Watching out for smoke and fires in the wilderness of Wyoming might not sound like the most exciting game, but when trouble lures you from the safety of your watch tower, things take a turn for the interesting…
It’s a lonely life up in the watch tower, your only company is a lady called Delilah – who chats to you over the radio – so what would drive a person to take a job of such solitude? The game begins with the lead character, Henry, en route to his new place of work. Flashback scenes let you read about his past allowing you to fill in the blanks with multiple-choice answers. It’s a great touch, making Henry’s past feel personal to you.
Armed with a map, compass and backpack, you venture out to explore the area of the Wyoming wilderness that you’ve been assigned. Several supply caches are spread across the area containing various items. Primarily they are a source of information that you note down on your map. As you explore you talk to Delilah about what you discover – often she pries into your past and why you took the job.
These often touching moments shape their relationship – it’s a great relationship too. Starting slowly as strangers you experience how the two bond over the radio as their conversations become playful and almost intimate. As you explore the wilderness, the simple life of a lookout turns quite sinister, which made me question Henry’s relationship with the mysterious Delilah. It’s your own perception of this – and the story – that will ultimately decide how you perceive the ending, which is a bit hit-and-miss.
During the game Delilah asks Henry to perform several tasks, which aren’t too complex or cheapened with a clumsy mini game – the game is focused firmly on the relationship you build over the radio and the experience of exploring the world with your new friend. The world is crafted neatly, hiding areas until such a time that the story reveals them to you. Stop for a minute and you will realise that it leads you by the hand using smoke and mirrors to hide the fact it’s actually quite a linear path.
The art of the game is painted in a watercolour wash, creating sinister shapes, which heighten tension and contrast with the soothing colours of the game’s palette. Unfortunately, there are some minor graphic glitches, such as grass clumps that pop in, which was rather annoying, but overall, the environment looks like a painting in an art gallery. It’s a bit of a shame there wasn’t more life in the world, however. Beyond some scripted encounters there is a lack of wildlife – odd that a national park should be so devoid of life – and bar one or two encounters, you won’t meet anybody wondering through the wilderness.
If you’re a fan of walking sims then there’s a real kick to be had from Firewatch. The story and relationship of Henry and Delilah reeled me in, while the change in perception of my environment played on my own fears – what was once a safe area soon became a place that I was afraid to venture out in – convinced there was someone behind me.
The ending can seem rather flat if you just sit back and accept what is being served to you, but there are lots to speculate about with plenty of plot holes, that I assume are intentional to make you question the story should you spot them. Some may feel short changed by the ending though; it builds well into a state of flurry only to just stop. For me, nothing is as it seems and I still question the events that I experienced.
Once you’ve finished the story there’s a director’s cut version to experience, complete with scavenger hunt, bonus secrets and extra information about the game. There’s also a day/night free roam to explore loaded with even more secrets to discover.
If you like a good story then Firewatch is well worth checking out – it’s one of the better walking simulators that I have played, even if the ending is a little hit-and-miss.
Thanks to Campo Santo and KOEI TECMO for supporting TiX