In Case You Missed It: Firewatch

By Mark Delaney, 4 months ago
There's a contingent of gamers, including some of you reading this, that write off any and all narrative adventure games as wastes of time. At this point, the term 'walking sim' has been embraced by many of the genre's fans, but detractors still like to use it to reduce such games to something they consider actually less than games at all. Those people have certainly missed Campo Santo's debut title, Firewatch, but according to site metrics so too have many other open-minded gamers looking for a memorable adventure title.

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The Basics

Can Firewatch be considered a walking simulator? I suppose, but if that label isn't inherently reductive, it is at least so here. In Firewatch, you play in first-person as a middle-aged man named Henry who, in 1989, takes a job in a fire tower in the Wyoming wilderness. After a days-long trek deep into the forest, he arrives at the tower where he'll spend his summer in isolation — well, sort of. The gameplay is built on dialogue options between Henry and his boss on the other end of his radio, Delilah. They've both taken the lonesome and rather eccentric job for their own personal reasons which you'll learn. Throughout the game, players will explore the forest, getting to know Delilah and themselves as Henry, and even watch for fires . . . among other hazards.

The Hook

As is the case with most games of this sort, Firewatch sells itself on its narrative backbone. If you've enjoyed games like Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch, you really should not miss Firewatch. It's not just that it's a story-driven game for people who like those. It's highly unpredictable and deeply personal all at once. It's one part mystery, one part human drama, and the ending really exists as the junction at which these two lines, running parallel for so long in the game's five hour story, finally divert from their paths and collide.

It's fascinating to get to know Henry and Delilah and the game does a great job at both letting you affect their relationship as well as shape Henry's personal history. There's nuance to the way the story is told, often leaving things unsaid for the player in a way only these sorts of games really try to do, and to that end, in a way Firewatch does better than its counterparts. There's no world to save, no hero to rise. In Firewatch, the drama is personal and relatable, often melancholic while other times heartening. Games in which people are just people and have people problems aren't what everyone wants from the medium, but given the writing and a beautiful low poly art style, this deserves to be an exception for those interested in discovering the new wave of adventure games.

A lot has been said about the avenues for storytelling now available thanks to a strong indie market. Firewatch is a poster child for this trend. As a game, it's not inherently better for lacking space marines, but the industry as a whole is certainly better off making room for diverse and emotional stories such as this.

Sometimes it feels like everything can hang on the ending of a story. Firewatch's finale is polarizing, but that's what makes it so interesting. There's a vision for this adventure that the game's creators had for it. It's a daring one, and they stuck to it. While I can't guarantee you'll come away having enjoyed your time with Firewatch, I can assure you it's nothing if not memorable.

The game is more than just an ending too. In fact, after the initial surprise of its ending wears off and no matter how you feel about it, give yourself time to reflect on the game's themes and you may come to appreciate it more than you first believed, or at least better work out why you didn't like it. The dialogue and voice acting are nearly unrivaled in the games space, which explains why both actors were nominated for Game Awards in 2016. There's a lot of heart to Firewatch, from its tear-jerking text adventure introduction straight through to the end of Henry and Delilah's summer in the watchtowers. There's so much more to say about the game but it rests heavily on spoilers, so as the title suggests, in case you missed it, fix that. Then come talk to me about it.

Consider it home.Consider it home.

The Achievements

As another attraction to our readers, Firewatch is also an easy 1,000 Gamerscore. You can gather the full list in about 3-5 hours. Several of the game's 10 on offer are easily missed, however, and with no chapter select, you'll want to use a guide if you don't care to play it twice. We do have a great guide on site thanks to hypobonix (overseen by UnsungGhost), so go in with that and you'll get a memorable story and an easy completion altogether.

The Stats

Firewatch has been played by just 13,905 players on TA, but lending itself to my previous point regarding an easy completion, nearly 56% of those players have earned the full 1,000 G. If you need more than my acclaim for the game, it garnered positive scores almost across the board. It sits at an 81 on OpenCritic, an 85 on Metacritic, and a 4.1 out of 5 on TA, which keeps its critical reception pretty even across the board.

The Price

Firewatch lists at $19.99, though it's been on sale many times including twice already this year. At the time of writing, it's on sale for $8.00. It feels like the type of game that may be given as a Games with Gold title as soon as this year. We can't know that for sure, but we've been right before.

The Verdict

If you're a gamer driven by a compelling story, Firewatch is a title for which you must make time. Even its detractors come away having a lot to say about the game, and that's due in large part to the unique premise, setting, and characters that make up the story — and of course there's that climax that invites so much talk. Maybe you won't like where it ends up, but that in itself is an opportunity for a great conversation. I think, above all else, that's what Firewatch does best. It invites discussion in a number of ways and, for better or worse, you won't forget it.

Check out our The Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.