A Cinematic Masterpiece Left in the Dust of Time


Firewatch sunset over the large tree line (Image courtesy of rockpapershotgun.com)


Game: Firewatch

Available On: Xbox, Playstation, PC

Development Team: Campo Santo / Publisher: Panic

Release: Feb 9th, 2016


When I originally experienced “Firewatch,” I hadn’t even played it. I watched someone play it.

I watched the game during the summer, which is also the game’s setting. When watching the surroundings in the game, I was taken in even more because I was experiencing some of the same weather conditions presented.

My house is away from the nearest road, deeper in the woods, an area reminiscent of the campground by a lake in the game. All of these relatable scenarios (besides geographical location and story plot) connected with me and immersed me even more

“Firewatch” lets you know it is not going to be pulling any emotional punches over its four-five hour run time, opening with a text-based choice adventure prologue similar to text-based dating sims.

I will not spoil the sequence that unfolds for the player, but I will tell you it bounces back and forth from light-hearted funny moments to deep and heavy situations. The whole prologue makes you understand why the protagonist, Henry, made off for the Wyoming woods into a solitary fire lookout.

Once you arrive at the tower and truly begin the adventure, the powerful ambiance really starts to take hold. The story takes place over the course of an entire summer, with different days treated as chapters, the game following both days and nights. The time changes allow bold color shifts of red, orange, and yellow to the visuals of the beautifully painted scenery done by the exceptional digital artist Olly Moss, all created from a first-person perspective

The level design is a testament to Moss as well as “Firewatch” level designers. Despite the stylish artistic look, all the locations look and feel like real places: narrow and long passages through Thunder Canyon, surreal calming waters of Jonesy Lake, the comical size of Pork Pond, and the unexplained mystery of the Medicine Wheel.

In fact, the only thing that ruins the immersion is the lack of wildlife inside the wide outdoor spaces of the national park.

“Firewatch” sounds as good as it looks due to a world-class script. Rookie lookout Henry is given a playful vulnerability. You can choose to play him as a serious or funny character, and the performance is top-tier either way.

Henry’s boss or primary point of human contact for the summer is Delilah. Her emotional armor is thick. She shows little cracks in her personality without it being overly dramatic or overdone to the point of cliché and annoyance.

Straight from the gate, the relationship between Henry and Delilah feels real. It doesn’t feel forced and the dialogue seems natural. In addition, the relationship is completely void of physical proximity. Their entire relationship occurs over handheld radios.

Henry, or Hank as Delilah defiantly calls him, seems to be a good and stable but flawed man. He is strung up on the decision to return back to the life he left back in Boulder, Colorado. He’s perfect for matching wits with Delilah, who uses humor as a shield to hide her personal life, which she avoids discussing as they get to know each other over the summer.

Set in the open spaces of a national park, the map is a device used for getting around. Instead of a giant arrow at the top of the screen, or an annoying marker telling you where to go, the game provides a marker showing you your current location. Rather than giving directions, it gives you a destination.

The map updates as you find little supply caches. With this system I found myself getting lost in exploring more of the map, finding all of these new items. This is an aspect a lot of new modern games do not use unless the whole game’s gimmick is exploration.

My final rating of “Firewatch” is a 9.0 out of 10.0. I would like to see another game do something similar but expand beyond just the national park.

“Firewatch” is an adult game. It deals with serious issues and adult subject matter, including realistic dialogue. It is among one of the best first-person narrative games I’ve ever played, and I’m sad to see the development team has gone to another larger studio, leaving more projects like this behind.