Game ‘Firewatch’ explores isolation, tragedy in nature

Andrew Shermoen

Walking simulators are an interesting genre that have only recently appeared in gaming. These games generally feature very little gameplay, feeling more akin to an interactive film with exploration elements. They mainly exist to provide the player with a story.

The gameplay provided gives players the ability to walk through the crafted world and experience relationships in a more connected way due to their direct involvement in the story. Games that stand out in this genre include  “The Stanley Parable” and “SOMA.”

From gaming company Campo Santo, “Firewatch” follows the story of Henry. Shortly after a fallout in his marriage which we play through, Henry takes a job working in the Shoshone National Forest as a fire lookout shortly after the Yellowstone fires of 1988. The only person in the wilderness he has any contact with is his supervisor Delilah via radio for the duration of the summer.

The two of them form a friendship while talking over their walkie-talkies and help each other cope with the isolation and boredom. After Henry’s first day, his lookout tower is broken into and ransacked. As he explores the forest during the summer, he and Delilah begin to uncover a mystery: two girls camping in the forest vanished the same night Henry’s cabin was ransacked, and someone is spying on Delilah and Henry, recording their conversations, and they aren’t sure why.

All of the entertainment from “Firewatch” comes out of its well-crafted story, which tackles multiple themes and handles a really intriguing mystery filled with several twists.

Themes of alcoholism, infidelity, father and son relationships, humanity’s connection to nature, mental illness and the difficulties of marriage are all present in “Firewatch’s” brilliant, multi-faceted mystery.

These themes and the game’s opinions on these themes all land perfectly thanks to the amazing voice-acting from Sommer and Jones. The dialogue between the two is filled with heart-wrenching emotion, perfectly conveying shock, anger, sadness, heartbreak and disappointment with no facial animations to help drive home their opinions.

While the mystery is engaging and, at times, very shocking, it doesn’t land perfectly. The reveal at the end of the game is a good ending in retrospect, but it doesn’t seem to match the general progression of the two main characters’ assumptions. The ending will leave the player scratching his or her head, wondering where the journey was going in the first place. Yet, this isn’t a quip because the ending being smaller than the original conspiracy is somewhat profound, and the reveal doesn’t make the journey any less exciting or intriguing.

The gameplay is lacking, but games have evolved to incorporate hundreds of genres. Is the game very close to an interactive film? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less thought-provoking or fun to play. The only real concern I have is that the price point of the game will not justify its short length. In my opinion, I got what I paid for, but many gamers might be upset with the cost of the game. Although, gamers being upset with game cost is not anything new.

Rating: 4/5 stars