Reviews: Firewatch

Something special

I finished Firewatch today, and for lack of better words…wow. What a story. I’m definitely going to have to let that sit with me for a while.

There’s a lot one could say about the ending and the dénouement, and whether or not it was satisfying or if it did justice to the premise and the events leading up to it. But thematically, everything checked out. The logical progression of the plot events themselves mattered less than the motifs and emotional threads of the story and the characters. And that’s why the story worked.

It reminded me a bit of a few other narrative games I’ve played recently, and out of all of them, this one was most successful in achieving what it had set out to achieve. Many narrative games feel like limited, self-contained experiences, even if most of them are really quite good. But Firewatch was the first to truly give me the sense that things were much bigger and darker more mysterious than they were, especially given how linear the story ultimately was.

Firewatch is an important game, and one of the first I’d use to argue for video games as art. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone who likes games; rather, I’d recommend it to anyone who likes stories.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today

I try to avoid anticipating things too much. I've been burnt before, and nothing tends to live up to the ridiculous expectations you build for yourself over that new movie or game. That said, I have been so damn excited to play Firewatch, more than anything in years. And guess what, this must be the first time in years that the excitement has paid off.

Firewatch is brilliant. Firstly, it also looks gorgeous, full of bright colours and glowing vistas - and unlike Life Is Strange, the painterly style feels a lot more appropriate to the story being told.

From its opening five minutes, where it emotionally gut punches you with all the brutal efficiency of a Pixar movie, to its climax, where you go into full tinfoil hat paranoia mode and clamber over yourself to figure out what the hell is going on, there is more story, drama and intrigue in this thing's six hour run time than a 100 hours of Skyrim.

Which is a shame, because some people will dismiss this title as the next arty farty walking simulator and skip it entirely, probably to go play more Fallout (aka, a walking simulator + guns). I've never felt that walking simulator has been an apt title to describe these things, even though that is what you are literally doing a lot of the time in Firewatch. Much of Firewatch is also spent with your brain engaged, cross-examining and scrutinising every bit of information given to you. Perhaps you find something were it shouldn't be. Perhaps some person takes a little too long to answer a pointed question you asked.

And speaking of that person, another great conceit of the game is that you barely ever see another human. All interaction is limited to a crappy walky talky, and whilst we are used to games giving us unseen voices to listen to, it is rare that we get to choose how we answer back to it. Delilah, the voice on the other end, is also perhaps the most human, relatable character I have ever encountered in a video game.

Walking simulator? Pah. How about walking, talking, flirting, lying, mystery, thriller, adventure simulator? Don't cheat yourself out of this game.
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