Henry is in his mid-40’s and looking for some company and/or an escape after his wife developed early-onset dementia aged just 41. Delilah is also in her mid-40’s who, after having her heart broken 10 years ago, is struggling to come to terms with meeting new people and spends most of her days communicating via walkie-talkie. These may sound like (badly) written lonely hearts column pieces, but these two people and their problems are the basis for the game, Firewatch.
Firewatch is a first person mystery adventure in the same vein as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Gone Home and Dear Esther. Typically referred to as ‘walking simulators’, they all offer so much more than this negative connotation will allude to. It is the first game released by Campo Santo, a company founded by former employees of Telltale Games. After viewing the work of graphic artist Olly Moss, he was also added to the team. Released earlier this year for PS4 and Steam, it now comes over to Xbox along with new features including a Directors Commentary and a Free Roam available upon completing the story.
Firewatch is centred around Henry and Delilah as they both work as fire lookout in Shoshone National park during 1989. Delilah has been doing the job every summer for the past 10 years. For Henry, he needed an escape after the diagnosis of his wife, so takes the job in a remote location where most outside contact is avoided. The game then follows primarily their relationship over the next 79 days as they communicate only through a walkie-talkie, discussing their reasons for being there, with Delilah explaining to Henry what his job actually involves. First up is investigating who keeps setting off fireworks.
Of course, you do not spend the next 78 days dealing with trivial issues like this. There is a fantastic plot throughout, but the highlight is the relationship between Henry and Delilah. Everything that they say just feels so natural, almost like there wasn’t a script at all and it was real-life. One of the hooks is experiencing their relationship grow first hand and seeing what happens next between them. It’s a credit to the game to be able to forge an entire relationship between two characters just by communicating through walkie-talkies. Telltale are famous for the character interactions and it’s clear from the conversation options where the team at Campo Santo came from. Even down to the fact you only have a few seconds to respond. The outcomes won’t be as drastic as they could be in The Walking Dead, but it is clear where its influences lie.
Where the plot does fall down though is with the ending. There were times throughout Firewatch where my heart was pounding out of my chest and then the big reveal happens at the end, and it was more like an “Oh” rather than a “Wow!” But this is subjective in a game where the story is so engrossing right from the first text that appears on the screen. It sucks you in completely and you can find yourself completing the entire four or five hour story in one sitting. Admittedly though, this is short considering the price point. And it would have been nice to include a little bit of padding to lengthen the story, only if because the characters are so believable in the first instance that I wanted to know everything about them.
The game itself allows for plenty of exploration and a high level of interaction within the world. At one point there was a boom box on the floor playing music. I took it with me with the intention of putting it in my lookout tower to have something to listen to. However, it only played one song and detracted from the decent soundtrack playing behind it. So I dumped it in the water and it instantly broke. This was later reported back to me that the original owners were unhappy that I did so. It again harks back to the Walking Dead and the prompt that follows an action you do: ‘…will remember that’.
I noticed at some points in the game there were brief pauses in the gameplay, particularly whenever I was climbing up or down rocky precipices. These happen quite frequently, and are just long enough each time to be a distraction. Aside from these graphical issues, the rest of the game is stunning though. Often I would just stand and look around at the surroundings from the lookout tower, or watch the sun set behind a mountain in the distance. Even during the tense moments I found myself distracted by how gorgeous the game was, and I mean this in the best way possible. The Free Roam mode added in with the Xbox One release allows you to revisit all the stunning locations at your own pace and is a great inclusion for a game that looks this good.
Also included is the Directors Commentary which allows you to main through the main game with little vignettes from the development team. These are presented as cassettes to pick up and play in your Walkman and this in itself is a novel idea and fitting with the games overall aesthetics. They are numbered so you don’t miss any out, but also appear on your map if you cannot find the next one.
For the completionists, this is a very easy 1000G game. Half of the ten achievements are for story progression and the rest involve finding specific things. One achievement requires you to fill a camera with pictures once you find it. You can take pictures of anything while you are out in the open, and any photos you do take are shown during the end credits, as well as a couple of others that were taken before you found it. Any remaining achievements can be mopped up easily enough in Free Roam.
I have a friend who raved about this game upon its release. He said play it through a couple of times and that it’s better to know nothing about the plot beforehand. I did just that and I had a unique and thoroughly engaging experience. The ending really was disappointing, but it’s so superbly done in every other department that it really doesn’t matter. People will be talking about their experiences with Henry and Delilah rather than what happened afterwards.
So I extend the same advice to you; find yourself a free afternoon, no distractions or spoilers, and experience Firewatch.