I Finally Played Firewatch: A Mini Review From Scroo

Yep, I finally played Firewatch. It's something I was looking forward to for quite some time actually. So why now, right? Firewatch has been out for months, it's received lots of reviews and had its moment in the sun.

Well, a few reasons. Firstly: I had it on my Steam wishlist since its release and I've been wanting to play it. Secondly: Steam had it on sale a week or so back for $13.00 and I bought it. Thirdly: I had just finished Doom and I've logged almost 200 hours in Dark Souls 3, so I needed a bit of a break from the bleak and lonely.

Turns out Firewatch didn't actually provide the kind of break I was looking for, what with the premise of the game being that the protagonist, Henry, is alone in a forest high in the Wyoming wilderness trying to escape some pretty bleak stuff. The only other person to talk to is another fire lookout, named Delilah, and Henry never actually meets her.

So again, lonely, reminders all around of what Henry is trying to escape, and soon an unfolding mystery is presented that cascades into an ever worsening scenario, that by the way, feels pretty effing bleak. So yeah maybe Firewatch wasn't the game to play in order to change up my recent formula a bit. But it was different. For instance, no violence to speak of. Other than getting sucker punched at one point in the game it's all exploration of the wilderness around Henry's post and trying to solve this mystery that branches into levels of "oh shit" and "we're screwed".

Now from here out I'm going to include spoilers because frankly the game has been out long enough that I don't think it matters. If you don't wish to read further let me just quickly recommend the game now. Firewatch is a very good and visually beautiful first person narrative story with well written characters and is absolutely worth playing even at full price.RavineOk spoilers from here on out. This game is stunning. Firewatch takes place in the 1980's in a remote area of Wyoming in the Rocky Mountains, with lakes and streams and beautiful stylized views. The build of the world feels pretty natural: open meadows and natural rock arches, a waterfall here and there and a pretty nice looking day / night cycle. Bristlecone Pines grow from cliff sides, Cottonwoods near the water, Aspens in groves and Firs are everywhere. There was much attention payed to detailing this place.

Of course there are also fires and they are pretty convincing to see. You'll even run across previous burn areas from forest fires long past. I say this all as a guy living very near Yosemite National Park in California, I've seen my share of wild fires. And speaking of Yosemite... this image below sure seems to show Half Dome in the distance. Which is weird since this is supposed to be Wyoming, but it's a neat little tribute none the less.Halfdome_maybeOnce you orient yourself the map is easy enough to navigate, and it's large but not so big as to make moving from place to place feel monotonous. You'll have a forestry map and a compass to help guide you and you'll find yourself using them often. Supply caches are scattered about and contain map notations but really nothing else useful.

Delilah will contact you often on your radio and strike up conversation that feels very real. Dialogue options seem to vary, but herein lies my one big complaint about Firewatch. You're not allowed to be a good person. Henry's reason for becoming a fire lookout was because his wife contracted early onset Alzheimer's disease and despite his initial determination to take care of her, he gives up. His in-laws take her back to Australia, where she's originally from, and Henry bails. He feels guilty and that's evident throughout the game, but you as the player never really get to make a decision that allows Henry to deal with that.

He just decides to bottle it up and even seems to try and forget it all by removing his wedding band and even creating a sort of relationship with Delilah that persists until the end of the game where she reminds him that he has a wife and he should go see her. Now don't get me wrong here. Henry's not an asshole, he loves his wife, dreams about her, misses her terribly. But you as the player again, never really get the option to play off of that. This doesn't ruin the game by any means. After all being in a situation where you're alone for months with only the voice of one other person to keep you company... of course you're going to form a relationship. But it's hard to characterize your protagonist through dialogue options when there's a preconceived notion that he might be kind of a jerk.burn areaAnyway, all that aside this game is wonderful. Conversations with Delilah are great and both characters are written so well that you'd believe that they're real people. The story culminates between them and they each have their own opinions that I think could change via dialogue during more play-throughs.

