Like many of those with Steam accounts, the numerous gaming sales put on by those fine people at Value are sometimes rather hard to ignore. Indeed, even though my account was created in 2011, I’ve only played a fraction of the 153 games I have on there.
So, deciding to make in dent in these fine pieces of digital entertainment, I kicked off by playing, not a game about saving the world or fighting the forces of evil; but instead a game about a dude who takes long walks in the forest.
Christ, what am I doing?…
Set in the summer of 1989, Henry (Rich Sommer) decides to take a job as a fire lookout in Shoshane National Forest. While there he befriends a fellow lookout called Delilah (Cissy Jones), a person whom he can only communicate with through his walkie-talkie.
While at first the job seems rather mundane, Henry and Delilah are soon drawn into a frightening mystery that threatens to upturn both their lives.
It’s somewhat amazing how Campo Santo (the makers of Firewatch) have essentially taken a well worn genre (in this case the First-Person Shooter); and by merely removing the shooter part they have created a groundbreaking experience worthy of repeat playing.
In your role as a fire lookout, you get to traverse a gorgeous world based on the art of British artist Olly Moss. Bright, colourful and constantly inviting, the game is victorious in pushing you to explore every nook and cranny, hoping to uncover the game’s mysteries and secrets through its stellar art direction.
But since the game-play is relatively simple, Firewatch ultimately relies on the strength of its writing and voice actors. And in both these cases Campo Santo have succeeded overwhelmingly.
In the creation of Henry and Delilah, credited writers Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Olly Moss and Sean Vanaman birth a relationship that is both mature and complex. Through their excellent writing they create, not only the emotional bond you experience on-screen; but also the bond between you as a player and the character you play as.
But of course, such characters would be empty vessels without the powerful voice acting of Sommer and Jones. Never feeling forced or superficial, the humanised tone of both voices is a perfect gateway into the compelling mystery that lies at the heart of this story.
While there were minor technical issues, I do hold some disappointment in that, of the five main characters inhabiting the piece, the two females are the only ones not to be physically portrayed in any form. This does make sense to a certain extent considering the story-line, but I don’t think inserting a drawing or photo would have gone amiss.
But what truly fascinates me about Firewatch are not only the themes, but also the very human distresses and tragedies that lie at its centre. No monsters, no paranormal activities, no savage animals. Just fear and trepidation on the same level as a Hitchcock film.
And underlying that Hitchcockian experience is clearly the theme of escapism. In the same way that we in real life play videogames to escape from reality; the characters of Firewatch all desire that need for emotional freedom. Yes, they somewhat take it to extremes, but come the third act (and just like in real life), the pain of life always catches up with us in the end.
While not for everyone, in Firewatch I found a game that is not only a great experience by itself; but also one that stretches the boundaries of the genre to create a beauteous journey almost unrivaled in gaming history.