Firewatch has come to be one of the first games I recommend to people when they're looking for something story-heavy. The introduction sequence alone is a heart wrenching exploration of reality. The game follows a linear plot but incorporates a choose-your-own-story style of dialogue and an open world style of movement. The free movement couples well with the murder-mystery feel and gorgeous scenery. Let's take a deep dive into the individual ratings I gave for this game that resulted in such a high score.
Story (10 / 10)
Firewatch is a story-heavy game that is full of brilliant themes, undertones, and every other word your English teacher used in High School to describe The Great Gatsby. The game's writing is nothing short of brilliant. The story begins before the game, in a unique sequence where you choose different paths that all lead to the same result. When your character Henry makes it to his job as a fire lookout you start to choose your own dialogue as you develop a friendship with another fire lookout, Delilah. Because players choose between a handful of options during dialogue they are plunged into a connection with the characters that feels real and vulnerable. And the best part? The game makes you feel like the focus isn't at all on the characters. You are distracted by a mystery. And more than that, you are distracted by the world you've been thrown into. There are pieces of the world you find scattered in boxes. Distant relationships and helicopters. All piled together to make you feel isolated, alone, and yet, not. The game's strongest part is its story, and I highly recommend playing it for the story alone.
Replayability (8 / 10)
The game actually has a surprising amount of replayability considering the linear story line and limited gameplay mechanics. But as I'll continue to say throughout this review, it is the story that makes it. Because there is such an emphasis on the mystery another play through once you know the outcome is highly appropriate. Playing back through the game and knowing what the end is is interesting. You can catch things you missed the first time, try dialogue you hadn't considered prior, and even see the glaring answers to the questions you had been asking in your first run. With that being said, it's understandable why many wouldn't want to play through it again. There is a lot of reason to do so but nothing really compelled me to try again once I had already finished.
Challenge (8 / 10)
The game is best described as an interactive movie. There aren't many puzzles or challenges per say, but that isn't the game's focus. It would take away from the feeling of dread towards the second act if I was frustrated by a difficult puzzle. Many games can do this well, however, it would have been out of place in an experience like Firewatch. The lack of real challenge is good for the game, but because of the open world and free movement it can sometimes be difficult to navigate later on. As you explore the world and progress through the plot more and more sections open up, and it can become difficult to get to where you need to go. There is a provided map and compass as well as landmarks, so maybe I'm just bad.
Graphics & Art (10 / 10)
The only thing just as good as the story is the game's art style. By committing to an artistic graphics style instead of realism the game enables a higher level of immersion. And the consistent use of orange hues is a constant reminder of Henry's job as a fire lookout. This game consistently shows up online with screenshots that show Firewatch's beauty.
Uniqueness (10 / 10)
Many of the game's core mechanics (dialogue options, mystery style, gameplay) are not unique, but the experience is, and that's what matters. There are plenty of mystery games, but none explore the roller coaster of conspiracies that this game does. There are plenty of games that provide dialogue options, but none reveal a relationship like Henry and Delilah's.
Entertaining (9 / 10)
This game is relatively short but does a good job of holding your attention. The story starts quickly and the mystery piece of the game follows suit. It's very easy to play this game in one four hour sitting and enjoy the majority if not all of the experience.
Gameplay (8 / 10)
The gameplay is centered almost entirely around exploration and dialogue. There is very little variety in these mechanics, but considering the diverse environments and the changing world with a shifting story the dialogue supports, Firewatch doesn't suffer from the lack of gameplay diversity. And considering it's a short game there isn't a lot of time to get bored with it anyway.
Game Length (8 / 10)
The game is, as I've said, very short. But it really is the perfect length. There is a very clear beginning, middle, and end to the plot. And having the option to comfortably play the game in one or multiple sittings is a definite plus. The game's story matches perfectly with the length. That being said, it's important to take into account that the game felt a bit long at some times when in reality it's a pretty short game in terms of run-time, clocking in at 3 - 5 hours.
Collectibles (6 / 10)
The game does have collectibles, and they're pretty cool, they offer an incentive to explore the world more in-depth. However, because of the emphasis on the story and the general exploration, the collectibles don't feel as compelling by default as we see in many other games like Hue or even Halo 2 Anniversary. On top of that it was actually kind of difficult for me to to determine what the collectibles actually were. But that doesn't mean it isn't rewarding to adventure through the game, find easter eggs, find collectibles, and 100% the game.
Soundtrack (10 / 10)
In third place for best part about this game is the soundtrack. It's the kind of track you can put on your phone to listen to while you go on a road trip. It perfectly emphasizes the rises and falls of the game without taking away from it. It's perfect for the game.
Firewatch is currently on sale for $20 on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Steam, and
PlayStation 4. The developers, Campo Santo, reportedly partnered with a production studio to turn the game into a feature film.