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Firewatch

Developer: Campo Santo Publishers: PanicCampo Santo
09 February 2016
Firewatch - cover art
Glitchwave rating
3.54 / 5.0
0.5
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867 Ratings / 8 Reviews
#867 All-time
#34 for 2016
Set in the late 80s at the Shoshone National Forest, shortly after the Yellowstone Fires, the story features a fire lookout named Henry and his attempt to investigate mysterious occurrences in the forest by communicating with his supervisor Delilah through a walkie-talkie.
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Attempting to escape his messy life, a middle-aged man named Henry takes up a job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. His supervisor, Delilah, is his only contact with the outside world. But when something draws him out of his lookout tower, he will have to investigate mysterious events.
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Title
Apologies for sailing straight into Hot Take territory immediately, but Firewatch begins with a brief text-only, quasi-choose your own adventure segment that sets up the life and history of Henry, the game's protagonist. It takes you through meeting your wife in a bar, getting a dog, agreeing to have kids, having arguments over her late nights and over her taking a job in another state, before she succumbs to early onset dementia at the age of 41 and you're forced into deciding whether or not to put her into a 24-hour care home. The subsequent fallout, both of your wife's family hating you and your wife gradually forgetting who you even are, leads Henry to take a job as a fire ranger in Shoshone National Park, which is where the game proper takes place. Honestly, I think that introduction is the best part of the entire game.

The problem, really, is that it feels like it's setting up a game that's more involving, moving, and interesting than it actually is. These are bold themes being slapped on the table right from the off, and aside from the abstract idea that the sheer emptiness of the Shoshone wilderness is reflecting Henry's desolation and loneliness (which is something you could say about every game I've played in this genre), it never really touches on any of them. Henry spends the game talking via radio to an unseen woman named Delilah, and the conversations they have about Henry's wife are weirdly disconnected to the entire experience; instead, the game, which decades of absorbing traditional storytelling have taught us all is obviously going to lead to some great revelation about Henry, his wife, or Delilah.....doesn't. They all end up being basically incidental to the plot.

I suppose it's brave for the story to cut away from all expectations and go for a mystery that's totally unconnected to Henry, but it can't help but all feel like a bit of an anti-climax, especially at its conclusion - the people who are central to the story aren't even really mentioned all that much before all the pieces fall into place, and my first thought on reaching the ending was 'is that it?'. I mean, I typically like endings that leave more questions than answers, but for that to work on me, I have to actually care about the characters involved first. I found myself caring about Henry and his wife, and Delilah to an extent, but there just isn't enough of the characters that the plot ends up centreing on for me to be invested in what happens to them. This is probably the most illuminating thing about the comparison between Firewatch and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, the game I'm most compelled to compare it to; Everybody's Gone to the Rapture also sets up a couple as the main attraction and then diverts attention from them onto others, but does it much more artfully and at much greater length, and is all the better for it.

I don't want to be exclusively negative though - there's a lot to like here. There's some pretty nice moments in the story that build up the tension and mystery nicely; the very first thing you do is investigate some fireworks going off in the distance, only to discover that two girls skinny-dipping that promptly call you a pervert and then just as promptly disappear, leaving you the last person to see them alive and potentially a murder suspect. The dialogue between Henry and Delilah has a very high standard of both writing and voice acting throughout - this isn't particularly surprising, since it does all the heavy lifting in terms of world-building and plot explication, but it's undeniably a major positive nonetheless. There's also the Shoshone itself, which is very pretty in places - and although it feels like a bit of a chore to move around it at first, with so many paths blocked by trees and mountains (fair enough) and the kind of ledges that an able-bodied person should really be able to climb without too much trouble (not so fair enough), by the middle of the game I was finding myself really enjoying the truly navigational approach to it, constantly referring to the compass and map to mark out trails and detours I could take.

I enjoyed the time I spent on Firewatch, ultimately. I just don't think I'll remember much of it in a year's time, and given how much that intro sequence sucked me in, that rankles a little bit.
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Iai 2016-12-23T14:07:00Z
2016-12-23T14:07:00Z
3
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Title
I Cried During the Prologue. The Prologue. Like, the Very Beginning.
Firewatch is not quite a game, per se. It's a game, yeah, but it's not a game-game. There are no puzzles, there isn't really much challenge, and you can play the whole thing in a day or two. What it is is a testament to the concept of interactive storytelling, much in a way that begs for the participant in the piece to take direct control of the subject. And the result is something beautiful, compelling, and, in the end, quite simple.

