Firewatch – Days 78 and 79

Firewatch Start Screen

I can understand why so many people have been upset with the ending of this game. It’s harsh.

That being said, the closing conversations re-established my trust in the game devs. All the fetch quests and ill-considered cave diving and other macho bullshit were definitely avoidance. The three main characters begin as cowards, and I’m not entirely sure that the process of becoming more aware of consequences of their decisions does anything except cause them pain.

The near-constant orange lighting turns out to have served as foreshadowing for the endgame, when the forest catches on fire. This is an interesting backdrop to the theme of “running from something.” It seems easy to judge the characters, but their emotional weakness is juxtaposed against them running away from a literal fire, so it’s not as if you can blame them.

It turns out that Henry is 39, while Delilah is 43. I’m always getting down on teenage protagonists in video games, but what I keep forgetting is that adults don’t get happy endings. I feel like, once you reach a certain age, the best you can do is minimize defeat. I suppose this doesn’t gel with the gaming medium, in which the player expects to be able to make some sort of progress and receive a reward for success.

The ending of Firewatch forced me to confront my own cowardice, but it didn’t offer any solutions, just a vague sense that none of us are alone in being broken as we try to muddle through our lives as best as we can. Although hey, at least I managed to save a turtle from the forest fire (and I named it “Turt Reynolds”).

If I play this game again, I’m going to see what happens if Henry doesn’t tell Delilah about his wife Julia. I’d also like to try to figure out if the northwest quadrant of the map can be explored. I hear that there are raccoons somewhere in the game, and I want to try find them so that I can take tons of pictures of them.

I also skimmed through a walkthrough to see if I missed anything big (like, what’s going on with the two dudebro rangers who leave messages for each other in the supply caches?), and apparently you can have Henry sit in Delilah’s watchtower until the helicopter leaves without him. The credits start rolling automatically, so presumably he burns to death in the fire.

I’m not going to lie – this game hurts on a visceral level. It’s still a lot of fun to run around the woods and discover cool things, though, and in the end the joy of the experience of play more than balances the emotional pain of the story.

( Header image taken from Kyle McKenny’s review for the Swarthmore College Daily Gazette )

Firewatch – Days 76 and 77

Firewatch Henry in the Woods

Henry goes out fishing one day and finds a clipboard with detailed notes on the conversations he’s been having with Delilah. When he tries to return to his watchtower with the evidence that someone’s been spying on him, someone attacks him. Although Delilah doesn’t believe him at first, by the time she starts radioing around to other stations she’s so upset that no one takes her seriously. She ends up sending Henry to an area called Wapati Meadow, where someone has set up a chain-link fence for unknown purposes. Henry’s objective during this part of the game is to figure out how to get on the other side of the fence.

I started experiencing a bit of narroludic dissonance at this point. I mean, the fence is just a normal chain-link fence. It’s about eight feet tall; and, aside from a padlock on the gate, it’s completely unsecured. If Henry is the sort of dude who can sprint all the way up the stairs of his lookout tower, I don’t see how it would present a problem for him to just climb over the fence. Also, if he were to walk a few yards to the left of the gate, he could step over a three-foot rock formation and go around the edge of the fence. What he does instead is to hike south to the site of a controlled burn to ask a group of firefighters for help. They’re gone, but they’ve left a pulaski axe behind, which Henry uses to pry open the hinges of the gate.

This of course begs the question of why Henry didn’t have an axe at his station to begin with. The lack of anything he could use as a weapon could be a vital story clue, or it could just be the game devs fabricating a fetch quest for the player.

Ditto for the fence. One assumes that, if Henry really wanted to enter Wapati Meadow, he very easily could have. The fact that he doesn’t might indicate the fact that he doesn’t want to. He seems to be in denial about a number of things in his life, and he could be in a similar state of generalized denial concerning whatever’s going on around his watchtower. Henry’s employment with the firewatch service was an act of deliberate passivity, and it could be that he has no intention of being thrust into an active role now. It could be that he feels almost gratified that someone has been devoting so much attention to him and his friendship with Delilah, and that he unconsciously desires the situation to remain as it is. Or? It could just be the game devs fabricating a fetch quest for the player.

Once I started experiencing this dissonance, I started to worry about other things. Specifically, at this point in the game both Henry and Delilah make a series of very bad decisions. Is this supposed to demonstrate how psychologically damaged they both are, or how continued isolation impairs rational judgment? Or is it just the game devs fabricating fetch quests for the player?

Henry continues to move around during the early morning and the late afternoon, meaning that the dramatic light effects continue unabated. I was expecting something to change to signify a development in the story. Perhaps Henry would become more active at night, reflecting confusion or self-deception, or he would become more active during the day, reflecting increased clarity (or a false sense of increased clarity). But nope, everything is still all orange all the time.

Based on the PS4 Network trophies I’ve received, it seems I’m almost done with the game. I’m given to understand that people have been complaining about the ending, but hopefully it will shed some (bright orange) light on what’s been going on.

( Header image from the official Firewatch website )

Firewatch – Days 1 and 2

Firewatch Lookout Tower

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 )