I have never really taken myself for the outdoors type. I’m more comfortable in an air-conditioned skyscraper, drinking a martini or seven during my lunch hour. So this week I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a break from the life of a busy, metropolitan editor and backpack through the Wyoming wilderness to spend a few days living in a one-room, fire lookout where my only contact with another living person was through a small walkie-talkie. It was quite the experience.
I played Firewatch on Thursday.
Firewatch was developed by Campo Santo and published by Panic for Microsoft. It is set in a national park in Wyoming during the summer of 1989. Henry, the main character, decides to become a fire lookout as a way to retreat from his messed-up life and heal his soul in the wide-open country. Henry only talks to his supervisor, Delilah, who he can only reach through a small hand-held radio. When two girls start illegally lighting off fireworks (what hooligans), Henry and Delilah are dragged into a mystery that’s hiding in the wilderness and makes them question if they really are alone in the back-country.
First off, this game is gorgeous. The Wyoming landscape really comes to life and the backdrops are stunningly filled with mountains and forests. It’s a serene, surreal area that you will inhabit for the next 80 days. The forests were lush and the lakes deep, and even the forest fires were fantastic to watch. The game takes place during different times of the day, which really allowed the animators and artists to play with the color scheme. The screen changes from gold to orange to red to purple to dark blue constantly to show the passing of time and accent the feeling of being in the country.
I really enjoyed the sunsets in the game. They were beautifully animated and somehow put me at ease as I climbed through the valleys and forests to reach my lookout tower.
Upon reaching my new tower home, I picked up the small radio and begin talking with Delilah. She’s a joy, loves wordplay and is the perfect companion for your time in the back woods. I settled into my new home, feeling peaceful and ready to dive into the game.
Are you warm and fuzzy and ready to explore nature yet? Good. Because now it gets creepy.
On my first day, I get called out to deal with the teenagers I mentioned earlier, and after being called a pervert, I walked back to my tower. That’s when things just started getting spooky. That warm and fuzzy feeling started to creep away. I felt like someone was sitting in the bushes and watching my every move.
As the days went on, the feeling of being watched stayed with me. The wide-open country felt claustrophobic and isolating. With each new revelation in the mystery, I started to feel scared to walk anywhere in the game out of fear of finding something or someone. And that’s the whole game mechanic, just walking. The story was incredible at building suspense and tension, and eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and I had to turn on the Hamilton CD just to cut the tension.
So all this suspense and mystery is happening and essentially the last hour of the game is me sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what’s truly going on in the wilderness.
Unfortunately, the payoff was a little lackluster. Compared to the grand mystery that was being built around this world, the actual answer felt incredibly mundane. It was kind of disappointing, but certainly not a deal breaker.
In all, the game is definitely one that I would play again. The voice acting between Henry and Delilah was phenomenal and you can play Henry as funny, sarcastic or closed-off (I totally went funny). The exploration could have been better in the fact that I never truly felt lost. Even when I was terrified of walking through the woods at night, I always knew that I was going to be fine because my tower was just around the river bend (yeah, I went for it). But the story and the exploration are still fun and leave tons of secrets to be found. Apparently, there’s even an alternate ending.
Firewatch is definitely one of the better walking-sims I’ve played (I won’t mention the other ones because we all know what they are). And maybe the answer to the mystery surrounding the game is so mundane because that’s what the game is ultimately about. It’s about relationships, isolation, fear, longing, sadness and healing; all feelings that we face in our day-to-day lives and that become amplified against the backdrop of an uncontrollable wilderness.