Firewatch (2016) – thoughts

Some directional spoilers in this post, discretion advised.

I finished Firewatch in a 3 play-sessions totalling about 4-5 hours over the course of two days 1. Overall I would say I enjoyed this experience, and thought it was worth the price of admission ($18 on Steam, after a 10% discount).

A few broad thoughts after letting the playthrough sink in a bit:

  • Strong production values – it’s certainly a beautiful game with strong art direction. Also great voice-acting from the two leads
  • It felt like a very cinematic experience. The opening sequence uses some strong narrative techniques (interactive fiction interlaced with some FPS tutorial elements at the same time…) to very quickly set the context for the character you are playing. The amount of content and emotional highs/lows in the opening reminds me of this Pixar favorite
  • Speaking of movies, this game also reminded me of The Sixth Sense (1999), as both heavily rely on a major twist in the final act that completes the experience in an unexpected way. Firewatch’s resolution may be unsatisfactory to gamers used to a lot more action/suspense in video-games, but feels thematically complete and is a nice little social commentary on the state of video-games and really blockbuster films as well (where gamers expect larger-than-life plots and fantastical narratives, just like the summer tentpole movies)
  • I say this game is thematically complete with its plot resolution, because ultimately this is a game about loneliness. The character you play, Henry, does not see another person’s face throughout the whole game – it’s at best silhouettes or someone with a big mask. And he’s in this wilderness setting because he wants to get away from some big life-issues. So the game’s plot, which some gamers see as a letdown, is actually very contemplative about a lonely person’s frame of mind as he goes “into the wild”
  • Finally, at a meta level, I personally hope to see more of this type of game, something that’s a creative mix of films/novels (with strong storytelling) and games, packaged in an experience that’s under 10 hours. I think there will be an audience for this kind of experience, as we have a generation that grew up with gaming (and wants to game more, but has less disposable time and perhaps a higher need for more sophisticated content)
  1. may have played faster if not for some motion sickness issues – I think turning head-bobbing off helped for me