For those of you who have read my blog for a while now, you know that I am a big fan of smaller, independent games. I’ve written about dialogue-heavy noir games, cute turn based strategy games and artsy wilderness survival simulators. Today? Well, today, I am talking about an independent first person adventure game- Firewatch.
In 1988, Yellowstone National Park was subject to the worst fires in its history. 36% of the park was affected by the fires. And so, in Firewatch you play as Henry, a man who has volunteered to serve as a lookout for the summer of 1989. You are alone in Yellowstone Park, with only the voice of your supervisor on the end of a radio to keep you company.
So let’s talk about some of the features that make Firewatch such a great game:
- The art style: As you can see above, Firewatch comes with a beautiful art style. Every sunrise is dazzling and the summer fires begin to burn, you really feel like you are in the middle of the forests of Wyoming. This is emphasised by the expansive ‘open-world’ in which the developers have recreated an isolated wilderness for you to explore.
- The build-up: The game builds up to its main content wonderfully, asking you to guide the opening title cards with a few choices, interspersed with shots of Henry pushing his way through undergrowth and over trees. The text details Henry’s life prior to coming to Shoshone National Park, his tumultuous love life with a professor at the University of Colorado. As the emotions rise in both the characters and the player, Henry finally reaches his destination- a remote lookout station atop a hill. You are eased into the game as you determine exactly what happened in Henry’s past.
- The pacing: You may think it dull to have to live out a man’s summer as a remote wilderness lookout but the game is paced well. You play through the first three days and suddenly, it’s day nine. Then day fifteen, then day sixty-four. While you are required to walk all over Shoshone National Park, Henry moves at a good pace and so you are not forced to follow a guy walking an NPC pace for the entire game. Furthermore, it feels a lot more exciting due to the rugged and varied terrain.
- The tension: As you progress through the summer of 1989, strange things start to happen- two teenage campers go missing; someone ransacks your station and you can’t shake the feeling that you’re being watched at all times. The game does well to avoid a Scooby-Doo mystery vibe and instead starts to fill you with low-level perpetual dread we all feel when deep in the heart of nature.
- The voice-acting: Often, the voice acting can make or break a game for me. Firewatch has some spectacular voice acting from Rich Sommer (who you may know as Harry Crane from Mad Men) and Cissy Jones (Doctors Duff and Patricia from Fallout 4, Nora Fries from Arkham Knight’s ‘Season of Infamy’ DLC and Katjaa from Season One of The Walking Dead: The Game). Both of them give performances that make Henry and his supervisor, Delilah, seem like actual people, thrown together by the chaos of the world.
- The mechanics: The game mechanics work well- the map is easy to navigate and can be updated by finding supply boxes dotted around the park. Games with map navigation either fall into the ‘simple and easy to use’ category, as this game does OR the ‘hahaha, I hope you did orienteering when you were younger or else you are screwed’ category, such as the early build game Kholat.
Firewatch is a refreshing and immersive game with an interesting premise. I am thoroughly enjoying myself and I would certainly recommend it if you look for entertainment with a slightly slower burn to it.
Have you played Firewatch? What did you think of it?