Firewatch has topless teens, meaty hands, and mystery

Firewatch with me

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I’ve been firewatching out for Campo Santo’s new ‘exploration mystery’ since hearing about the talent behind it. Artist Olly Moss, Mark of the Ninja designer Nels Anderson, and season one The Walking Dead writers and designers Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin. It’s an exciting crew.

And then I saw the dang thing in its trailer and had to wonder why more games don’t make use of a distinct tonal color palette, instead defaulting to an obfuscating attempt at photorealism that just drowns everything out. Compare BioShock to a “realistic” shooter; the Arkham series to Shadow of Mordor. It’s just nice to see someone use color, and purposefully.

Because while Firewatch is gorgeous, it is also grounded. It is a story about people — Henry and his supervisor Delilah — and I felt that the moment I started controlling Henry. Not a blank player analogue or a camera on wheels. I saw Henry’s inelegant, meaty paws stretched out in front of the screen still wearing his wedding ring despite divorce. Telling details are important.


Henry clambers up rocks in the Wyoming wilderness with some effort. When I walked towards a little broken bridge, the distance between the side was so small that I felt, in other games, I might be able to walk right over it without jumping.

For Henry, it required a little wind up, a jump, and a moment to steady himself on the other side. This mundane pace isn’t a slog, it’s an important part of Henry’s characterization. And, so far, it is there without feeling “unfun,” if that’s a worry for you. It is restrained, but not patience taxing, and you’re constantly engaged in radio dialogue while milling about (atypical in narrative/dialogue heavy games that have you focused on text or choices at the expense of movement).

It is Henry’s first day on the job as a park lookout. On the other end of his radio is his supervisor, Delilah. They are surprisingly glib for being recently acquainted, especially given their professional dynamic, but otherwise the dialogue felt natural. Except for Henry’s bumbled, “p-p-p-p-p-p-panties.”

Tasked with investigating some fireworks, Henry finds an abandoned camp with fireworks and booze strewn about. I opted to hang onto the still full whisky bottle, which Henry assured me was a good brand. After kicking out the fire, you can follow a trail of undress all the way to the lake. Delilah is unfazed by reports of bras and underwear, and maybe even chastised Henry’s bumbling use of the word “panties,” which, c’mon, “underwear” is fine.

Down at the lake the two nude swimmers in the distance are illegible against the sun and real creeped out by the weird old guy wandering around. You can yell at them (or ask nicely) to quit with the fireworks, or just throw their boombox into the lake and kill their tunes. They also issue Henry a sick burn in the form of a Sizzler buffet joke. I am pro Sizzler jokes forever.

More intrigue abounds as day gives way to a brilliant blue night. A mysterious figure in the distance that Delilah assures you is just a hiker becomes more ominous when you find your lookout tower broken into. What Firewatch has done right in this piece of the game so far, removed from the overall narrative, is provide enough grounding detail to its gorgeous world. That and use the radio mechanic to weave “choose a response” style dialogue divergence a bit more neatly into walk-and-talk play.


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