It all starts during a dangerous fire season when some campers are seen lighting off fireworks and Henry is asked to talk to them. The campers end up being two teenage girls who take Henry for a creepy guy who's spying on them and subsequently disappear after leaving a note in their camp site claiming they'll contact the police about being harassed. Delilah has Henry's back, being his only witness and decides to help him by falsifying reports and things kind of swing out of control. Henry finds an old pack with a name that Delilah knew from her past about a lookout and his son who had also gone missing and she admits she never reported it. Meanwhile a large forest fire has started and the two must monitor it as well. She and Henry soon find out that someone has been recording their conversations and realize that they must now have recorded evidence of falsified reports and negligence. Henry finds a strange radio monitoring site that starts a new branch in the mystery that eventually leads he and Delilah to the missing lookout and his son. The monitoring site is burned down creating a second fire that merges with the first, likely destroying evidence against Henry and Delilah and creates a situation where they have to escape via a lookout point by Helicopter. And that sums up the story of Firewatch.streamThe story is well told and pretty immersive overall. I played through it in one sitting if that gives any indication. There are plenty of collectible items that give real information that's useful in the game. And really there are lots of dialogue options, they may even change the overall tone of things but I don't feel like they make any real changes to the game's outcome. They seem to be sort of false choices. For instance when Henry reports to Delilah about the note the campers leave threatening to call the police, Henry has the option to say "I did nothing wrong, I'm happy to be questioned. Just tell the truth and report them missing." I chose these options and later on Delilah still states that she lied about the report and said that neither she or Henry ever saw the missing campers in the first place.

The character controller is pretty intuitive if a bit simple. Standard "wasd" movement with a shift button here and there and some on screen prompts. It's pretty easy to master. There's even full controller support if you prefer.eveningWeather effects and ambience are what really sell the environment. There's a pretty constant light breezy sound coming through the trees, foliage is swaying etc. You'll hear birds flying overhead and see some pretty convincing sunsets. Little waves are heard lapping against the lake shore. Streams babble and you can even hear them from a distance, which is nice. It's kind of silly in games to see a river or waterfall and only be able to hear it when you're eight feet away. And man when the fires start, the smoke settles in and gets heavy, embers float through the air, ash rains down around you. You'll even see that characteristic red sun that shows through heavy smoke during an event like that. You'll hear helicopters, spotter planes and bombers laden with retardant flying in low. I did find it a bit less convincing since Henry never seems affected by the smoke; never coughing, or finding it difficult in any way really. But overall it's a pretty realistic feeling view of that kind of thing. And the soundtrack is nice, it never feels invasive.

So maybe things are more linear than the game wants you to believe, but that doesn't mean it's not worth playing. Firewatch is a great, emotional experience. It's worth the $20 dollar price tag. Pick this up if you appreciate a good narrative set in a beautiful open world. There's humor, there's anger, there's sadness. My play though took about five consecutive hours and I'll probably play it again some time in the future.

System Requirements for Firewatch are as follows:

Windows:

MINIMUM:

    • OS: Windows 7 or higher 64bit
    • Processor: Intel Core i3 2.00 GHz or AMD equivalent
    • Memory: 6 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 450 or higher with 1GB Memory
    • DirectX: Version 11
    • Storage: 4 GB available space

Mac:

MINIMUM:

    • OS: Mac OS X 10.8+
    • Processor: 2011 or newer Intel Core i5
    • Memory: 6 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia or ATi GPU with 1GB Memory
    • Storage: 4 GB available space
    • Additional Notes: Dedicated graphics card required. No Mac Mini model is officially supported at this time.

SteamOS + Linux

MINIMUM:

    • OS: 64-bit OS
    • Processor: Intel Core i3 2.00 GHz or AMD equivalent
    • Memory: 6 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 450 or higher with 1GB Memory
    • Storage: 4 GB available space