I’m 2/5 of the way into Firewatch, and so far I have three thoughts.
First, I’m not sure I’ve figured out what my main objective is. Based on what I can tell, the story is a “cabin in the woods” style mystery in which there is a creepy person in the wilderness threatening the protagonist, who is more or less cut off from civilization. On top of that, there seems to be some sort of relationship developing between Henry, the player character, and Delilah, his supervisor who communicates with him via a walkie-talkie radio. I’m not sure if romancing Delilah is supposed to be a goal, but I get the feeling she’s just being friendly. I like her a lot, but I don’t want to sleep with her; I’d rather figure out who’s stalking around the national park and ransacking people’s stuff.
Second, this game is overly obsessed with light effects. For some reason, it can’t just be broad daylight when Henry is out and about. I spent what felt like most of the second day walking around at sunset, so everything was orange: the dirt was orange, the grass was orange, the underbrush was orange, and the path was orange too, meaning that I couldn’t see where I was supposed to go and had to consult the map every twenty paces or so. I get that light effects are cool, but I think it might have been better if the more intense variations were saved for later in the story, after the player has a better sense of the visually based functionality of the world of the game.
Third, people have been saying they finished this game in two hours, which I don’t understand. I haven’t been taking that much time to explore, and I’ve already put in a bit more than two hours. Based on my rate of progress, I’m estimating that it’s going to take me around five hours to make it all the way through. Granted, I’m not a skilled gamer, but I still don’t get how Firewatch could be finished in two hours, even if the player never leaves the beaten path and skips all the conversations with Delilah. I suppose you could do a speedrun on your first playthrough, but what would be the point? And why would you brag about the amount of time it takes to finish a game like this?
All that aside, I really dig the writing. Henry is a bit too Paul Giamatti for my taste, but it pleases me to no end that the game has a healthy sense of humor, especially given the nature of Henry’s backstory. My favorite part of the game so far are the two skinnydipping teenage girls, who are women after my own heart. The way that Delilah in particular reacts to their shenanigans suggests so much about her character, as if perhaps she was that sort of person herself not too long ago, and so she’s suffering from secondhand embarrassment. Far from coming off as misogynistic, that particular element of these first two chapters – Delilah’s cynicism – felt so real to me. Also, when Henry picks up one of the magazines at the girls’ ruined camp site on the evening of the second day, and the voice actor (Rich Sommer) says “I have entered the Teen Zone,” all the stars aligned and for that tiny shining moment the universe was perfect.
( Header image from Kotaku )