We all need to escape our problems at time, get away from the world and ultimately be free to live with our own thoughts in isolation. Most of us have contemplated just getting up, packing a bag and venturing somewhere that we can be alone without any concerns, obligations, or worries, to be free and escape, and that is what Firewatch is mostly about.
Henry had a great life, however fate would intervene whisking away his peaceful days with his wife and dog. She would fall ill, the dog would eventually die and out of desperation he would make a string of choices that in some way he would regret. Firewatch starts as our protagonist Henry finds an advertisement for a Firewatch job in a paper, in need to escape his life Henry accepts the job and ventures out to the Shoshone National Park for the summer. It is here that he would get wrapped up in the serene views of the forest, and the troubling mystery that follows him.
Firewatch begins as a simple adventure, you are set free to explore most sections of the park only being limited by the tools you have found to that point while getting wrapped up in overseer activities. You must stop a couple of teenage girls from lighting fireworks and littering, and then soon must seek out a downed powerline, from here however things begin to take a sinister turn, the window to your tower has been smashed and the power line appears to have been sabotaged. This sets the stage for an interesting mystery which draws to question your own sanity, actions, and the truth of what is happening in this park.
This game is carried by two factors, the narrative as a whole which is incredibly moving and pushes you to try to uncover the mysteries of the park and the conspiracy within. Then there is the park itself, Firewatch is only as interesting as its setting and the serene nature of this park never becomes dull. These two points allow us to stay invested in the game and there is always a new sense of self-discovery lying around every corner. By the end this journey becomes as alarming for Henry and the player as it becomes therapeutic as all real life troubles are washed in the serenity of the wilderness.
Even if the park begins to lose the players attention it is hard not to be intrigued by the mystery, at every turn something seems to be happening, from a mysterious figure in the darkness to the aforementioned teenage girls who go missing drawing questions to Henry himself. As the plot moves forward it becomes increasingly more involving as new discoveries are made which force you to question everything and seek to discover what sinister force is hiding in the shadows. Each twist and turn in the plot really sticks in your mind as you try to create a mental map to uncover the greater conspiracy.
However despite the alluring mystery that has you hanging on every moment the payoff just isn’t worth it, Firewatch’s plot never pans out in any interesting way, for all the setup as well as twists and turns it all seems to come to an abrupt and disappointing conclusion. It seems like the developers either ran out of time or wrote themselves into a corner with no way to create a satisfying conclusion to their mystery. Instead, they just ended the plot with no real sense of payoff or reward for the player to take comfort in, and left so many questions unanswered and simply pushed to the wayside.
The greatest parts of Firewatch come from its narrative and luckily despite its weak closure it remains pretty enjoyable, most of all this is helped by the narrative itself and the dynamic presented between our protagonist Henry, and fellow Firewatch, Delilah who is merely a speck in the distance. The game benefits from feeling isolated and vulnerable when you wander the park, there is no one for miles and certainly no help and this is what makes communication with Delilah so valuable, she to is alone and isolated and you are free to simply explore the connection these two characters share.
From simple observations of an outhouse or a rock formation, to the personal conversations, Delilah acts as a means of temporary escape from isolation as the two characters laugh and joke over silly things. Then as the journey continues the personal conversations become deeper and more meaningful addressing your own personal responsibility and self-doubt, the banter addresses major parts of Henry and Delilah’s backstory and the way these two communicate over radio’s made it easy to venture into the personal side of the characters.
Delilah’s importance even extends beyond just silly bouts of dialogue, as the narrative ramps up the connection of the two characters becomes increasingly more important as they face the challenges of the park and its mysteries. Their relationship makes you question Henry’s sanity and how much of the events are real as you journey deeper into the enticing mystery and consider how much you have told this character who you barely know. The bond of these two characters pulls the game forward even in some of the duller moments as you wait to see what random conversation you can have next, and when you will both have the opportunity to escape your inner isolation.
In a lot of ways Firewatch is at its best in those quiet moments, that time where you push aside the narrative and choose to just wander. In these moments you can just wander your quadrant and enjoy the tranquillity of the setting, and search around to enjoy the personal narrative. Firewatch shines in the ability to allow players to enjoy a personal experience as they decide whether they want to explore and make discoveries or simply follow the plot. By exploring players can uncover an old cabin, find an animal friend and more, and this turns the game into your journey offering further tranquillity and a different experience.
Firewatch is an almost perfect game, it is captivating in its narrative, characters and beautiful as well as tranquil setting, but ultimately it is with its end that things begin to fall apart and this wonderful experience is left spoilt. Despite this minor issue Firewatch was still a wonderful experience that is easy to go back to and enjoy again for different reasons, whether you want to relive the conspiracy style of the narrative, or just escape into the quiet of the wilderness. This game is truly memorable and was a delight to play, overall it shows a push towards the expansion of its genre which hopefully will continue to be further developed in the future.