Game Review | Firewatch
Game Summary: In 1989, Henry takes a volunteer fire lookout job in the Wyoming wilderness to escape from his troubled past, only to be thrown into plethora of paranoia and mystery. (IMDb)
Oh, it was all going so, so well. Everything about this game was looking so, so good. Then you get to the ending and wonder what the hell the point was of playing the damn thing. Seriously, it’s akin to building the most wonderful house of cards ever, then destroying it as you place the last one.
I know there are a lot of people that love to hate Mass Effect 3 for its ending (I don’t), but Firewatch has to have one of the worst endings I’ve ever encountered in a game. It’s like they suddenly realised that the main mystery was finished with and needed to finish the game ASAP.
To begin, the premise is that you are Henry, whose wife is suffering from early-onset dementia and has been taken to the other side of the world to be looked after by her parents. To take his minds off things, Henry heads off to a national park and become a lookout for any forest fires.
As soon as the game starts, you are introduced to Delilah by way of radio communication, which is the only way you will ever be able to contact her. The back and forth between Henry and Delilah makes up almost 100% of the game’s dialogue, save for a few from supporting characters.
The summer days pass and you carry out your duties, with me choosing to joke and flirt with Delilah, and there were definitely budding seeds of romance there. However, any relationship between the pair is put on hold when they discover they are being watched by someone unknown to them.
It’s a pretty good set-up, and done really well, with a growing sense of paranoia slowly overtaking not just the characters, but the player too. Genuinely, I had already (deliberately) spoiled the story for myself, but how it unfolds is so well done, that I began to assume the spoilers were wrong.
It does help that you never actually see another person in close-up until the very end (especially with the nude seventeen year old girls that you encounter early on), and it’s very easy to believe that there is someone observe you from any number of hiding places.
The art style does its job perfectly, as does the score, and the voice acting is exemplary. All of this does lead to why the ending is such a disappointment, as the characters of Henry and Delilah are so well-crafted, that you wish the rest of the experience matched up to their performances.
As for the ending, I don’t want to spoil things for anyone reading this who hasn’t completed the game yet, so I’ll try to keep things as vague as possible:
The issue with the ending is not just the sudden nature of it, but also the dramatic reversal in character from Delilah. Now, by this point she has had a huge emotional shock due to something that Henry discovers, but the game goes just that little bit too far.
For the majority of my play-through, Henry and Delilah had slowly been coming closer and closer despite never meeting. So, for my ending to abruptly end that relationship with little to no chance of anything further happening soured my memories of a lot of what had happened.
It would have been very easy and very simple to write dialogue that could have kept the two apart in-game, but allowed for more after the player’s part in proceedings is over. The fact that this doesn’t happen says that it was a design choice more than anything else.
Yes, it’s realistic – extremely so – that we don’t always get what we want or what we feel we deserve in life. That’s not in question, but it does mean that Firewatch ended up lacking any kind of catharsis or closure for me. My lasting memory of the game will be one of incredible disappointment, which is a shame for something that had looked like it could have been truly incredible.
The ending might work better if you were more adversarial with Delilah, but that still doesn’t change the fact that any kind of friendly/romantic play-through seems not only pointless, but also pessimistic. A shame, it could’ve been so much more than it is.
Firewatch is an extremely well-written and brilliantly atmospheric game that suffers from a set ending rendering player agency completely irrelevant. It's a great experience, but probably one you'll only need to ever go through once.