I played through Firewatch on PS4, and unfortunately it ran rather poorly. The frame rate was erratic in places, there was some hideous pop in and the game froze on me once.
So I just finished playing Firewatch and have a lot of conflicting feelings about it. This short, narrative driven game about a guy who takes a job as a watchman in the middle of the Wyoming forest, has been on my radar for a long time, mostly due to the stunning visuals and the engaging writing present in the trailers. But, by the end of the 6 hour experience, I was left feeling that I wasn’t totally satisfied with what Firewatch delivered.
The story begins as you are cast into the shoes of Henry, a man who has run away from his problems, and has just hiked through the wilderness to get to his new home, a watchtower in the middle of the forest. You are alone for miles around, and your only companion is a voice on the other end of a radio. This voice is Delilah, and she is your only companion through a lot, hot and lonely summer. The action heats up, however, when a strange figure appears to be watching Henry.
I really like this kind of story, and the fact it’s told through a video game is even better. Although the story is the main thing here, you do get a lot more to do than games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. You obtain items to help you progress through the forest, you can pick up and examine items and most importantly, you can talk to Delilah through a dialogue system that is deep enough to make you really feel like you’re crafting your own Henry.
When you’re out of your watchtower, doing your job, you will often stumble upon interesting things, and you can press your button on your radio and tell Delilah about it. It’s a really nice system, because these two characters and their relationship with each other and the world around them is what drives the game. The writing in Firewatch as well as the voice acting is the games biggest strength. Henry and Delilah are fully fleshed out characters, and yes, that means they’re a little annoying at times. Sometimes they’re stupid, sometimes they’re crass and sometimes they make terrible decisions. But for me, it was never unrealistic. It was like I was getting annoyed at a friend, not a game.
The world of Firewatch is the reasonably large area around your watchtower. At times, the game can be visually stunning, and the art style is fantastic, from the sweeping vistas right down to Henry’s stubby fingers that reminded me of Carl from Up. Unfortunately, the game runs badly on PS4, and these moments of beauty are often punctuated with frame-rate drops. At times it feels like the Unity engine is barely getting through it. No doubt Campo Santo will patch the game, but the game doesn’t really inspire any replayability and is so short that that doesn’t really help.
The best moments of Firewatch are when you truly feel alone, when you feel like the walls are closing in on you (even as you’re in a lush Wyoming forest), when you feel the desperation of the two characters. Campo Santo are to be applauded for the atmosphere they create. And to their credit, they tell the story that they want to tell, and make no apology for it. Firewatch definitely makes you feel things, but the emotional gutpunch I was (wrongly) expecting never really materialised. There’s no real greater meaning I can see (I did think the whole thing was going to be some allegory-type thing about the misuse of alcohol at one point, which thankfully it is not) and the truth is, there doesn’t always need to be.
Firewatch is about Henry and Delilah. Oh, and you do watch them fires too.
Firewatch is a bold narrative-driven adventure game which places character above all else. Henry and Delilah are two expertly written characters who really come to life through chirpy dialogue and superb voice acting. Firewatch really showcases how well Campo Santo can tell a story, and although certain story beats (and particularly the ending) didn’t hit the highs I was expecting, I am really looking forward to what they do next.