Firewatch Xbox One Review
Publisher: Panic Developer: Campo Santo Genre: Adventure Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: PS4
Curiously, Firewatch has been compared by many people to a walking simulator, but that isn’t entirely the case at all. There are sections in which you are walking around, and like a walking simulator there isn’t much in the way of a challenge, though it has a lot more interaction than what a lot of walking simulators offer.
Taking place in Shoshone National Forest, the story follows a fire lookout called Henry, who takes the isolating job after his ill wife is taken to Australia by her parents. What stood out for me about this game is the excellent banter between Henry and his boss, Delilah; their voice actors have done a great job at making both characters feel real and down to earth and you do start to worry in case something sinister happens to one of them. Another aspect the game does well is that it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat – the story is told in such a way that you have no idea where it is going or how it is going to end.
Controlling Henry, you are stationed at a lookout tower, known as Two Forks, and from there a mystery unfolds which starts with Henry confronting two teenage girls who are letting off fireworks in the forest. The game takes place a year after the fires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988 and so they aren’t taking any risks with fires starting in this forest. Henry is on his own for much of the game – besides the two teenagers, who he sees from a distance, Henry doesn’t have any interactions with other characters, his only lifeline being Delilah who you hear via his walkie talkie, and one other character towards the end. Firewatch does a great job at making the atmosphere feel very isolating and lonely, and you get the sense that even though there are people wandering around in the forest, they are always just out of reach.
Scattered about the forest is the usual things for you to find, such as abandoned campsites, lost backpacks, torn clothing; there are also cache boxes with letters and notes from other lookouts and maps that you can copy to update your own. Henry has a map and a compass to help him navigate and it can be difficult finding your way around; Kholat is another game that used the idea of navigating with a map and compass, though here it is done much better thanks to the fact that you can see your location on the map. It still doesn’t make navigating very easy, with you having to look at the map several times to double check you are heading the right way, though it is not so intrusive that it takes you out of the games experience, although there are a couple of sections where you will find yourself traipsing around for a while until you find your goal.
As mentioned there isn’t much in the way of a challenge in Firewatch, with you only having to go from one location to the next, with tasks being mostly set by Delilah. The game is very story driven and the tasks that Henry takes drive the story, all starting with confronting those two teens by a lake. From there things take a bit of a sinister turn, though not in the way you would expect. The story builds tension very well, with everything starting out very jovially and becoming much more tense as the game progresses, and even though there isn’t much in the way of a payoff, with the story even becoming a bit predicable towards the end, the journey will keep you on tenterhooks and will make you continually question just how things are going to unravel.
Before you even begin playing the actual game though, you start with a section that consists of you reading text and choosing from multiple choice answers. This part is to set up Henry’s background and gives you some insight into his life – your answers during this section will be brought up again later on. As you progress through the actual game, Henry will be able to choose from multiple choice answers when responding to Delilah via the walkie talkie. Depending on your responses, the game can be played through multiple times and each time you’ll find the story heading in a different direction with different dialogue that can be heard. As you move from one place to another and uncover various things, you can also report back to Delilah about what you have found and this can lead to some witty banter between the pair or her revealing to you important details, or something about herself, so depending on how you respond could either lead to nothing or something. Thankfully though you don’t have to be too careful when answering as there aren’t any major consequences, though what you say does affect your relationship with Delilah and will affect the story as a whole.
Graphically the game is very basic, though there is enough detail in the environments and effective use of lighting that it all combines to help set the mood and tone of the game. Firewatch can be completed in around 4 hours, though that time is extended for those who like to explore everywhere and because of the games emphasis on multiple choice answers, it offers a lot of replayability. There are also lots of little secrets to find for players who are experimental and for the explorer there are places you can find that aren’t related to the story itself if you are brave enough to venture from the beaten path.
Overall, Firewatch is an excellent game that has been well executed and for such a small game, it somehow feels much bigger, with lots of things to find, see and do and with many ways in which the story can differ upon multiple playthroughs. Firewatch offers a simple experience but one that greatly instils a sense of dread and mystery and, despite the ending, the journey will keep you on the edge of your seat.