We live in an interesting age for gaming. I remember reading a comment from someone where they were lamenting video games nowadays, saying that all they are is interactive movies. They might be right. But if you’ve been reading my game reviews for a while, you know that I game for stories. All of you might lament the days of Contra and games that were all about challenge and didn’t feel the need to have a narrative. But that’s not me. That will never be me. There are times that I wish it was. But it’s not, so here I am. Firewatch is a game that tells a very emotional story where the choices you make affect not just how the story ends, but how it begins as well. Thanks to some absolutely amazing voice acting, and a great premise, you will have some major feels going on. Let’s talk about it.
As I said, you not only get to affect how it turns out, but also how it begins. This game tells the story of a man named Henry. While you get to shape the forces that got him there, the fact is that he has taken a job at a firewatch tower, which calls out when forest fires are happening. He’s trying to get away from his problems and clear his head. But all is not as it seems there. Not just because there’s a mystery, but because he finds another person who helps him come out of a dark shell he’s made for himself. Maybe, just maybe, this man can find his ability to live again.
The first thing to talk about is the fact that this game looks AMAZING! I am loving these games that allow you to have fantastic visuals with a very minimal approach. Eschewing the need for cutting edge visuals to just have something that looks and feels rustic and homey. Given the narrative and the tone of this game, the fact that it goes this route works. There are also the little visuals like these drawings that look really good. But when this environment wants to shine, it does. In every way possible. Not only does that just look nice, but there are some context-sensitive times that it helps the narrative too.
Next up there’s the music. I ADORE this soundtrack! It’s used sparingly, but when it is used, it sounds fantastic. You have the haunting strings that make you feel right at home in this wilderness. Each time it’s used, it accentuates the emotions of the story in such a fantastic way. Which makes me wonder if it would be so good outside of those moments. Never mind. It’s still amazing. Chris Remo clearly took some cues from the soundtrack to The Last of Us, which is just fine by me.
However, all of that is an aside. This entire game hinges on the voice acting and the relationship between Henry and the woman at another tower across from him named Delilah. These two not only are acted in a way that I haven’t seen since Life is Strange (albeit with infinitely-better dialogue. It’s the emotional energy I’m talking about), but have fantastic chemistry. Depending on what you say to each other, of course. Their relationship hinges on the conversation options you pick. It’s pretty great that way. I love these two characters. You wouldn’t think that playing as a middle-aged man in the woods would sound this good, but it does. Given the tragic circumstances that have Henry there, it makes how you interact with this person that much better.
But all that stuff is such an aside, for me. The thing that has truly stuck with me, throughout all of this, is the emotional energy in this story. It starts right off, letting you feel the weight of each decision you make. When you’re forming the narrative, the choices you make have real consequences. And I’m not gonna lie, in the opening bit, my stomach was all over the place. I was almost tearing up. Henry’s story is not a happy one, and I helped choose how unhappy it got. That’s a lot of weight to put into a story like this. But you know what, it was worth it. This game was so worth it. Going through the summer with these two characters gave me such an intense feeling. And since I didn’t find the conclusion I reached very good, I am eager to go back and see how else the story could have turned out.
This isn’t specifically a walking simulator. There is a lot of stuff you’ll end up doing, and lots of things to keep track of. Like a more complicated version of Gone Home? I know, you all just rolled your eyes. Maybe I have some hipster parts of me in denial. I hope not, since I despise hipsters, but I think there’s more to this story than that. Or maybe I’m just getting older. I don’t know. I’ve given you all I can. Now you have to choose for yourself.
8 out of 10