Firewatch: No escape
Have you ever wanted to escape the troubles of your mundane existence? Chances are that we all have wanted to do so. Firewatch tackles this premise well, a bittersweet melodrama about escape and recognition of humanity’s flaws.
What started as a fairytale romance turns into a tragedy for Henry, who can only watch helplessly as his wife's early-onset dementia consumes her. Anxious to get away from this tragedy, Henry gets a job as a fire watchman for a national park over the summer. There, he forms a verbal relationship with his supervisor as both try to escape from their own lives. But no matter how hard the two try, life-like gravity has a habit of dragging reality back to our protagonists.
The need for escape, I would say, is the most prominent theme. Shoshone National Forest becomes something of a sanctuary, a means to escape from the character’s failures and problems, a means of becoming someone else. But much like any slice of heaven, it is a merely temporary solution, the fire (a metaphor for reality destroying the getaway) is always threatening our heroes with confronting their troubles and failures. The fire gradually strips away the quiet sanctuary and protection Henry and Delilah have for one another.
Forcing them to confront their past mistakes and be more honest with one another. Encroaching reality not only forages connection but also reminds us (the player) that we cannot escape our lives forever. It is also worth noting that the mystery is something of an anti-climax. We get spooky intrigue about government surveillance and a missing child but none of it is what it seems. Firewatch’s deliberately anti-climatic story delivers on the idea that sometimes the simplest explanation is often the correct one. Sometimes the world is just not that exciting.
Henry is your average guy, not partially fit or attractive but never the less full of heart and snark. He just wants to get away from his troubles and forget about his dementia ridden wife for a while. Before he was trapped in his house, looking after his wife. Shoshone National Forest comes to symbolize freedom from his otherwise suffocating existence. The freedom of movement and exploration as metaphors are stripped away as the fire of reality consumes the park. His freedom is fleeting, the presence of his wife is permanent, from the dreams he has of her to the picture he has of her next to his typewriter. A constant reminder of the real world that he has to return to. His urge to escape from the world is an impossible task.
At first glance, Delilah appears to have it all together. She is playful towards Henry if somewhat unprofessional. She likes drinking and fooling around with young men. Delilah also loves her job and grows to like Henry from a distance. But the two never meet physically, despite both parties wanting to. The relationship represents a point of wishful stability, the perfect relationship that in reality never will exist. They are two lonely people who force a connection that is only temporary and fleeting, a tragic what could have been.
Firewatch is a Walking Simulator at its heart and a perfectly okay one at that. The map is vast and filled with beautiful locations. Firewatch avoids the trap common in Walking Simulators by having the gameplay be more than just pressing W for 2 hours or having the gameplay be completely detracted from the story. You are involved in the story as it plays out as opposed to us exploring the aftermath of a much more interesting story plays out.
I would suggest that you turn off map indicators when you play Firewatch. Because with the map indicator there is very little challenge in getting from point A to point B. As a result there the game can be a little easy. Despite this, however, I love how the map is laid out, there is always something cool to find, some new mystery to solve, or another piece of dialogue to enjoy.
There isn't that much in terms of mechanics, you just walk through the map to the required location and interact with whatever needs to be used to progress. But yet the highly effective but simple act of having to traverse the environment over and over again, sometimes parkouring and sometimes climbing all make the world feel alive. There is a thrill to exploring, finding shortcuts, and climbing up tall revenues. I should maybe do that someday in real life!
Art style and Graphics:
Firewatch is a beautiful little game. The park is bright and colorful with lush fauna. The cartoonish art style leans a timeless quality to the game that so-called “Realistic” graphics would fail to offer. It melds with the theme of escape, that the park is slightly unreal, just a little fantastical before Henry has to leave.
Persistently low frame, stuttering sound (sound cuts whenever a new piece of dialogue starts) all make Firewatch a disappointment in optimization.
Firewatch is a very charming and melancholic tale that is hampered by bad optimization. As Walking Simulators go, it is one of the better ones, even if it does not reach the heights of What Remains of Edith Finch.
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