Firewatch is an indie game that takes adventure and dialogue to the next level
Firewatch, a game that is essentially a hiking simulator, will go down as one of the most engaging experiences in gaming this year.
Set in the summer of 1989 in the Wyoming wilderness, the player controls Henry, a newly hired forest fire lookout who takes the job as a means of escape from his life back home.
The game plays in first-person, with Henry assigned to menial tasks around the forest, using a compass to get around as well as a map that he scribbles notes on as the game progresses.
Henry’s only source of human contact is with another ranger, Delilah, via a walkie-talkie. The player can choose responses to his invisible comrade. As Henry receives missions through the static, he and Delilah cultivate a friendship through what is Firewatch’s biggest strength, its dialogue.
Immersive is a word that gets tossed around all too often in gaming, but playing through this game, my whole conscience went into choosing what to say next. The game lets you comment on set pieces and various objects in the world, to elicit a radio response from Delilah in a neighbouring watchtower. I found myself calling out every rock and twig to hear the two main characters converse in what turned into some hilarious moments, some dramatic interludes and some surprisingly profound banter.
The main story is short. If you’re like me, you will finish it in an afternoon, not once wanting to put the controller down because the game is near-perfectly paced. Every time I got an instruction to check out a gang of campers on the other side of the forest, for example, I never got bored on the way to my destination. During the trek, I was either enjoying the characters chit-chat or getting alerts about scary things happening in the Wyoming forest.
Without spoiling anything, the way the game blends serene with extreme makes for a plot that varies in mood. For instance, after running for my life, I was content to relax in the forest twilight. The landscapes are gorgeous as well, with an almost cel-shaded look. The mood of the scene changes with the vibrant colour palette. The sound design is poignant as well, with every crunch of a leaf or bounce of a rock putting you deeper and deeper into Henry’s shoes. Although the game isn’t doing anything graphically or sonically intricate, the game itself is still captivating.
This game is an adventure for the average Joe. Amidst AAA blockbuster action titles, Firewatch excels with not much more than relatable, nuanced characters and engaging dialogue, making more of an impact through its commentary on trust and relationships than its point-and-click gameplay. The game gains speed at the perfect pace and the story is a hell of a ride.
The game ends rather abruptly, which will leave some players disappointed, but in avoidance of spoilers, the ending does its job of answering the questions that need to be answered. If you’re looking for a gripping ‘choose your own adventure’ story disguised as a videogame, check out Firewatch.
Firewatch is available on Windows, Mac, Linux and PS4.