You're Henry, a man who has taken a job under the forest service to hang out in a watchtower in an area nearish (?) Yosemite called Two Forks. You're not here just because you like nature and isolation; you're here because something tragic is happening to your wife and you don't know how to deal with it.

Yeah. It's one of those. I cried during the prologue. The 90% text-only prologue.

Throughout the game your only friend and confidant is Delilah, another lookout, who you only know by her voice. Part of the story is getting to know her, and you getting to know yourself through her getting to know you. If that sentence makes any sense whatsoever. What transpires in your area of Two Forks is something I won't even put in spoilers, but I can say that it is compelling, frightening, sad, and fascinating what you discover. Not only in your immediate surroundings, but in Henry and Delilah's lives.

The gameplay is almost purely of the immersive/pseudo-realistic bent. I say 'pseudo' because you're not delving into the fine movements of, say, rappelling down a rock face. This isn't QWOP: National Forest. This isn't even like that one moment in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 when you use one trigger to use one arm, and the other for your other arm, while climbing a rock. It's joystick movement and pressing A. Or X. Whatever. But an example of the realism is that you don't have a heads-up display. If you want to look at your map, you press the button to bring up your actual paper map in Henry's hand, and you have to move around the map like you're studying it with human eyes. Couple that with your compass, and maybe you'll head in the right direction.

Which brings me to the main drawback of the game: the linear tendencies of the map itself. Part of what made Red Dead Redemption and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim so immersive was the fact that you could go anywhere while hunting for stuff. You could get lost. Irreparably lost, sometimes. With Firewatch, the only way you get lost is if you take the wrong path, as opposed to heading in the wrong direction. For something dependent on organically figuring out where you need to go, I would have loved to have been able to cross vast meadows and climb over hills and stuff.

But I can see how that would have hurt the way the story unfolded. So I guess I'm on the fence about that.

I was also quite impressed with the voice-acting of Rich Somner (Henry) and Cissy Jones (Delilah). Their reads were very natural and very emotional. Everyone knows that voice-acting, even in the best games, can be spotty. Even when the voice-acting is pretty good, à la Far Cry 3, you can still get tired of it. This is not one of those times. I also love that these characters play with each other in less-tense moments, like they're humans or something. Weird, I know.

As mentioned, the story goes by quickly. I spread it out over three days, but if I didn't want to do my laundry or go be social or whatever, I could have hammered it out in one sitting. This, almost more than the gameplay style, lends itself to the interactive storytelling bit. It's like living a very stylized film of which you are an invariably necessary part. Also, I think if the game had another hour or two to it, I might have tired of it. A perfect length.

So if you like a good story, a beautiful environment, old-fashioned navigation, and some serious feels, definitely give this a go. And keep the developers on your radar. I have a feeling that they're going to put out some good stuff in the future.
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Strawhenge 2016-04-06T17:59:20Z
2016-04-06T17:59:20Z
4.0
2
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Before delivering on any of its digital impressionist vistas, Firewatch throws us into a black screen where we get to choose how we fail our loved one. We can only fail them, however hard we try, and that is our introduction to the game. It's a brief section, but it sets player expectations for narrative decision making in Firewatch, and demonstrates how even the smallest piece of player agency can make for something emotively charged when done well. As with Telltale's The Walking Dead it's not about mechanical branches, but about the player participating in the drama, providing the human angle to the game's events. As blockbuster games become more elaborate with the way they deal with cause and effect, indie games isolate moments of reflection, forcing the player to consider their own values as they work through what's happening on screen. Kentucky Route Zero does this with free association such that the player begins unconsciously drawing out their own fears and anxieties, but in Firewatch we simply participate in constructing Henry's bullshit. He's doing the wrong thing, reasonably or unreasonably, and when called out he's unlikely to tell the truth, because he himself has lost his mooring. Whatever we say is the right thing, because anything we could say would be wrong.

Firewatch has received widespread praise for its visual style, and for good reason. Where similarly expressive works such as Inside and Shelter are so commanding in their style that the player can only act in accordance with their logic, Firewatch holds back for an openness that makes it feel conventionally navigable. Its colour palettes draw on the jarring experiments of Proteus but its forms and textures are staunchly mimetic, and its pastel finish draws it back into stylisation compared to contemporary The Witness. This last point is critical, as the diffused colours and light effects make the game feel like an echo; like it's happening in past tense. Whatever narrative reason frames the game, there is a wistful quality to Firewatch that brings with it a knowing melancholy that this is all a fabricated memory. Even when outside influences threaten this rose-tinted utopia, when the developers employ cinematic ellipsis to have the world of Firewatch step down in favour of character-centric drama, the player feels it calling back through time. The parallel here to Henry is obvious, as he clearly needs to get back to the responsibilities of his life outside of Firewatch, but as the mysteries of the game grow more pronounced and even dictate our engagement in the dream-environment, the player's affective link to it is broken in favour of someone else's enacted drama. Prince Avalanche, another work in the wake of the Yellowstone fires of 1988, better handled this temporal unease, allowing the viewer to wander around Alvin and Lance's narrative instead of being chained to it. The story in Firewatch is good in the sense that it's well paced and often frightening, but a stronger work would have been made if it had been pushed into the background, allowing us to become one with the environment, and with loss itself.

