Firewatch is a game of beautiful design. And not just in terms of the graphics and artistry but also in it’s characters, relationships and story telling.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started to play Firewatch; I hadn’t heard much apart from the fact that it was fantastic (those people weren’t wrong) and my playing experienced greatly benefitted from not knowing too much. So instead of doing a blow-by-blow account, I’ll keep it as general as possible so that you can truly appreciate what Firewatch has to offer.
In the opening minutes you’re already completely invested in the life and well being of Henry, the playable character. This is done in a very simple, original way that I won’t spoil as it surprised me and it completely drew me in. No game has ever invested my interest and emotions this quickly.
After 10-15 minutes you’ll find yourself at your watchtower, you’ve taken a job as a lookout keeping an eye out for wild fires. There’s a blissful isolation to it and something incredibly relaxing about walking through the trees listening to the beautiful sound design and score. And this is exactly how Henry is feeling as well. It brilliantly ties you to Henry’s emotional state.
In a brave choice, there aren’t any characters for you to interact with, that is all except Delilah, a fellow lookout and your ‘Boss’. Even her you don’t meet in person, you talk to her via a radio. In a very freeing, open style you can decide what you say to Delilah, not only in response to her but you can choose to comment on things around you or not and what information from your past you want to share with her. You can decide what kind of relationship you have with Delilah. With most games where you can decide what your responses are to other character’s, it’s easy to not really care which option you pick or easy to pick the comment that’ll illicit the funniest reaction. With Firewatch it isn’t like this at all, you care about what you say, you care about how Delilah views you and yet you feel protective over telling her your about your past. It’s unusual to feel this emotionally invested in a game. If you pick your responses wrongly you can even annoy Delilah into turning her radio off and you genuinely feel bad for doing so. You care.
It’s testament to that opening and the incredibly talented voice cast that you care so much. It draws you in before you even realise it. There’s minimal action throughout the game, it’s basically point and click but the story and characters are so good that it’s an addictive game; I could have happily played it in one sitting if I could. Although the gameplay is solid, it proves that story is a much more important, engaging medium than simply slick gameplay.
The story’s that strong that I don’t want to ruin it for you, I want you to go away and discover it for yourself. Rest assured it’s a great one that’ll take you along the spectrum of emotions as you go from carrying out your daily duties and getting to know Delilah to something else all together.
Littered with tiny details, I took my time to explore what was around me and the game benefits hugely from it. As it’s a relatively short game you can take the time to fully explore these elements. You can also take the time to appreciate the absolute beauty of the design; it’s like you’re walking through a painting, it’s absolutely stunning. Often in games walking from one place to another can feel tiresome and frustrating as you’re desperate to get to the next piece of ‘action’ but in Firewatch it’s one of the best parts of the game. You can take in the scenery, talk to Delilah, let the beauty of the sound design and score wash over you and the more time you put into this, the more you’ll get out of the game.
The ending is an incredibly interesting one and will leave you with questions and keep you thinking about what has just happened. It’s a game best played in 3-4 intense, close together sittings as to keep the momentum going and try to get rid of all distractions so you can fully immerse yourself. Wear headphones if you can, the sound design and music are best heard this way.
Firewatch is a game I can’t speak highly enough about, as someone who works in a creative industry it inspired me in many different ways and there isn’t a greater compliment you can give a piece of art than ‘inspiring’.
★★★★★ Masterpiece. A beautifully designed game that’s totally immersive with a stunning story and characters that are brilliantly brought to life.
If you’ve found this article interesting you may enjoy one of our previous podcast episodes where we discussed Film as Art. You can find it here.