Following the popular trend of narrative driven non-combat style games, Firewatch might come off as an unassuming addition to the ever more crowded indie scene. While Firewatch is by no means treading new ground, it is an excellent showing of refinement and stellar storytelling. If you can find your way past the asking price, Firewatch is one of the most polished and delightfully engaging indie games, well, ever.
Much as is the case with this style of game, actual gameplay is a tad limited. Much of Firewatch is indeed walking from point A to point B, taking in the sights and such, occasionally diverting to point C. What is refreshing, is that Firewatch doesn’t give you a big arrow pointing to your next location or a shiny path to follow. No, you’ll have to rough it with your trusty map and compass, figuring out your own way. It is a nice change of pace and is far more enjoyable than is it gimmicky. You’ll also make good use of your radio, used to communicate with Delilah, your sarcastic boss. She can not only give insight on how to get where you need to be, but also the things you see and find in the world.
Story and Modes:
You’ll play as Henry, a fire lookout new to Shoshone National Forest. You’ll have the opportunity to establish a bit of your own backstory as to what brought him there through a series of questions, but the general idea is that Henry is trying to get away from the struggles of his life, mostly the fact that has wife is suffering from early dementia. The job is simple enough, but things start to take a turn for the worse and Henry quickly find himself in way over his head. Suffice it to say the job becomes more complicated than watching for fires, if only it were so easy. The story is paced well with no single day overstaying its welcome, though the last day comes off as a tad rushed with the ultimate resolution falling flat and leaving little in the way of payoff.
Visuals and Sound:
Henry and Delilah are brimming with personality and that point is driven home by outstanding voice work. Every sassy line is delivered with the utmost precision and never feels forced. Conversations are natural and all the more gripping for it. You’ll want to take advantage of every dialogue option just to enjoy the banter a few moments longer. The visuals and music are equal parts beautiful and subdued. Colors do the talking as the Shoshone is vibrant and bright, and the sunset is divine. The style itself is more realistic than cartoony, but certainly doesn’t make it a technical powerhouse. Music is used sparingly and to punctuate moments such as entering a new area or making a startling discovery. Firewatch also understands the art of silence, making for quite a bit of tension when the player should know they aren’t in any real danger, being a non-combat game.
Firewatch doesn’t feel unique because it is doing something different; it feels unique because it does so many familiar things so well. To be honest, little about Firewatch feels indie, which in itself is quite the feat. The Shoshone is an excellent setting and it’s all the more pleasant to be in a forest and not be running from Slender Man and the like. The narrative is far more involving than most similar games, thanks again to the excellent characters, and is a better ending away from being best of its class.
Value is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to judge when it comes to indie game. As a whole, the games are getting better, the prices are going up, but the length seems to be staying the same. Clocking in at around three hours, Firewatch is actually one of the longer games of its kind, but at $20 it’s not hard to look back and wonder if you could have gotten more for your money. Ultimately, Firewatch is well worth playing through, even if it isn’t a game you’ll likely come back to.