Firewatch, deconstructed

Firewatch is not my typical type of game. Normally I’m all shooty-shooty, knify-knify. Firewatch stood out for me as a game I wanted to know more about, I knew it was a mystery and that appealed to me a little bit, but i heard that it was also an “experience” – fuck knows what that means. The game is visually lovely, like a giant pack of starburst just exploded on your screen.

What I though was going to be a walking simulator turned out to be something allot deeper.

Needless to say this post will contain massive spoilers.

Firewatch starts off with a nice little intro, where you plan out how Henry met his wife and what you did in your life to get to this point. Things unfortunately start off on an emotional note. Your wife develops early-onset Alzheimers she slowly forgets things and people. You cant deal with seeing the woman you once loved slowly forgetting who you are and so decide to take a job in the mountains after the decision is made that your wife will go back and live with her family in Australia.

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Over the summer you take on the role as a fire martial, part of a group of watchtowers who survey the surrounding and report on any activity which your fellow camper might be doing which could trigger a forest fire. Your only point of contact is your supervisor – Delilah, who you stay in contact with via radio.

Needless to say your life of solitude and contemplation is disrupted by some strange going on. Your watchtowers in broken into, fires are started on purpose, teenagers are attacked in the woods, and your conversation with Delilah are recorded by a mysterious stranger resulting in everything you do or say being monitored.

As the game progresses you become more and more paranoid that something or someone is out to get you.

Delilah is your only point of contact and it becomes difficult to trust her as you go through the game, your not entirely sure if she’s in on all of this or just part of the same fucked situation. You choose how you want to interact with her, letting her know as much or as little about you as possible.

The end of the game has received a mixed reaction, and it partly why I took so long to write this little post. At the end you find a skeleton of a boy at the bottom of a cave, this boy turns out to be the son of a watchman named Ned who worked up here a year ago. His son Brian came along with him which is strictly forbidden under the rules of employment at the watchtower, however Delilah covers up this piece of information in order to let Ned and Brian have the summer together in the woods. Delilah mentions several times throughout the game that she never new what happened to Ned or Brian after the summer had ended and assumed they had gone there own way.

It turns out Ned believes Henry was sent here to find out what happened to Brian since he never came back from the woods over a year ago. So Ned does everything in his power to try and scare Henry away and to find out what he’s up to. It slowly becomes apparent to Ned that Henry isn’t here to find out what happened to them both instead he’s just here to get away from it all and live out his summer on his own. As Ned comes to realise this he also realises that the truth about his sons accident need to come to light and so he leeds Henry into the cave through a series of clues and actions he leaves around.

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In the end Ned confesses that he could never face up to the lose of his son and so decided to stay in the woods in order to continue living the life that he felt helped him to cope with the lose. He disappears further into the mountain after explaining everything to Henry, who at this point in the game is about to be evacuated as the fire has spread and will soon engulf the entire map.

What Ned did to help himself cope with the lose of his son; helps Henry to realise that he cannot run away from his life and that in order to move forward with everything he has to go home.

The big issue some people have with the end of the game is that its quite simple, everything has a rational explanation – its just a story about a man unable to handle whats happening to the woman he loves and has no idea whats best for him or her.

You are not part of a massive alien conspiracy theory, you are not stuck in a coma, this is not a dream.

Although I felt a bit like “WTF thats it”, I now realise that the ending was exactly what it needed to be.

 


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