Genre: Adventure
Year: 2016
Developed by: Campo Santo
Published by: Panic
Platforms: PC, OS X, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Feeling Like: Regarding Henry

I know Firewatch isn’t supposed to be scary.

Maybe it’s the fact that the protagonist’s name is Henry, or that the premise is camping alone in the woods FOR AN ENTIRE SUMMER, or the lack of sunscreen, or the possible conspiracy surrounding your lonely shack in the forests of Wyoming. Whatever it was, it got to me, more than a few times.

I really dug it.

There isn’t a good genre categorization for this kind of game. Wikipedia lists it as “Adventure” but that always seemed dumb to me – aren’t all games an adventure? The term “Walking Simulator” is thrown around, but it seems slightly derogatory. It’s not a point and click, it’s not a first person shooter, though I suppose Firewatch has elements of an adventure, walking simulation, pointing and clicking and a first person viewpoint. Classification can be tricky.

Regardless of what it is, and what it isn’t, Firewatch resonated with me enough to keep me very interested in the story and startled me on a few occasions.

At times, Firewatch is stunningly beautiful (and made me want to go on a hike)

You play as Henry, though you never see him. I like that. It’s not important what he looks like anyway, but you do know he’s avoiding some difficult family issues and signs up to be a fire watch in Yellowstone. This was an actual thing, implemented after a massive fire in 1988. I love when games incorporate real life history; I like learning, and I had no idea that had occurred. Plus, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this setting/scenario in a video game before. Awesome.

I began to feel just like Henry (moreso than usual) – a bit alone, a bit isolated, a bit threatened. The park is gorgeous during the daytime, but at night primal fears began to take over. What was that sound? I thought nobody else was around here? Where did those teenagers go? Am I just going crazy?

Delilah, your boss, provides conversation, context of the park and your only real link to another human being. She’s funny. I loved the dialogue between the two. It felt very realistic, not video game-y in the least. The banter they had was charming, and I was often relieved to hear her voice and panicked when I failed to contact her. The voice acting was sublime, kudos to Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer – they both knock it out of the park.

And what a park it is

Most of the game is just exploring the wilderness and unraveling a few mysteries. Delilah telling you that she could see somebody in your tower was genuinely creepy. There were a few times I SWEAR I heard somebody trying to sneak up on me. It’s not typically that kind of game…but that still didn’t stop me from getting freaked out. I really, really hated being outside of the tower and prayed that my next actions would lead me back home, not forward into the unknown or the dark.

The story is small in scale; no saving the world here, but going through Henry’s feelings of the life he abandoned, learning about Delilah and rummaging through maps and boxes was enough for me. I don’t think the story needed to be bigger than it was, though those wanting a more epic tale and a “real” conclusion may have been left wanting.

It’s a curious, small game that amounts to more than the sum of its parts. It’s a shame that Campo Santo, the developer of Firewatch, is essentially delegated to doing Valve’s bidding, instead of their own thing. I’m never a fan of small developers getting swallowed by bigger fish in the industry. Anytime it happens, I feel like it’s less likely we get a game like Firewatch.

I love the orange haze here. The lighting really beautifies your home.

It’s probably not going to blow you away, but it’s worth a jaunt surely. The writing and quieter moments are truly beautiful, and there are enough exciting story beats to warrant a playthrough.

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