if anything, and I never felt that the options were unreasonable or too limiting. That freedom of choice is something I have never experienced before. In games like the Mass Effect series I always felt limited, constrained to words that were not my own. I didn’t get that while playing Firewatch, not once.
The plot itself weaves a masterful tale of mystery and, no spoilers here, every red herring was well placed, every story point kept carefully dangling so that you can attempt to piece it together yourself along the way.
To me, who always identifies what I think will happen when experiencing a mystery in media it was a pleasant surprise to not know how Firewatch would tie it all together. Once it does tie together it made sense to me, did not feel forced or overly contrived, and supported the overall message of the game- How would two people feel stuck in towers all summer in the middle of the wilderness? Why did they choose to be there? How do they adapt to it, a new environment for your character and an old one for Delilah, who has been there ten years longer than you? The result is satisfying, and the player even has choice in deciding what exact form that resolution takes.
Firewatch was more than worth my money. I pay for experiences, not time in front of a screen, and I would easily say that my twenty dollars was worth it, and yours would be too. I would pay thirty and still feel satisfied with the three hours or so that I spent within the game. Within the game, because that is exactly what it felt like, being in the world of Firewatch.
Do not go into this game expecting an action romp, a very long play time, or a huge amount of replay value, although some of that is there.
Go into it expecting a great world that grows as you play and characters that will grab you and make you care about them. Firewatch shines as an experiential title and as a video game so long as you know what you are getting into!