Firewatch came out a couple weeks ago and it is so so good. I played it for an hour or so every day before going to sleep until finishing it (so around 3–4 days) and it was genuinely like reading a good book, when you get absorbed and desperately don’t want to stop reading.
I want to address some of the criticism that has been thrown at it, namely the price vs “content” and the ending. First up the price. Many people have said they’re not buying it or are disappointed because of the time taken to complete it vs the £15 price tag it comes with. They argue that there isn’t enough content to justify the asking price. My main problem with this is that games as a whole are being devalued, especially in the pc market. Bundles and steam sales have visibly harmed games, to the point where I have found myself holding off from buying a game on launch because I can just “wait until it’s on sale”.
The entitlement that gamers hold, where they refuse to buy a game unless it’s very cheap is so so so damaging, not only to games companies but to game public perception as a whole. The cheaper games get, the less value is placed on them. Whilst, of course, I don’t want games to all cost £60, I feel like £15 is justified for Firewatch, because games should not be wholly judged on the time it takes to play them. Firewatch in particular feels like such a project of love and energy that it is completely justified in it’s price. Firewatch is so dense. It crams in details, jokes, conversation and quality in every corner it can possibly shove it in. The voice acting and art style in particular are beautiful. In fact, I think the developers sum it up perfectly in their response to the whole pricing debate:
“We all gave it our all, to make this weird thing, and we had no idea if it was any good to anybody else. All we could do, was try the damn hardest to make something we are honestly proud of. At the end, if this was a commercial failure, all we have got is what we have made. Nobody could take that away.”
Now, onto the story (Mild, mild story spoilers). Firewatch’s end is very very different to the one most people were expecting. It felt like Firewatch was leading up to some grandiose conspiracy against Henry and Delilah, that some secret society was recording their every move, framing them for things they didn’t do and plotting to kill them. In actual fact, things were much more mundane. I feel like this is the unsung powerful message of Firewatch. The end is so so subtle, that it is so easy to miss the point of it all.
Henry is someone that has run away from responsibility, coming to the forest in order to have a break. In some ways, Henry is not a very good partner. In an ideal situation he would be looking after his wife, dropping everything and sitting at her side. But instead he is out in the forest, climbing and rambling, semi flirting with Delilah. Henry is human. He is lonely, he has spent the last few months watching his loved one deteriorate into a state where she may not even recognise him. His life has been turned upside down and he has no clue of what to do. So he runs. He runs from his problems and ignores them.
Firewatch is about Henry’s journey in coming to terms with his problems and realising that in the end, he has to face them. Much like the ending, everyone eventually has to come face to face with their problems and realise that, most things in life aren’t about you. Henry and Delilah are lonely and, Henry especially, slightly mentally unstable. Coming up with a story, an adventure about someone out to get them helps them continue to ignore the real world, slowly growing deeper into their own fantasy, coming up with wild theories and ideas until their bubble grows too large and it all pops.
Nothing is as it seems to Henry or Delilah, in the complete opposite of the ending of most thrillers. Firewatch excels in taking you along in it’s own paranoia. And who can blame us? We’re alone in a forest, finding broken bridges, abandoned shacks, people listening in on our conversations, eyes watching us everywhere we turn, people hiding in bushes waiting to jump out on us. Our imagination runs wild, taking over in place of logic. We don’t want to face boring reality, but, in the end, we must.