There is the sense that Campo Santo are well aware of this, and opt for a balance between the much derided 'walking simulator' and a more obvious narrative compulsion to satisfy all potential parties. Rather than feeling lost, we come to watch someone else being lost, and the most compelling embodiment of isolation (the environment) becomes the stage for dialogue-driven storytelling about precisely this. I'd opt for an inverse balance of narratological and ludic components (in order to enhance the emotional significance of both), but can't begrudge how well the developer goes in the opposite direction. The dialogue is perfect, the performances uniformly tender when tender counts and guarded when it doesn't, the map circular enough for linear storytelling. The story is a con, the conclusion invariably a betrayal, but where the game's scripted 'moments' and role-plays subside are the small instances of individual panic and satisfaction that the player takes with them into the day, the week, the month. I can't wait to see what Campo Santo will do without feeling the need to compromise.
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On the first glance Firewatch is just a walking simulator (pretty good walking simulator), but it tries to be much more than just that. It tries to be a story about loneliness, about escapism and inability to escape from problems. I used the world "tries" intentionally, because although it doesn't fail miserably in that regard I wouldn't say that it achieves a full success.

The protagonist of the game is Henry, a guy who fell in love with a woman named Julia and later married her. It's important to note that the player learns all of that from the texts displayed before the start of the actual game and although he can influence the story a little, because the game gives him a few choices, they don't matter much. But it's worth mentioning that they are changing a future story of the game a little bit. Anyway, no matter what player chose, Julia always got Alzheimer Disease and Henry decided to leave her in care of other people, while he's going to work as a person responsible for detecting fires in forest.

Seems like a nice place to get away from life for a life, right? Well, it seems so, but of course it won't be a normal, peaceful summer. What I like about Firewatch is the way it's trying to deceive the player by using cliches known to him from other games and suggesting to him that way that there is more to the story than it really is. It's a nice idea, although I think it could've be done much better, but I like it anyway.

What I don't like is how the relationship between main protagonist and Delilah, the other guardian and the only person with whom Henry is really talking, plays out. No matter what dialogue choices would player made (even if he'd basically tell her to fuck off, she is rather intrusive and pushy with her questions), Henry would later flirt with her anyway. It's annoying, because I didn't like her even a little bit and I don't think that she is a trustworthy person. But for some reason, he trusts her, and doesn't even consider that maybe she isn't telling him the whole truth.

Also, the game is short and ends quickly. You could argue that it is long enough for Henry to decide to start from scratch (or to come back to Julia) to realize that he still have some time to live, but I don't think so. Especially that storywise the ending seems abrupt and it's rather unconvincing, it doesn't ruin the game, but it's hard to shake a feeling that if it would be two hours longer it could be much better. Shame, so many wasted potential, unfortunately it is not worth to play Firewatch a second time
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iamnotabackpacker 2018-10-24T21:17:35Z
2018-10-24T21:17:35Z
3.0
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A walk down the forest
Visually its a downright beautiful game, mashing cartoony graphics with the orange sunsets of Wyoming. Its by far the strongest point of the game, and since it is pretty much a walking simulator i would say thats a good thing.

The voice acting is excellent as well, and so is the story told even if it drops by the end. The dialogue is genuinely funny, and reacts to the choices you make pretty well. Im disappointed that it goes more in the route of illusion of choice than actual choice, but i also understand that thats not the focus of the game.

Its 3 hours of beautiful hikes throughout the mountain and conversations with a woman through an aged walkie talkie. Its a great experience if you only want that out of it.
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Threntall 2016-12-30T14:33:28Z
2016-12-30T14:33:28Z
4.0
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Throughout my time in Firewatch, which was on the brief side at just under five hours, I frequently swung between being captivated with Firewatch's world, and utterly frustrated with its limitations. Let's just say I am much more of a sandbox or emergent gameplay type of player. I love a good story as much as anyone else, but I like to feel like I'm writing the story myself. In Firewatch, the story is written for you. This is what you do now, this is where you go next, this is what you do after that. You can mildly tweak the story here and there with dialog options, but the majority of the game has you hiking across the woods just to trigger next plot point. There's nothing to solve and there are no setbacks, it's much closer to an interactive story than a traditional adventure game.

