Firewatch made an impressive début. The relatively unknown indie game from Campo Santo stormed the beach with incredible game play trailers from the various gaming sites that covered it. What was revealed was not only beautiful art work, but natural sounding dialogue. The atmosphere for Firewatch was also quite spectacular. That being said, game play demos are always misleading, would that be the case with Firewatch?
Firewatch puts you in the role of protagonist Henry, a man struck with grief after his wife was placed in a nursing home following her diagnosis with dementia. He sets forth, looking for an adventure in the wilderness, and decides to become a fire lookout for Shoshone National Forest. Here he meets Delilah, boss and friend who helps guide him via the game’s central theme: walkie-talkie. In his journey to find himself he uncovers a conspiracy threatening not only the park, but himself.
Immediately loading up Firewatch you will be blown away by the visuals this game has to offer. Not only does this game run spectacularly (Ultra 40fps with a Nvidia 750 TI), but the game’s visual art direction is both fascinating and charming. The design feels like cell shading, but more realistic, with earthy tones that punctuate the surroundings. The sunset/sunrise in the game is breathtaking, adding layers of awe-inspiring moments that AAA titles rarely have.
Beyond the visual style is the dialogue/voice acting. As far as voice acting goes in a video game, this might just be the best voice acted video game I have ever experienced. This does not feel like actors going back and forth on dialogue, no, it feels like centric, organic performances that are living, breathing people. The dialogue goes from snappy, sarcastic, humor, to moments of touching realization that hones in the humanity of the game. Henry’s character is lovable, and despite being lost, you root for him, even when most of his decisions are chosen directly by you.
The decisions aspect of Firewatch is the biggest game play element. Players are given a walkie-talkie, the core element of the game (and of the story) that allows constant communication with Delilah. The back and forth canter is really decided through various dialogue options by you. Hell, even choosing to not say anything is an option (always say something though). Choosing the correct dialogue options furthers you relationship with Delilah, something that evolves so elegantly that you feel for both characters.
Henry will be placed in moments where he needs to interact with objects. Doing so makes sense, simply picking them up, reading their descriptions, calling them in or even taking them for further uses. This whole interaction felt like The Order 1886, but practical. Instead of reading pointless books, everything was a tiny nugget of information that added more to the game’s living atmosphere.
Most of the game is spent exploring the wilderness. Its large, accommodating spaces feel welcoming, at times, and treacherous at others. The large borders of the game feel endless and, for the most part, you never feel like you’re in a sandbox, but something much, much bigger.
For most of the game, you will feel uneasy, especially as most of the plot continues, slowly wrapping apart before fully revealing itself. At times the wilderness can seem a bit too big for the game. Thankfully, Henry is given a map (one that is both traditionally old school and a bit interactive) and a compass. These, like the walkie-talkie, will become your best friend in your travels. That being said, there were times when places on the map were a bit clumsy to get to, or simply took a bit too long to get to.
Really, the plot of Firewatch is something that I think drives these small pieces all together. Henry is an emotional character, each dialogue string really focuses on his battles and his sarcastic conversations with Delilah quickly evolve into much more. One would never expect a video game experience to mold a relationship as real as Firewatch does. This really sets the tone for when things stop going their way, and forces an attachment to these characters as things slowly start spinning out of control. Firewatch’s story, while not perfect at times (the ending) is still fantastic.
It is hard to avoid hyperboles when talking about Firewatch. The game is absolutely gorgeous. A technical (at least visually and audio) marvel that has some of the best dialogue/voice work I have ever experienced in a video game, let alone one that is not an AAA title. Furthermore, the game had an attachment to me; the narrative structure kept adding fuel to the fire. I wanted to know what was going on, what Henry was being put through and, ultimately, I wanted him to succeed. The grand adventure builds too quickly, and part of me felt a tad empty when everything had been laid out. That being said, Firewatch is an absolute experience that is truly unique.