Firewatch was a game that I knew by reputation, but had been hesistant to play given the “walking simulator” genre that it occupies. As with roguelikes, I’ve come to be a little leery of games that come highly recommended on sites such as Reddit, only to wind up being disappointed because, well, I just didn’t care for it or found the gameplay lacking. But seeing that Firewatch was on sale, I decided to pick it up for the backlog.
I wasn’t expecting to be quite moved by the end.
Firewatch, for me, succeeds largely in part to being about flawed people reacting in realistic ways to their unique surroundings. Before social media and the tech-heavy world we live in, Firewatch takes back to the ancient times – the early 1990’s – and places you in the shoes of Henry, a man running away from his (legit heartbreaking) problems by accepting a job in remote Wyoming. Your only source of interaction – if you choose so – is the voice of Delilah, your boss who provides instructions and possible virtual companionship depending on your choices. Even so, your conversations with Delilah can reveal both friendship and rancor, an uneasy balance at times as you navigate the plot points of the story.
Which is another great thing about Firewatch: it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The game is short – in the 4-6 hour range depending on how much exploration you do. This allows a story about being out the middle of nowhere actually develop into an intriguing tale, with some mysteries and misdirection that make it standout. Playing Firewatch was like playing a fascinating movie, a character study about loneliness, regret and running away from your past. This is all buoyed by the outstanding art direction, which makes the unique, remote setting vividly come to life.
By the end, you feel a bit unsettled. Maybe uncomfortable. And that’s fantastic. Firewatch dares to step into the uncomfortable spaces between expectation and hope, and the cold reality that often betrays both. You’ll be left thinking about those choices from the narrative – both of what you had control over and otherwise – and how realistic they are. Where games are often escapism fantasy (and rightly so), Firewatch veers a little at the end into the uncomfortable truths about people and relationships – they’re messy, unpredictable and sometimes don’t have closure. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy, and have to live in the shadow of our choices. As the credits roll, you’ll wonder whatever became of these people, and that ambiguity will touch you differently depending on your age and experiences.