Games | Firewatch | Review
From the get go, Firewatch instantly draws you into the game. It begins at an earlier point in the main character Henry’s life, when he first meets his wife, Julia, at a bar. The way their lives play out are shaped by your decisions, with the use of a multiple-choice text game: a scenario will be presented, with two options to choose from. For instance, whether to get a Beagle or a German Shepherd (Shepherd, duh). This personally drew me in and made me resonate with the characters, because with Henry’s and Julia’s lives being impacted and influenced by my choices, it made me feel much more personally invested in their relationship, and in both of them as people. Sadly, their wonderful relationship and subsequent marriage starts to dissolve almost immediately after Julia is diagnosed with dementia at the not-so-ripe-old-age of 40-something. After a while, her parents take her back to Australia with them so they can take care of her, because Henry's clearly no longer emotionally up to the task. Instead of trying to sort his life out so he can bring her back to America with him, he does a runner to the back-arse end of Wyoming to do the most isolated job he can find.
I mean, I get it, you want to escape. Your life has taken a full-on nose dive, and you need to get your head together away from everything that reminds you of the life you shared with your wife. She's not the same person anymore, so it's essentially like a break up, but you're still expected to take care of this stranger for the rest of your life. In sickness and in health, bub, 'til death do you part. They put that bit in for a reason. Given how easily he gave up his wife to her parents, almost as though he was glad to see the back of her, by the time the game actually began, I was not Henry’s number 1 fan.
But then, when the scene finally opened past the text choices to the Wyoming wilderness, my jaw was practically on the floor because of how stunning Firewatch is. I almost even forgot about how mad I was with Henry, it’s that beautiful.
Henry arrives in Wyoming at his little lookout, where he meets Delilah his supervisor via his radio. With no phones, or anyone within miles and miles, or even a postbox, it really emphasises how solitary the job and the area is, which sets up and builds the atmosphere. I wasn’t that big a fan of Delilah when she first introduced herself, although looking back maybe I didn’t exactly come across well either. For some reason, I assumed the multiple choice response time was over and that Henry would just reply automatically when she radioed him, so I ended up leaving her hanging and ignoring her for ages at the start. Ah well, she got over it.
The actual tasks in Firewatch are kind of boring; go to this place and see who's lit a fire, find out who's lighting fireworks, go see what's up with the power lines, but I think that's kind of the point. I didn't mind any of the monotony or how annoying Delilah could be, because every area of the map is just gorgeous. I was perfectly happy just to mill about gazing at trees and grass, wandering through fields, and just generally exploring the whole map and searching out supply cache boxes. One thing I will note that was a recurring blemish on my exploring was the fact that the frame rate kept dropping (I was playing on PS4), especially if I was moving both analogue sticks at the same time. Apparently that was too much for the game to handle, because it left my view of the forest blurry and unrendered, which I can only imagine was an effect to help the game catch up. In general, though, the visuals remained high quality.
The point of Firewatch, however, is obviously not the tasks. Essentially, what Firewatch boils down to, is learning some goddamn hard lessons about the nature of human beings. The characters you both play and encounter within this game are all fucked up one way or another; they’re all out in the Wyoming wilderness because they can’t deal with or even face what’s happening in their real lives back home. No matter how much I may have slated Henry during this review, I can’t for the life of me say I would have done anything differently if our situations were reversed (apart from heading off to Wyoming, mainly because who can be bothered with Visa paperwork).
I think one of the main reasons I didn’t like Henry so much (not least for the fact that my choices throughout the game probably made him even more of an asshole than he originally started out as), is that he was relatable. Fuck knows what I would do if the person I loved and married disappeared before my eyes. None of the characters were making good life choices, and the fact that Henry wasn’t behaving like the sort of person Hollywood portrays when going through a difficult period of his life, the fact he was acting like a real person who didn’t know what the fuck to do, was difficult, but real. He was flawed, but so are we all; maybe not all to the point where we need to isolate ourselves from society in a big forest, but still.
I went in to Firewatch believing Henry was a character I was supposed to feel sorry for, but now I don’t think we were meant to. It’s a beautiful game, with beautiful scenery and a somewhat heart-wrenching plot. I think by the end the player is left with some lessons about human nature, and what people do when they feel as though they're trapped or backed into a corner. It tugs on the heartstrings in places, and I'm not ashamed to say I welled up during the reveal of Julia’s diagnosis, and then again when the credits rolled. It's a fairly emotional journey, and it works. It reminds us that nothing in life is certain.
I personally felt as though the ending was a little lacking, but I also don't think I would change a thing about it. It was the perfect way to end the experience.