Firewatch: A Kind-of Review

I’ll start this by saying I’m pretty prone to obsession. I was into binge-watching before it was cool, way back when you had to get up every few hours to switch to the next DVD. My house is littered with hundreds (possibly thousands – I’m honestly too horrified to ever try to get an accurate count) of dollars in half-finished craft projects and hobbies that I was convinced were going to be my next career. When I find something I love, I will spend hours looking into its history and creation and anything even remotely related to the thing.

Which brings us to my newest obsession: Firewatch.

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Hands-down, the best game I’ve played so far in 2016. I can say pretty confidently it might stay my favorite game through the rest of 2016. I love it with a fiery (ba-dum tiss) passion.

I don’t know if this technically counts as a review, since I’m probably going to end up just bouncing back and forth between the different aspects of the game, and how cool they were. I’m all jazzed up, and it’s all I can think to do.

Firewatch is a strange game, in that, stripped down to the most basic description possible, it’s about wandering around a forest and talking on a walkie-talkie. There’s a central mystery, sure, but honestly…it doesn’t matter what Firewatch is about. That’s just setting – the paint on a house.

The foundation, and Firewatch’s true strength, is in its characters.

There are two of them: the main character, Henry, the character you play as; and Delilah, his boss for the summer, a functioning alcoholic with a sailor’s mouth and my favorite brand of sarcasm. I love Delilah shamelessly.

As Henry, at his new summer job watching for forest fires in a remote national park, you explore the forest, deal with problems, and – most importantly – talk to Delilah. Because, really, the game is all about their relationship: how they interact, how they deal with problems, how they grow closer together or farther apart. Firewatch is the story of two people and the ways they deal with their problems.

But the best part? The part that makes me all giddy with excitement?

There’s an almost choose-your-own-adventure aspect to the game, in that you get to choose from a few different dialogue options when you talk to Delilah.

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Most of the options are pretty sassy in some way, but you can be downright dickish and that’s still a totally valid play-style. You can also, apparently, choose to talk to her only when absolutely necessary and still finish the game, but that sounds like a horrible choice, because the magic is in the talking.

More dialogue options open up depending on what you choose to say, dialogue choices affect future dialogue and reactions, and some strings of dialogue open up conversations that are only available by choosing a specific string of responses.

But the even bester part?

The whole game is fully vocalized, each dialogue option voiced and expanded on, and there’s dialogue for every possible event. I intentionally did something downright stupid in one of my playthroughs, just to try to catch the game off guard – but, nope, Delilah was right there to call me an idiot. It was magical.

The voice actors are phenomenal, really making these two characters come to life, and I’m sure a lot of my love for this game rests on their shoulders.

But just as much of it is due to the thought that had to go into the storytelling to even make this game possible.

The writers had to sit down and think of every possible choice a player could make, map out all the ways future interactions would be affected by one choice, all the choices that could sprout from one throw-away piece of dialogue…and they had to think of every possible stupid thing players could do, to be one step ahead of all the smug bastards like me. And they did it so well. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around all the layers involved in writing this game, and that makes me both angry and ridiculously jealous.

And also? LOOK HOW PRETTY.

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I bought this game about a week ago, and I’ve played it through a few times already (don’t you judge me). A full play-through probably takes 5 hours, max, and that’s part of the reason – the replayability being the other. Sure, the main plot points are the same each time, but like I said earlier – this game isn’t about what it’s about. It’s about the journey, and in that way, it’s a different game every time.

My first time playing, adrenaline carried me through to the end in one sitting, staying up so much later than I should have and then having trouble falling asleep because I just couldn’t get the game off my mind.

I did have a complaint at the end of my first playthrough – after all the tension and intensity building up, the ending felt a little…meh. But I’d been rushing from plot point to plot point, my heart hammering and my mind racing, and I hadn’t stopped to explore. The ending felt a bit like a popped balloon.

My other playthroughs have been more intentional – looking for all the wonderful things there are to discover with a little extra looking, savoring the new interactions with Delilah, reading every single note instead of skimming, really diving into the world. And the ending – it fits now, and is absolutely earned.

That’s probably enough burbling. Firewatch rating: A+, 10/10, twenty stars, ten cramped fingers.

In conclusion, go get this game.

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