Sometimes, a person just needs to get away from it all in order to heal and, maybe, move on. That's the situation Henry is in at the start of "Firewatch," available for the PS4, Windows, Mac and Linux. He decides to take a job as a fire lookout for the summer in Wyoming. Through beautiful design and dialogue, "Firewatch" is a satisfyingly mature exploration of love that ends a bit abruptly.
Leaving Boulder, Colorado, Henry is alone, but not for very long. On the other end of his radio is Delilah, his supervisor. "Firewatch" is centered entirely around their relationship. Players click a trigger to activate Henry's Walkie Talkie while using another trigger to select their response. It's a satisfying way to interact with Delilah that's bolstered by a timer. Players have to respond rather quickly otherwise the conversation will end and, possibly, affect the next set of responses.
Telltale Games veterans Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman created development company Campo Santo and their experience with "The Walking Dead: Season 1" makes "Firewatch" shine. For a debut game, the sophistication and quality seen throughout "Firewatch" is an impressive feat accomplished by the team's understanding of how to create wonderfully developed characters.
"Firewatch" is a game packed with smart decisions that starts with Henry, or Hank, and Delilah. After a brief, but emotional, prologue that explains his decision to head to Wyoming, you control Henry in all his stubby finger glory. The first-person camera is fully aware of Henry's body at all times, which adds a layer of realism and depth to the proceedings. As Henry trudges through meadows — or grunts as he clambers up rocks — the camera catches a glimpse of Henry's knees, shorts or shirt. It gives the player a sense of physical space furthering the idea that they really are exploring the forest.
Henry's personality also shines throughout the game. He has a sense of humor, but he's an earnest guy dealing with his emotions. That's a sense of hesitation that slowly fades away as he gets comfortable in his role as fire lookout in Wyoming. At times, Henry is hilarious while other times he is reticent to reveal more about his life. Players will have their own emotional hurdles to overcome that make dialogue responses more difficult. It's a reflection of how you would act in a similar situation. Would you be willing to open up completely and reveal painful secrets or would you remain silent?
Even though Delilah is not seen in "Firewatch," she's just as developed as Henry. Delilah is quick with a pun, loves to curse and is great at banter. Delilah has her own issues that influence her reactions and conversations. Henry and Delilah bounce off each other in a way that feels organic, which is a credit to the voice work by Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones, respectively.
The developing relationship, be it friends or otherwise, between Henry and Delilah is challenged by their surroundings. There's a bit of suspense that leads to some dramatic moments in "Firewatch." Because of their isolation, any danger can lead to further paranoia. Unfortunately, that tension is short-lived in "Firewatch."
As soon as real tension flares up in "Firewatch," the player realizes their near the conclusion of the game. It's disappointing considering how well-paced the game is leading up to that point. The ending happens suddenly, which can be quite jarring for players wanting to learn more about Henry and Delilah.
The forest itself is another character that's teeming with life. Art director Olly Moss brings his own style to the game and his colors and hues pop off the screen. The exaggerated greens and oranges are breathtaking as are the moments where you're looking over the forest from a high cliff or seeing a sunset. There's some room for exploration, but it's limited to set paths and walled-off sections. Players can find unique areas and hidden spots, but don't expect to frolic through an open world. It's a credit to everything that "Firewatch" did well that the setbacks involve the desire to spend more time in the forest with Henry and Delilah.
During play on the PS4, there were moments of stuttering and clipping, but those were slight setbacks that didn't deter from the overall experience.
"Firewatch" treats players with respect, which is why you'll care so much about Henry and Delilah. The game defies convention by offering players no challenge other than choosing dialogue options. By the end of the game, you'll miss the click of Henry's Walkie Talkie and the stories shared with Delilah.
For $19.99, players can expect a rewarding experience that can be enjoyed over the course of a couple of hours. Gameplay can last around four to six hours depending on how much time players spend trekking through the forest. It's a short retreat, but well-worth your time.
"Firewatch" was reviewed using a PS4 digital download provided by the developer.