I took a lot of photos with my fake disposable camera in Firewatch. Some of them of indescribable, beautiful vistas, while some were of the morbid variety—a direct result of protagonist Henry’s (and by association, my own) paranoia caused by the weird stuff going on in the Wyoming wilderness. This wide spectrum of photos, on some level, sums up the experiences on offer in developer Campo Santo’s beautiful distraction.
A summer getaway
It opens as a sort of text adventure. You are tasked with providing responses to a series of questions regarding incidents in the life of Henry, the man whose head you’re going to inhabit for the next half-a-dozen hours. The opening five minutes are a strangely emotional and haunting experience. With a little mood-building music, combined with back-and-forth cuts to the present and the past, you’re in Henry’s head, heart and shoes. You’ve joked around as him, made obvious choices, and taken tough decisions that ultimately made him look for a job as a fire lookout that requires him, as a grown man, to wear those silly shorts. By the end of the prologue, Henry gets his own lookout tower in the Shoshone National Forest for the rest of the summer—and a companion with whom he interacts with solely over walkie-talkie.
Three’s a crowd
This would be a good moment to acknowledge the star of this interactive experience: Cissy Jones (The Walking Dead: The Game – Season 1, GTA V) as Delilah, Henry’s boss and only friend over the period of three months. From the outset, you can tell that she and Rich Sommer’s (Mad Men, L.A. Noire) Henry, as well as the player are going to have a special kind of three’s-not-a-crowd relationship. There’s a lot of emotion which Delilah is able to convey in even the most mundane lines of dialogue. And when things get a little tense, emotional or out of control, there’s this immersion which can directly be attributed to a conversation. The dialogue is mood-setting, it’s dramatic, it’s funny, and it’s one of the best things you will experience in a videogame this year. Not since Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth have I felt so attached to a companion character—as a bonus, I didn’t have to spill a few hundred gallons of blood to get my money’s worth. Setting the tone of Henry’s relationship with Delilah was simply a matter of saying the right things, or in certain cases, saying nothing at all.
Firewatch also succeeds as a walking simulator, and the setting certainly helps in this regard. From general exploration, traversing hard-to-reach parts, investigating out-of-control teenagers and unraveling a mystery set in the eighties, it certainly is an exploration game done right. This might seem like I’m trying really hard to sound vague and cliché at the same time (I most certainly am): Firewatch revels in its linear open-endedness. It’s a world with seemingly endless possibilities, but the story has more structure than you would think for a game of this type. At the heart of it is a mystery. Missing campers, sketchy characters, juvenile correspondence between other lookouts, maps, a fence and then some. But more than the mystery itself, it’s Henry and Delilah’s place in it that’s far more interesting—and the effect it has on their states of mind and relationship. Then there’s the music which dramatically alters the game’s tone. It is used very sparingly, with this very specific intention. It’s hard to remember when a game’s audio
Then there’s the music which dramatically alters the game’s tone. It is used very sparingly, with this very specific intention. It’s hard to remember when a game’s audio not featuring small arms fire and explosions had such a big role to play in a game’s experience. Firewatch has really set the standard now, both from a voice acting standpoint as well as its sound design overall.
Should you buy Firewatch?
Yes, Firewatch is brief, with a single playthrough lasting no longer than 3-4 hours depending on how many wrong turns you take. It has moments in its story that might not add up or make sense. But I think the positives (voice acting, graphics, audio production, writing) so easily outweigh the negatives that your overall experience will boil down to how strongly you feel about the stuff that bothered you (the ending, in particular has sparked much debate). As an emotional, explorative journey, however, you can’t do much better than Firewatch.
Price: ₹565 (Steam), ₹1,664 (PS4)
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