Review: Firewatch

A few weeks ago, I started hearing about a new game from an independent group of developers (Campo Santo), who have a long pedigree in game design, with their new game, Firewatch. My wife and I started watching a playthrough of the game from YouTuber Jesse Cox, and I finally decided that I simply had to own the game. So this weekend my wife and I both spent a few hours playing through the full game on our own.

The premise of the game is that you are a middle-aged man, whose wife has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. She can no longer take care of herself, and after your failed attempts at caregiving, her parents take her to their home in Australia leaving you on your own. To cope with your loneliness and guilt, you take a job as a fire lookout in the forests of Wyoming.

The main story follows around your character, Henry, as he arrives at his fire watch post in the mid 1980’s. The game is played completely from the perspective of Henry, and the only person you ever see in the game is yourself. Your only contact with other people (mostly) is through your radio where you can talk to your supervisor Delilah. You’re expecting a simple, relaxing summer, but as the story unfolds you learn that not everything is as it seems in the woods.

I’m not going to spoil the plot of the game, as the story and mystery that unfolds is very cool to experience, or at least watch. What I will say is that the beauty of the game lies not just in it’s story, but in the acting between Henry and Delilah. The relationship that unfolds between the two characters is voice acted perfectly, and the dialog choices that you make have a real impact on how they treat each other.

What you come to really understand and experience is that the story isn’t as much about the mystery in the woods, but about who Henry is, and wants to be at this point in his life. When you complete the game you’re left with tons of thoughts and questions about how you would have acted in Henry’s situation. Through the dialog choices you make, you can build his character in such a way as to create a unique personality that is as much about who you are, as who the characters appear to be in-game.

The entire story only takes about 3-4 hours to get through, but you can certainly extend that to 5 by simply spending a lot of time exploring. There is a ton of detail in the game, and it’s fun to find all sorts of new easter eggs lying around. The graphics are beautiful, and the sound and music design is completely immersive.

Despite being a game on rails, that only takes a few hours to play, I wanted to spend my $19.99 on this game, because I wanted to support the work that the developers did in bringing this world to life. From the visuals to the outstanding voice acting, this is a masterpiece of an experience. It’s not a challenging game, but it’s a unique and new way to deliver a story, that you can have a hand in shaping.

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