Paranoia and Tension: The Beauty of Firewatch

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Possible Spoilers.

Leading up the release of the debut title from developers Campo Santos I knew very little.  Like many who scowl through gaming news sites the only memorable thing I thought about when I heard the words Firewatch was Giantbomb’s Jeff Gertsman asking, “What is Firewatch?” continuously during a Pax Prime panel.

My initial thought upon laying eyes on it was two things: Firstly I couldn’t help but be impressed with the visual style.  There is no argument to be made. Firewatch is an incredible looking game with a striking visual style all to its own.  Sure it shares similarities to a handful of other games, most notably Team Fortress 2, but mark my words the game has a color palette all its own.

The second thing that came to mind was ‘oh great another survival sim’ completely unaware that Firewatch is in no way a survival simulator.  In fact it could not be any further from it.

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So, what exactly is Firewatch?

Well, some will simply call it a walking simulator (not unlike Gone Home).  Some will call it a game that should have been a movie, a game that is nothing more than tedious walk after tedious walk, and in some regards they would not be wrong to say that.

However much like Gone Home (released back in 2013) Firewatch aims and succeeds at being much more than that.  It’s a paranoia induced tale about loneliness and isolation that rivals some of the great suspense thrillers of the 1970’s and 80’s.

I’m not about to turn this into a critique of the game, and this is in no way intended to be a review.  You’ll know if Firewatch is a game for you right away, some will love it many will hate it and that’s fine.  However I do not think you can truly be taken back by its genius without making it all the way to the end (4-5 hours).  The ending is so fittingly perfect to the overall story line that  I think some may have just missed the entire point of the game.  Much like those paranoid thrillers, the main theme is obviously paranoia and how it effects the mentality of both the character you control Henry as well as the player.

We spend the entire game along with Henry and the voice through the radio Delilah trying to solve the mystery.  Who is out there in the wilderness with them?  Who is terrorizing them?  Who killed the two teenage girls?  Who is listening to each and every conversation?  As the player we are expecting a final twist, a grand mind bending answer that we would get from a game like Bioshock.  In some ways Firewatch is the anti-Bioshock.

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What we learn is that being out there in the woods,isolated is scary, we see things that aren’t there, we make up scenarios that could be pulled from the pages of Stephen King.  The reality however is that everything has an easy answer, and that is the point of the game.  Without that easy answer Firewatch doesn’t work, the big twist at the end is that like our main character Henry we have been putting things in our own head, expecting the worst.

As I said this isn’t a review, just some of my initial thoughts upon finishing the game.  I may jump back into it at some point simply because the world the game creates is so beautiful.

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