Firewatch blazes fast and bright, when a slow burn is what really would’ve helped the game showcase all the great outdoors has to offer to a lazy homebody like me.
Ever since Firewatch was first introduced, the obvious draw to the game is the art direction. Its bright and colorful environments create quite the comfortable atmosphere tucked within the trees of this Colorado wilderness, and anyone with eyes is right there with the playable character in an overpowering “I want to go to there” mentality.
If only things were that simple… Turns out Henry’s escapist leaning isn’t so much for the enjoyment of exploring something new as it is inspired by the need to get away from his past, which is introduced to us in a semi-player driven text based story that may have some believing the menu accidentally led into a different game altogether. Or was that just me? I was slightly confused for a split second… Turns out the blocky animation style of the character design isn’t the only thing alluding to Up; Firewatch also decides to start things in tragedy as a love story quickly devolves into sadness as Henry’s wife loses herself to early onset dementia. I don’t know about you, but degenerative diseases always get me pumped to play video games…
Leaving that sadness behind, getting into the main body of Firewatch really is a breath of fresh air on Henry’s first day in the woods. Did I mention how pretty the game is? But before we get a chance to explore, Delilah, Henry’s one human connection in and around his outpost, sends us out on our first mission to tell some people off for playing with fireworks in a highly flammable environment. Before long we’re learning to find our marker on the map, climbing down rock walls, reporting anything and everything we see to Delilah (we may or may not be qualified for this type of work), picking up beer cans, picking up more beer cans, and picking up MORE beer cans. People are disgusting. And rude. And creepy.
Like with Gone Home, there is a mostly undeserved element of wariness as the feeling that there are possible threats lurking around every corner cannot be shaken off. You and Delilah get caught up in a game of “what the hell is going on” as a mystery unfolds in the woods, and your relationship will grow thanks to all the two of you go through together. Fires might just be the least of your concerns.
But don’t worry, the bear is a lie.
As the game rushes you forward with restraints to your time spent choosing dialogue options within the even faster moving calendar of days, a lot gets lost along the way. There is little to no exploration within this world as it moves linearly through what aches to be an open world game (the occasional missing person flyer or random note found doesn’t fool anyone, this is a very guided game), and the disappointments quickly grow on top of this. Long story short, a lot just doesn’t pay off. Storywise, no matter how I feel about the main story itself, I was extremely disappointed that the two or three reminders of there being a dangerous bear in the woods never amounts to anything. But more so than that, there are a few items in the game that are introduced with an air of importance, but then nothing ever really happens with them: “See this Fire Finder in the middle of your new home? You will never use it.” Even more frustrating: “Hey look! I found a disposable camera with unused film! Should I document all this craziness just in case I need evidence as to what was happening down the road? Meh. Doesn’t matter.” Why introduce either of these things in the game at all!?
Looking back on the 3-4 hours of gameplay, it’s really easy to find a lot to be disappointed in as Firewatch fails to live up to my expectations. That said, I really did enjoy it while I was actually playing. Even though I had hoped for more exploration, the handholding and fast pace of the story really helps build the paranoia that works extremely well with what the game is actually supposed to me. Will you ever hear the banjo from Deliverance echoing through the trees? No. But it sure feels like you might. Who knows, maybe Delilah has been playing that banjo all along. The uncertainty is the draw.