Jack Bray grabs his radio and puts on his fireproof jacket to review one of the best looking games of the year.
Firewatch is a narrative exploration game set in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989. You control Henry, a short term Fire lookout assigned his own tower in the Shoshone National Forest. Available for PlayStation 4, PC, Mac and Linux.
Looking out over the expansive forest before me, I watch as the orange glow of the sun fades into the pink hue of twilight and then into the dull blue and sparkling whites of the night sky across the Shoshone National Park. However an angry red still burns in the distance, it is a forest fire and it is coming for me.
Firewatch is no doubt, a game concerned with loneliness. Not the kind of loneliness that one feels when embarking into a horror game for example, but a kind of crushing solitude that has never been successfully represented within the medium prior to this. Henry is a broken man that has sought escape from his crumbling life in the form of a temporary summer job. Through his eyes, the player is allowed a very tangible sense of what depression may feel like and how it forces people to operate, whether it be the isolation of the forest or solving the mystery that haunts his adventure.
There is a respite to this loneliness, and this is where Delilah comes in. Delilah is the means to defend yourself against the crippling loneliness of Henry’s situation. Armed with your radio you are able to consult with Delilah at almost any time, whether it be for the mundane (Henry having just been stung by a bee), or the decidedly climactic (naming the fire that slowly approaches your section of the park). The dialogue choices are also entirely up to the player, you can choose to play Henry as sarcastic or melancholic for example. This is not a generic first person adventure game in any sense; it is a mature and well-written piece of fiction. The narrative is ever-present (depending on your choices to build a relationship with Delilah or simply ignore her) without being overbearing and this is perhaps its greatest achievement. Never has solving a mystery within a game felt so rewarding.
Nevertheless, it is not surprising that the narrative of the game should be so excellent considering that many of the alumni of the newly formed studio, Campo Santo, previously worked on the first season of Telltales ‘The Walking Dead’. What is surprising is the degree to which the game’s systems compliment the story. The world of the game is brought to startling life by the artistry of English Graphic designer Olly Moss and the beauty of the national park is a consistent conversational topic between Henry and Delilah – only if the player chooses to probe Delilah further. In Firewatch, gameplay informs narrative and vice versa, such that nothing ever feels ancillary, everything is relevant. It is a game that understands that less is often more and it profits greatly from this ethos.
Something that is consistently startling about Firewatch then, is the confidence that it has in itself to successfully convey its plot, tone, setting and most importantly its gameplay mechanics. In fact it is only due to the quality of the game that the weaknesses are revealed. The setting and narrative of the game are so genuinely engrossing that I didn’t want to leave and consequently the game feels too short, personally I was able to complete the game in around five hours. Whether this is a weakness depends on the kind of player you are. For the more hardcore gamer this may determine whether you are willing to buy or not, but for the less well trained the game is a must. It is possible to finish the game in one sitting and its digestibility as a result is certainly rewarding. I would recommend it regardless but it is worth bearing in mind for the £15 price tag. Whilst playing on the PlayStation 4 version of the game I also encountered some minor frame rate drops, but nothing that harmed my overall experience.
Firewatch is an excellent experience in the way that all great fiction is. It is engrossing, addictive and important. If you are an advocate of the idea that videogames should be viewed as art then you need look no further than Firewatch for your next fix.
- An empowering and complex story
- Confident tone and pace
- Incredible graphics
- Intriguing gameplay mechanics
- Feels too short!
- Some minor technical issues
– JACK BRAY