Firewatch is a novelesque, 1st person, adventure game full of mystery, danger, destruction, flirtations, and government conspiracy that, at the same time, deals with the painful reality of having a loved one diagnosed with Dimentia/ Alzheimer’s. It’s a storyline that not only gives great depth to its main character but also transforms the game from a nice little diversion into something much more profound.
The game immediately pulls you into its narrative with the story of its main character, Henry. Henry meets a gal in a bar named Julia. They fall in love, get a dog, and eventually get married. Years later, they receive the devastating news that Julia has Dimentia/ Alzheimer’s. This begins the downward spiral of their life together which eventually takes Julia back home to her family in Australia and Henry to a summertime job as a fire lookout at Shoshone National Park.
Once Henry starts his new job, the real adventure for Henry (and the player) begins. Here, you’re taken from just reading (and occasionally selecting) dialogue to physically participating in the game. It’s immensely fun to roam the surprisingly wide ranging map that becomes available. You can explore, look for clues, take pictures, complete assignments given by Delilah, and find things like rope, a compass and an axe (just to name a few) that will help you get around.
You will also continue to select dialogue responses, but with more frequency and intensity as you’ll have a time limit on each decision you make. This can, at times, be frustrating if you prefer to take some time before selecting an option. The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer as the ending (for the most part) is a foregone conclusion. Even if you’re someone who likes to have more impact on the storyline with the choices you make, you probably won’t mind not having that ability here because the narrative is so well done.
The map (and later map and compass combo) is easy to use even for those who (like me) may not be all that great with directions. A red, pulsating circle shows your current location and if you keep the map (and compass) out while navigating, you will always know exactly which way you’re going.
One of the things I like most about the game is that is doesn’t just have one mystery to solve, it has several. There’s written correspondence between two former lookouts; Ron and Dave. Two girls last seen in the park by Henry go missing. A government research facility is found in the middle of the park that even Delilah, who’s worked the area for 10 years, didn’t know existed. Henry and Delilah find evidence that someone is watching them and listening in on their conversations. And, Henry finds a dead body in a cave.
Firewatch does an excellent job of building drama as the game progresses. With each area explored and clue found, the mysteries become more and more intriguing. In fact, I was so enthralled with what was happening I found myself unable to stop playing until I discovered the full truth of what was really going on.
The graphics of Firewatch are bright and bold, giving one the sense of exploring the inside of an eclectic painting that’s full of movement and sound. The best visual effect is the smoke that, by the end of the game, fills the air so believably that you can almost feel the heat and dirt on your face as you struggle to get Henry to the helicopter awaiting to give him escape.
The sounds also have an emotional effect on the player which only adds to the pulsating excitement of everything you do. The thunder strikes are so realistic that I felt as if a storm was approaching outside my own house. Things like a beeping tracking device and an unrecognizable shrieking in the woods throws your nerves into overdrive. Nature sounds like chirping birds and flowing streams ease your mind in between the heart pounding escapades.
Another important part of the sound is the music. It isn’t a constant, but something that kicks into gear at just the right time as something good, intriguing, or even scary is about to occur. One of my favorite pieces of music is the indie made, 80’s throwback song, “Push Play,” by Cheap Talk. It accurately captures the feeling of the time and creepily invades the game as it’s left on repeat in a boom box owned by two girls that go missing.
One of the most unique aspects of the game is the use of the walkie talkie as a way for Henry and Delilah to communicate. Having this as the only form of human contact for Henry (besides the occasional run-in with others), gives the player a sense of how isolated being a lookout can be and makes Delilah’s voice a welcome refuge from the solitude.
As important (and well done) as the different aspects of Firewatch are, the story is really what makes it stand out from the rest. With mere words on a screen, you experience firsthand the heartbreak and tedium of Henry’s everyday life as a fulltime caretaker for his wife. You’re later tossed into an exciting adventure in a strange place where isolation is both welcome, and, at times, disturbing. Finally, a sense of sadness overwhelms as you realize that, just like Henry, your momentary escape is about to come to an end.
Firewatch is an exciting adventure told through the eyes of a man named Henry, who becomes a fire lookout one summer to escape the harsh realities of his life. In the end, Henry discovers that you can’t truly run away from your problems and eventually you must make your way back home.
GC Rating: 8.5
Who is this game for?
- Casual players looking for an adventure game that’s not a platformer.
- Hardcore gamers who love a good story and want something they can beat in 4-5 hours.
How to purchase?
$19.99 digital copies are available at:
- Steam and GOG.com (Windows, Mac, Linux)
- PSN (PS4)
- Microsoft Store (XB1)
Developer: Campo Santo
Publishers: Campo Santo, Panic, Inc., Limited Run Games
Genre(s): 1st person, adventure, mystery
# of Players: 1