This weekend in my spare time I bought and completed a new game called Firewatch. I found the game to quite enjoyable and represented a new experience in videos games for me.

The basic premise for Firewatch is:

The year is 1989. You are a man named Henry who has retreated from his messy life to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Perched high atop a mountain, it’s your job to look for smoke and keep the wilderness safe. An especially hot, dry summer has everyone on edge. Your supervisor Delilah is available to you at all times over a small, handheld radio—your only contact with the world you’ve left behind. But when something strange draws you out of your lookout tower and into the forest, you’ll explore a wild and unknown environment, facing questions and making choices that can build or destroy the only meaningful relationship you have.

Firewatch is not my typical run-n-gun shooter but throughout the game I felt engaged by the world and the characters depicted in it more than most games in the past few years. First off the game is absolutely beautiful. The aesthetics of the game were what initially drew me to it in the first place. Every minute reminds me so much of the “every frame a painting” concept in film, where the game creators sought to create an visual environment to match and stage the emotions of the story. As you play through the game the color tones move and flow with the story not unlike a Pixar movie.

Firewatch camera shot

The plot is a grounded emotional tale. Characters in the game are believable adults with real problems and make real mistakes. In all I found the setup of everything fantastic, it reminded me of the setup of characters Steven King does before his books go off the rails. I particularly enjoyed Rich Sommer’s voice acting for Henry which is probably the be best voice acting I’ve heard in a game. Sommer through his voice and a fantastic script, created a really believable and compelling everyman character (Tom Hanks level of compelling-ness.).

Story wise there has been some talk from some people about the game’s ending being anticlimactic, but I really liked it. It’s the correct emotional ending.

Overall I’d say the game was a solid B+. It’d have gotten an A if it was a bit longer of a game and had more encouragement of exploration.

Finally I’m left with a thought about a quote. In 2010 before he pasted away Rodger Ebert said this about video games:

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a [sic] immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.

Ebert’s statement of course did not end the debate about whether video games are art or not. However, if we are to follow his argument than is Firewatch a video game? Is it a digitally presented novel? An interactive movie? I don’t really now. I do know that while playing I had a strong emotionally engaging experience not based on traditional video game motifs that I enjoy (guns, horror, building stuff). I can’t help but wonder at how far games have come. Where I used to get looks from my mom about playing Halo ten years ago, now I’m excited about a game where I play as a sad man in his late thirties.