Firewatch: a Spark that Sizzles Out

★★☆☆☆ | $20 on both Steam & PS4

Bethany Berg, Photo Editor

When we think of going camping, we think of escaping the suffocation of society and revisiting our wild roots: the wide expanse of stars, breathing the fresh air. But for me, it’s always been how many spiders I wake up to on my pillow, and the seemingly eternal, almost terrifying, silence. I thought that by playing Firewatch – an adventure game about being a fire lookout in the forests of Wyoming – that I could feel and experience the beauty of nature, without the bug bites. But instead, I got one of the most beautiful, disappointing and paranoia-filled games I’ve ever played.

Firewatch feels like a bunch of different game-types mashed into one. With its text-only prologue introducing Henry and his life before becoming a fire lookout, and the radio-chatter dialogue for the rest of this first-person walking simulator. It feels less like a game, and more like a walkthrough of a day in the life of Henry, as he hikes through various woods and canyons.

I’d heard of Firewatch’s beautiful art style before playing, and I imagined the game to be a relaxing walk in the rustic Wyoming woods with character dialogue that introduced the game into its darker, interesting plot. What I didn’t expect, was taking the same route twice, getting lost, having to confront my map and compass time and time again to try to find my way in complete silence. Finding solace in the woods was difficult when I just kept getting increasingly frustrated, wasting time wandering in circles, wondering where I was, compared to where I was supposed to be.

You’re not completely alone with the soft hues of the landscape around you; the character you spend the game alongside is Delilah, another lookout you talk with over your radio. Conversation is the biggest point of Firewatch, as you spend the entire game talking, getting to know who Delilah is and what she’s hiding.

I wanted to love this game. I wanted to fall for its visuals and characters and feel finished and happy with how it ended. But while playing, I just felt bored. As a walking simulator, this game is beautiful. It works. But as a narrative, it felt incomplete. Growing the relationship between Henry and Delilah was the main focus of the plot until they realize something more sinister is going on. As the narrative deepens and develops, every twist the game throws seems to come out of the blue, and feels unrelated to what was introduced at the start.

Firewatch, at its high points, was a beautiful game of how difficult it is not to be lonely. Out in the woods, communicating only through radios, trying to figure out who you are at the same time as figuring out who your seemingly only friend is. Tackling real adult issues in realistic ways, being able to avoid or divulge emotion and information when I felt like it was interesting and the best part, to me, a true humanistic attribute in Firewatch’s endless landscape. As the game delves into its darker plot, the feeling of being watched is almost overwhelming. At some points, turning around seemed like the scariest, worst decision I could make: waiting for what was out there to finally show itself.

Unfortunately, at its low points, this isn’t the game I hoped it would be. There’s no action. Your choices have no real consequences, and Firewatch feels more like a movie I’m slightly altering the dialogue of than a game that feels finished by the time I put the controller down. It’s a rather short narrative game – only about four hours – but it feels stretched when you’re just traveling from place to place.

Firewatch is like a mystery thriller that feels more poetry than pulse-racer. It’s quick to be completed, the surroundings beautiful, but the plot unfulfilling and desolate of anything I can reverberate excitedly. Maybe I’ll play it again, maybe I won’t, but I’ll never forget that sense of gentle disorientation of being out in the woods, watched, as I tumbled towards the end of a story left open-ended, like I still may be in it. In the end, Firewatch just failed to kindle any enthusiasm in me.