So, the story. It's really all over the map in both good and bad ways. Melancholy, mysterious, flirty, sad, frightened; but in the end, lacking. At first I was I was deeply saddened by the backstory and setup, then amused by my flirtatious, chatty boss, intrigued by the mysterious goings on, but ultimately disappointed with the modest and borderline nonsensical ending. I know this is the game's point, we create elaborate stories out of the mundane all the time, but this is a bit of a bullshit premise when you're inserting big, juicy red herrings into your story that never got an explanation and make no sense once it's all over. If you cut the power to someone's house then make noises outside of their window, it's a bit preposterous to say you're just commenting on the human condition of paranoia. You're not commenting on it, you're causing it.

Firewatch is captivating and flawed, and worth the time if you're looking for an evocative experience. Just don't expect a masterpiece.
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VALIS666 2016-08-12T07:56:14Z
2016-08-12T07:56:14Z
3.5
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lmaobox Firewatch 2022-08-12T18:21:57Z
2022-08-12T18:21:57Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Slight86 Firewatch 2022-08-11T20:42:12Z
2022-08-11T20:42:12Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
IdiotWhoLikesProg Firewatch 2022-08-11T06:01:41Z
2022-08-11T06:01:41Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Brandon657 Firewatch 2022-08-10T13:36:51Z
2022-08-10T13:36:51Z
2.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
MagnusTheDead Firewatch 2022-08-10T11:57:35Z
2022-08-10T11:57:35Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Hesick Firewatch 2022-08-09T11:16:20Z
2022-08-09T11:16:20Z
3.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
wasteyard Firewatch 2022-08-09T02:22:17Z
2022-08-09T02:22:17Z
2.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
bennyjmusic Firewatch 2022-08-08T15:17:41Z
2022-08-08T15:17:41Z
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
docbiz Firewatch 2022-08-07T22:34:22Z
2022-08-07T22:34:22Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Brock5575 Firewatch 2022-08-07T15:15:56Z
2022-08-07T15:15:56Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
jollermcawesome Firewatch 2022-08-06T02:26:43Z
2022-08-06T02:26:43Z
8
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Kacperr Firewatch 2022-08-05T13:50:57Z
Xbox One
2022-08-05T13:50:57Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Player modes
Single-player
Media
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  • Previous comments (6) Loading...
  • Jorgetime 2021-07-03 18:40:14.290802+00
    The beginning and middle of the game are so good but then the game is ruined by the rushed and unsatisfying ending.
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  • Pumas 2021-07-13 23:32:08.822883+00
    gonna have to agree with what seems like the majority here, the game has a strong beginning and middle, but the ending is a letdown. It isn't horrible and I think I get what they were going for but personally, I'm not a fan of a story promising so much just to renege on that promise. It almost feels like a "gotcha" moment, like, "oh you thought there was some deep grand narrative here that would reward your curiosity and emotional investment with a satisfying conclusion? what an idiot lol life is tough"
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  • alliterativeAlpinist 2021-08-16 00:09:23.108193+00
    Felt very similar to Gone Home because of the realistic premise bait and switch but ended up much more deflating for that reason
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    • alliterativeAlpinist 2021-08-16 00:15:57.154396+00
      "Of course there were no ghosts, I went along with some kids' overactive imagination" hits way different than "the crazy guy ruined everything because crazy and now I have nothing left but to confront reality", IMO not in a good way
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  • Awesomov 2022-01-12 00:16:01.240478+00
    I actually disagree with the majority on this one in that the beginning was pretty awful (wouldn't call it problematic, but I didn't like the writing either way), and the ending was fine. Still not a good game, not nearly worth its acclaim.
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  • TheSaltman 2022-03-26 21:19:24.895431+00
    I wasn't crazy about the early "emotional moment" monologue but got invested in the decent writing and quality voice acting. Needless to say, the "gotcha" ending was such a massive disappointment, as was the effort put by the devs to make me care about certain characters without ever really showing them.
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  • vctor 2022-04-15 23:12:23.218722+00
    I love this game so much, it reminds me a lot of outer wilds, like the art design
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  • DavidthePearce 2022-07-13 22:23:41.934228+00
    That early to middle part where it was just mundane conversation and relaxed walking around a forest, gradually learning the layout and doing little chores, that hit just right. I would have much rather the game not develop a plot at all.
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