In addition to several console games, I was gifted a couple of games from my wish list on Steam for my birthday. One of those was Firewatch, a first-person mystery released in 2016 by Campo Santo and Panic. So as usual, let’s start with what Steam says:
The year is 1989. You are a man named Henry who has retreated from his messy life to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Perched high atop a mountain, it’s your job to look for smoke and keep the wilderness safe. An especially hot, dry summer has everyone on edge. Your supervisor Delilah is available to you at all times over a small, handheld radio—your only contact with the world you’ve left behind. But when something strange draws you out of your lookout tower and into the forest, you’ll explore a wild and unknown environment, facing questions and making choices that can build or destroy the only meaningful relationship you have.
The story starts like many walking simulators, with some story set up of Henry’s life and what led him to decide to become a fire-watcher in Wyoming. He’s greeted by his supervisor Delilah, who questions him on what he is running from before they play a guessing game about why each is there. After, she finally lets Henry sleep after his two-day hike to his tower. One long snooze later, he’s ready to get to his supposed job, of looking for smoke and signs of fire, but almost immediately he is tasked with dealing with idiots setting of fireworks in the dry wood.
Billed as a mystery, Firewatch spans over two months in the characters lives, as you guide Henry through the wilderness to accomplish different tasks. To aid him he has a seemingly bottomless backpack, some supply caches, a map, and a compass. As far as I could tell, he didn’t even bring a good old Swiss Army knife with him, it might have come in handy. Oh, and he has a radio, with which he has conversations with Delilah, sometimes on things he finds, sometimes on places he sees, and often about each other. Make sure to look at the journal, it is hilarious! I cracked up!
Much of the time is spent walking in the woods, which are colorful and lush, yet also sparse. Their design not pushing the envelope, but also visually pleasing and certainly high enough caliber for an indie game. I enjoyed moving through the grass, passing trees, and the attention to detail as Hank climbs rocks or repels on ropes.
As the game moves on, though, things go from ordinary to odd. Someone, or something, is in the woods that doesn’t belong and seems to have an excessive interest in Henry, and Delilah. With fire season starting, it’s up to the player to lead Henry through solving this mystery, all while accompanied by the voice of Delilah…but does she know more than she is letting on?
Overall, I quiet enjoyed the game. The setting is, again, very lovely. I mean look at that sunset over there to the left! The story of Henry’s past and the way he and Delilah slowly learn more about each other and come to trust each other is well-developed and seems very realistically done.
The voice work was very well done, with both characters coming alive magnificently. Their performances were perfectly nuanced and matching the scenes and actions going on. Likewise, the music was well-chosen, primarily instrumental pieces that slid in during key times to either ramp up the tension or reflect the calmness of the scene. The only mildly glaring choice was the song used for the ending, though it was jarring more for suddenly having a singer and lyrics more explicitly singing to the theme versus the sound of the song itself.
The controls were a little difficult for me, personally, as I’m not a big one for keyboard heavy game play. It took me a ridiculously long time to fully get the hang of how to answer on the radio, for example, and I was grateful that most actions would also remind you of the keys to hit to do things. Movement is done with a mix of the traditional keyboard presses (ASWD) and using the mouse to aim the character. The mouse is also used for a few other actions, so you’ll still need to keep a hand over there as well.
The game does offer you various choices in many of the conversations, once you get past the opening narration. I’m not sure if they actually have an effect on the overall story, though, or even change the tone/flavor of Henry’s relationship with Delilah at all. I suspect they don’t, overall, as later in the game an event is referenced that I didn’t experience, but which it was presumed I had.
Speaking of the ending…I’m still processing that. The game left me feeling a bit sad for everyone involved, but it also left me with some questions that remain unanswered. It isn’t so much that it felt incomplete as if it felt there was something I missed or somehow overlooked something important. Is the ending really as simple as it seems, or…I suspect I’ll be reading in the discussion boards to see if anyone has any insights or theories on it all.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up playing again, just to see if my choices do make a difference. Clocking in at around 4 hours, it was just the right length for spending time with on a nice Saturday afternoon, and there is an open exploration mode available if you just want to enjoy the setting without story events taking forcing you forward. It is also rather nice to be able to walk in the woods without worrying about bears (maybe), cougars, or needing 20 gallons of DEET to keep the mosquito away. 😉
Firewatch’s usual price is currently $19.99. I’d probably aim to get it on sale, but then I usually recommend that for any Steam game because you know it’s gonna happen eventually LOL
A couple more screenies from the game: