I’m not particularly fond of walking simulators. The key word being ‘particularly’. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any of them I genuinely enjoy. I really had a good time with David Cage’s Indigo Prophecy, Telltatle’s The Walking Dead S1 and The Wolf Among Us. If a game features a narrative and characters worth exploring, then I’m willing to place my prejudice aside. Yet, the one thing that got me into playing Campo Santo’s ‘adventure game’ Firewatch was simply how amazing it looks. Screenshots and videos don’t do it justice. Hands down, it has to be one of the best-looking indie games out there. Little did I know that Firewatch would have more to show off than just a gorgeous art style.
Came For The Visuals, Stayed For The Characters
Firewatch wastes no time setting up the tone and mood of the story. You are introduced to the main character Henry through bits of texts, as he treks through the Wyoming wilderness. Henry’s backstory has the same tried and true formula of soap operas worldwide. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, life is good, but a sudden tragedy strikes. Henry’s wife, Julia is diagnosed with dementia. Their life slowly falls apart. Julia’s parents take her home to Australia. Unable to cope with the reality, Henry tries to keep himself busy and therefore, enlists as a fire lookout in the Wyoming forest. Alienating himself from society and reality, Henry hopes to find joy in a solitary life. It is there that he comes to meet Delilah, Henry’ supervisor through a walkie-talkie. The story tackles Henry and Delilah’s growing chemistry while strange occurrences happen throughout the forest. It’s a story of guilt, sorrow, reality, alienation and estrangement. Firewatch would surely make for an interesting romantic drama. I may have come for the visuals, but stayed for the characters.
Reality is Sorrow
Being a man of literature, the theme of Firewatch reminded me of various Indian novels and stories from the 60’s. A turning point in Indian literary period, these years saw a number of character and psychology-driven stories about the depressed, lonely and confused human beings. The characters from Nirmal Verma‘s classic Hindi story ‘Parinde’ (Birds) and ‘Manju’ (Mist) by Malayalam writer M.T Vasudevan Nair bears a close resemblance to Henry and Delilah. The characters in these books stick to dead memories like a leech to exposed skin, while the ones from Firewatch tries their best to ditch them. The similarities lie in how they accomplish these feats. Escapism can be defined as running away from the realities of life. The characters in Parinde, Manju and Firewatch do exactly this. Unable to withstand the tides of life, they alienate themselves from society and escape to a secluded place in search of joy.
The main character of Parinde, Latika seeks solace in a boarding school cut off from the rest of society in a snowy mountain city. Despite knowing that her lover is dead and will not come back, Latika lives in the futile hope of his return. To her, the reality brings nothing but sorrow. Henry and Delilah from Firewatch feel the same. Like Latika, they alienate themselves from society and its shackles. The more they think about their respective past, the more sad and confused they get. They try to find comfort in each other’s company. The calm and serene Wyoming wilderness provides shelter to them from reality. When the game ends, in spite of spending an awful lot of time talking to each other, Henry and Delilah aren’t close to each other than when they first met. Like the characters from Agneya‘s novel ‘Nadi Ke Dweep‘ (Islands of a River), they’re far apart even together. They seek escape from each other. The feeling of guilt and responsibilities torment them from the inside like the raging wildfire consuming Wyoming. Henry unable to make a decision regarding taking care of his sick wife, and Delilah with her failed relationships with multiple people stands in the river of feelings as separate islands. Like Horace once said, “what fugitive from his country can also escape from himself?”.
I may have been a bit carried away talking about the beautiful story and the characters. But at its core, Firewatch is still a walking simulator. You hardly do anything besides walking from point A to B while performing contextual actions. It’s such a shame really. The game could have used a bit more gameplay elements (light puzzles maybe?) , to keep the 5 hours of runtime more engaging. Then there are that awful last 30 mins of the game where you have to run from one corner of the sizeable map to another. Why? Just why? It’s the story and the characters that keep Firewatch alive. Kudos goes to the voice actors of Henry and Delilah deserves great praise for their organic voice acting. The bittersweet ending is a bit of a letdown, but everything up to that point is golden. Is it something I would replay? Not really. Did I have a good time? Yes, I did and it’s all thanks to the excellent writing and characters. If you’re a fan of fiction with human emotions as the central theme, then Firewatch is definitely worth checking out.