Virtual tramping in Firewatch
Narrative adventure, Firewatch, joins the likes of Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Gone Home and Dear Ester in providing a relatively passive gaming experience with a profound story.
I warn you now, like its peers, Firewatch isn’t going to be for everyone.
Termed walking simulators by their critics these new ways of interactive story-telling aren’t really games in the strictest sense, even though they still use many of the same principles that keep us hooked drive us forward whilst playing.
With its unique design style and intriguing story, Firewatch does offer players something refreshingly different.
Set in 1989, you play Henry, a man with a sad past- as explained in the opening text-only sequence. Wishing to escape it all, he takes a job as a fire warden in the Wyoming wilderness. Stationed in a remote watchtower with only his thoughts and the radio voice of his nearest neighbour, Delilah- a fellow warden in the watchtower visible on the horizon to the north. The two on the them discuss their lives, forming a cute, but isolated relationship.
When Henry goes to investigate a couple of teenaged girls letting off fireworks from the lake, things take a sudden and macabre turn. As the forest is threatened by the season’s first fire, the two wardens unravel a mystery that deepens as the wilderness is explored.
It’s very difficult to elaborate on a story in a game that is pretty much 100% the narrative without spoiling things. For about six hours the Firewatch kept me riveted with a tale that wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
The player’s interactions with the game, are minimal compared to a regular game, but more than just walking about. You need to navigate Henry from A to B, orienteering through the forest using a map and a compass. There are rocks to climb and ravines to cross and descend. There’s no puzzles as such and never any real pressure.
The other gameplay element, and the one that propels the game’s story is choosing the dialogue options during radio conversations with Delilah. Different dialogue choices will affect the relationship between Henry and Delilah. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is enough to draw you into their lives and game’s story.
The graphics are based on a painting by the English artist Olly Moss- famous for his reimagining of old movie posters. Moss got his inspiration from the classic US National Park posters from the 1930s. The result is a game with a unique and very beautiful artistic style that doesn’t have to worry about being photo-realistic.
The game features a day/night circle that allows players to experience some awesome-looking sunsets. Part way through the game it provides you with a camera which players can use to capture mementos of the game graphics. When the game finishes the photos can be viewed online.
Firewatch is a game that I played through in one sitting. I really couldn’t put it down. The setting and the visuals complemented the experience. Having thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, I can’t say that I have any great desire to go through it again, which is the downside to these finely-honed narrative adventure games. Maybe in a few years I’ll return, but unless you’ve the memory of a goldfish, there’s no immediate replay value to be had.
Firewatch is a great-looking game with a very intriguing story. The lack of any real gameplay is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But as an interactive adventure story, it really achieves what I believe the developers set out to do. Certainly worth a look if you want to try something different.