Firewatch is a sleeper hit. We love sleeper hits.
It’s been winning awards and critical acclaim pretty much everywhere, without being touted as a highly anticipated game (as far as we know).
We’re still playing through but so far it’s a great ride. What makes it an intriguing game from the get-go is its engaging storytelling, that includes a procedural narrative (a story that changes with your choices) and role playing elements.
You’re a middle-aged man married to a woman who is in the throes of dementia. Overwhelmed by the degeneration of your wife, you leave her in a care home and head out into the American wilderness as a volunteer park ranger, with the primary role of keeping watch for forest fires. Your supervisor, who acts as your mission commander of sorts, is also a potential love interest – but that depends on your choices, played out through conversations over a radio.
The game begins with powerfully emotive prose that builds your backstory, from when you met your wife to the course of events and choices that led to your wilderness adventure. The choices you make during this prologue actually come into play during the course of the game, so choose carefully.
You go about the seemingly mundane task of park watching while having casual conversation with your supervisor. Things soon begin to get a bit strange, with wayward tourists wreaking havoc and a potential maniac on the loose.
With a first-person interface, the graphics have a clean cartoon-like quality that allow you to enjoy the pristine and picturesque landscapes of whereever you are. We like this. It’s a real slice of life. This realism means doing some useful real life stuff like using a compass, and a map. These days it might be the closest many of us get to the great outdoors.
This element of doing the everyday is a resfreshing break from the usual larger-than-life, out-of-this-world shooters and slashers and reinforces the swing toward leading with storytelling rather than gameplay. Real life issues, emotions, and relational complications come into play, and that makes for a compelling story.
Why play a ‘real life’ when we play games to escape, you ask? Every game worth it’s salt has a point, and maybe a game like Firewatch takes us on an adventure so that we can be more firmly planted in reality.
The fact that Firewatch is such a popular game speaks to the aging population of gamers and the desire for variety in pacing plus a little more interactivity.
It’s worth a try. We downloaded through the XBox store.