Firewatch is a dangerous game. Why? Because it lulls you into a false sense of security, makes you want to leave it all behind and escape into the Wyoming wilderness. Man goes out into the wilderness to forget his wife, Man reconnects with the simplicity of nature, Man forms a lasting, special bond with the woman on the other side of the radio, Man finds peace.
The game doesn’t achieve even one of those aims. But it’s not meant to, and that doesn’t mean Firewatch is a bad game; far from it – it’s one of the best I’ve ever played. Firewatch shows you that there are other ways to find peace. It starts with looking outside of your own problems to people who you think are just background extras who are there to give the illusion of depth to the story: a Vietnam veteran and his son; a park ranger who gets lucky with the ladies; a lone hiker spied from the mouth of a cave, two girls skinny-dipping in the lake. But some of these characters – I won’t tell you which – end up being at the centre of the story, with you as an unsuspecting extra. Firewatch puts your ego in perspective, with no better aid than the Wyoming wilderness, as it’s inevitable that you’ll get swallowed by the landscape.
With delightfully simple, cartoonish graphics reminiscent of Team Fortress 2 or a Pixar film, abundant in saturated colours and bright light, Firewatch exists in a world I never wanted to leave. The voice acting from Rich Sommer (Henry, the protagonist) and Cissy Jones (Delilah, your only human contact for the entire game) is superb; you don’t see the faces of the characters as they converse strictly over a radio, and you don’t need to because their voices say it all. You can talk to Delilah about practically anything in the game, from trowels to cardboard cut-outs, and it’s up to you how much you tell her about your past, but it didn’t take long for me to mention everything I saw to her and I even found myself seeking out things to strike up a conversation about. Finding things to chat about wasn’t difficult as they’re strewn across the landscape which you navigate with only a map to guide you, and I don’t mean a mini-map in the corner of the screen: I mean a map on paper which you annotate as you go along, naming features of the landscape as you see fit (my personal favourite being ‘Shitty Boss is Trying to Get Me Killed Hill’). But Firewatch isn’t an open-world game, only taking me about four hours to finish, even with some loitering around the landscape and chatting leisurely to Delilah.
So, as well as being taught the basics of fire safety in the wilderness, like not letting off fireworks or littering (yes, picking up litter is one of the thrills of Firewatch), Firewatch resists making any big statements. You’re left with stories about the actions of a few people, and it’s up to you to decide whether it matters how they fit together.
Image courtesy of www.pushsquare.com.