Firewatch is hands-down one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever encountered. I’d checked it out with zero idea what it would be about and what to expect, but the graphics of the start menu alone was all the convincing I needed to continue on.
Firewatch is categorized under “first person adventure,” and it follows a fire lookout named Henry on his first few days on the job. The story is jump-started by the disappearance of two teenage girls in the forest, and it’s up to the player to deal with the puzzle this leaves to be solved. This is the first game from Campo Santo, a developer founded by the two leads from Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead game series. That alone already says its fair share about the game. The dialogue in the game operates almost the same way as Walking Dead — a character says something, and you, as player, get to choose what to do or say next in response. Except Firewatch takes it a step farther, making for an adventure game that’s startlingly immersive in its take on a first-person perspective.
The first-person perspective was chosen primarily to save on the costs that come with having to sync voice actors with their character counterparts, but the decision seems to have ultimately worked out in Firewatch’s favour. Playing as Henry, the game operates in a way that makes it look like you’re seeing through his eyes. When you look down, you see Henry’s hands and feet as if they were your own. The player only catches glimpses of what Henry is supposed to look like, and otherwise, for all intents and purposes, you are Henry, and his character is completely yours to experience the game through. As Henry, the player interacts with fellow lookout Delilah only via walkie-talkies, and while this sounds dull, it’s Henry and Delilah’s interactions that really make the game stand out. It’s one thing for it to look great, but with some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a game and perfectly cast voice actors, Firewatch sounds great, too. It’s simultaneously funny and poignant, and at times even relatable. The absence of a mental image to match Henry and Delilah’s voice behind the witty banter is a huge plus. This, coupled with the realistic graphics and being able to pick between response choices that range from emotional to dryly hilarious, it’s a game that feels very, very real in all aspects. Importantly so, since Firewatch doesn’t hold back on the tragic backstories, either.
The first ten minutes of the game alone loads up on Henry’s own emotional background. And it’s worth noting that while this is quickly established and explored throughout the game, it does so without being overdramatic. Firewatch maintains its realism through and through, handling its story and its few characters without being too much nor being too little. It comfortably juggles the drama, the clever banter, the unraveling mystery and the action behind the main storyline, and in my book, any game that can pull that off while sticking to its own personal charm is worth playing.
That said, Firewatch’s one flaw, as noted by many players and critics, is its ending. The game builds itself up to be something dark and gritty, and while in some ways, it does reach that point, it only scratches the surface before descending back to what is a criminally anti-climactic ending. It’s not terrible, per se, but it’s the kind of ending that really makes you go: Wait, what? Is that it? Really? And that’s quite unfortunate for a game that never prompts those questions anywhere else.
Firewatch makes for a great experience largely thanks to the environment it immerses the player in — the woods look shockingly realistic no matter which route you take, and the dialogue is brilliant and satisfying to the very last syllable. While the ending leaves much to be desired, it’s a quick little game that’s relaxing and escapist in its own charming right, and for that, it deserves a play.