Full disclosure: Firewatch is one of the best games I have played in a very long time. So, please forgive me if this review gets a little gushy.
Firewatch is a video game that I have a really hard time explaining to people. So much of what the game is in execution feels like it sells the experience short when you are trying to pitch someone on it. But, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way now, Firewatch is a fire-person exploration game that is similar to games like Gone Home or Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. What differentiates Firewatch from those other games is that the player exists at the time of the central conflict in the story, you are an active participant in the events that transpire, as opposed to playing detective after the fact. The game also clips along at a pace that is more akin to first-person shooters like FarCry. You can feel free to explore and sprint your way through the world with the only gates being your current equipment like you would find in a Metroid-style game.
I won’t go into too many story details because with as good as this game plays, the real star of the show is the narrative that unfolds during the course of the game’s tight 4-6 hour campaign. In Firewatch, you play a man named Henry that leaves his home in Boulder, Colorado to spend his summer in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming as a fire watcher. The game takes place in 1989, the summer after a massive wildfire tore through the park, nearly taking the entire forest with it. Thanks to the wildfire, more jobs are opened for fire watchers and previously closed outlook towers are reopened and staff has been added. Luckily for Henry, he isn’t alone in his journey. Much of the game you spend conversing with your boss Delilah on your walkie-talkie. Throughout the course of the game, Delilah will share details about the forest with you, ask questions about your past, and sometimes dole out tasks for you to accomplish. The conversation system in the game is quick and intuitive, while consistently feeling satisfying. I would repeatedly stop and think about my responses to questions or comments. As opposed to most games where I blindly just pick whatever to move the story along, I had to carefully consider my actions because I had become quite attached to Delilah over the course of the game. Without delving too much further into the overall story execution, I will simply say this: Firewatch has a must-see narrative. While the game is really fun to play, it could be enjoyed nearly as much by simply sitting on a couch and watching this game unfold.
Another thing that is to be appreciated in Firewatch is the presentation. All of the HUD elements are streamlined, as somebody that has been playing quite a bit of the Tom Clancy’s The Division beta that has an incredibly busy HUD, it is nice to see a game this stripped down and clean. HUD elements all tuck away and only show up when context sensitive. The open-world in Firewatch is gorgeous to behold. I played the game on the PS4, which does have the occasional frame hitches. FYI: the developer Campo Santo has stated publicly that they are going to be patching the game to address these issues. But, as of this writing, the patches released thus far haven’t seemed to affect performance. But, despite these issues Firewatch looks great. The world has a painterly quality to it, with lots of warm light bloom and very lively colors in the environment. The main character Henry has exaggerated qualities that are reminiscent of Team Fortress 2. Every item in the world is fully interactive and can be collected and meticulously arranged in your tower. By the end of the game I had amassed quite the book collection and you can even find a turtle that you can adopt.
Overall, Firewatch is one of the best narrative experiences that I have had in quite a long time. It is very apparent that some of the developers that worked on this game are people that worked on the first season of The Walking Dead. Their ability to build a narrative that consistently was full of intrigue and mystery. This game feels alive in a way that few do. In short, you should pick up Firewatch and devote a weekend evening to playing through this game. It is worth every bit of the $19.99 asking price and while it doesn’t hold much replay potential, but what time you do spend in this game had an effect on me that I will carry with me for quite a while.
Final Score: 5/5