Firewatch (2016) review

Firewatch's story falls flat in some places, but the art style and dialogue between characters hugely makes up for it and makes it a worthwhile experience.

Firewatch is a game that takes us on a journey through the vast wilderness of the Shoshone National Forest in North America. We follow the story of Henry and Delilah, two rangers who are tasked with looking after the forest and reporting any fires that break out. Summers spent in the forest are often long and boring but all that changes when a mystery arises, leaving the pair paranoid and fearing for their safety.

The game’s protagonist is Henry, a man who takes the isolated job of a fire lookout as a way of escaping from reality. The game opens with a series of text-based choices that tell the story of Henry and his wife, Julia. We learn of how they meet and how their life plays out with players making choices along the way. Regardless of what choices are made, Henry and Delilah’s life suddenly gets turned upside down when Julia becomes very sick, resulting in Henry leaving everything behind and heading to the forest.

The story is set one year after the Yellowstone fires of 1988 and takes place over the course of an entire summer. Each day acts as a new chapter which play out at different hours of the day, with Henry carrying out different tasks.

When Henry arrives at the fire lookout tower, which acts as his home for the summer, he makes the acquaintance Delilah, a ranger in a nearby tower who communicates with Henry solely through radio, and is also his only point of contact.

Delilah tasks Henry with removing a pair of teenage girls from the forest who have been partying and setting off fireworks. Not long after this a series of strange occurrences begin and when reports of a pair of missing teenage girls comes in, paranoia beings to set in for both Henry and Delilah and they find themselves stuck in the middle of a mystery, which they have no choice but to decipher.

Firewatch is played from a first-person perspective that has you spend around five hours wondering through a beautiful and colourful environment using a compass and map to find your way around. Throughout the forest there are several survival boxes that will allow Henry to update his map and retrieve items needed to progress in the story. Going off the story alone, the game feels like it should be a thriller, with some horror elements but unfortunately does not live up to that. Although you do often find yourself looking behind you and expecting a jump scare, the overall feeling of the game is not that of a thriller and more of an emotional drama.

The art style of Firewatch is cartoonish and looks like something from the Life is Strange universe. The way in which Henry interacts with the world and people around him and even the music and mundane tasks that are present are very similar to what you’d get when playing as Max, Chloe, or Sean. The bright and colourful world that you roam around is based upon a single paining by English graphic artist Olly Moss and is by far the game’s best and most attractive quality.

Overall Firewatch is definitely a game that’s worth playing. The dialogue between Henry and Delilah feels very real and appropriate for the situation that they have found themselves in and talking to her is a real highlight of the game. While the story does not live up to much, with the ending falling flat, the gameplay up to that point is great and you always find yourself wanting to explore more. The game’s concept has a lot of potential and could very easily be made into a full length horror/survival game, without changing much.

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