Simply put, it plays like a book. A book with gorgeous visuals, and in which you play one of the main parts. You really don’t need any “gamer” skills–there’s no button mashing, no combat, no crafting, nothing really “traditional” in the gameplay mechanics of Firewatch. It’s part of a genre labeled “walking simulators” because, to be honest, a lot of the mechanics of the game revolve around going from place to place, talking, and picking up stuff. Sound boring? Far from it.
Firewatch is a first-person story-driven game set in 1989 in the forests of Wyoming. You play as Henry, a middle aged guy who has some really painful stuff in his life–real, heartfelt pain. I won’t spoil the introduction for you, but it’s a masterfully choice-driven component of the game that really makes you invest in Henry as a person.
As a way of escape from his life, Henry takes a summer job as a fire lookout in Wyoming, where his only human contact is a women named Delilah, his boss, to whom he talks through a handheld radio. The tale quickly dives into a gripping mystery, but its true beauty lies in the conversations between Henry and Delilah (honestly, it really says a lot about a game when the left and right triggers on the controller are mapped to the radio/dialogue control). Delilah frequently chats with you, and you, as Henry, can radio Delilah over a myriad of large and small things, and the branching dialogue gives you satisfying control over how Henry approaches those verbal encounters. The writing is spot-on, the voice acting is perfect, and the interactions feel so genuine and real. It’s an emotionally refreshing experience, because unlike many female game protagonists, Delilah, even as a disembodied voice, feels like a real person, with agency and depth (similar to Ellie from The Last of Us).
Firewatch contains M-rated content (primarily in the form of strong language from the two protagonists), but it is truly a mature game in the best possible sense–that is, emotionally. It’s a game about messed up humans, loss, love, loneliness, and responsibility, and it deals deftly with those themes.
Some people were disappointed by the resolution of the mystery and the end of the game, but frankly? They were actually pretty much perfect. The ending hurt. It really did. But it felt right. It fit.
Aside from the brilliance of its story, dialogue, and voice-acting, it’s a distinctly beautiful game with rich, stylized landscapes to explore, and a simple yet exquisitely beautiful soundtrack.
So if you’re in the mood for a deep, beautiful, heartfelt journey–whether you’re a gamer or not–I’d highly recommend picking up this game, particularly while it’s on sale. It clocks in at about four hours, so is certainly on the shorter side for its price, but the developers nailed the timing and it’s worth every cent.