PLOT Only two people with burning secrets can prevent forest fires.
RATING Not rated (mature themes and language)
DETAILS PlayStation 4; $19.99
BOTTOM LINE A smoldering psychological thriller.
Firewatch, set in the Wyoming wilderness a year after Yellowstone’s devastating 1988 fires, is a game in which its main character does little more than walk. Yet at its heart this is a game about running.
Set against a torched-earth backdrop, Firewatch puts the player-controlled Henry and his mysterious boss, Delilah, in increasingly weird situations. Maybe teenage girls have disappeared. Maybe someone sabotaged all the phone lines out of Yellowstone. Maybe Henry and Delilah have been framed for a forest fire.
Our heroes, if they are indeed heroes, arrive in Yellowstone to run from their problems. Firewatch is about how life catches up.
In Firewatch’s heartbreaking opening moments we meet Henry, a man in his early 40s whose lovely academic wife, Julia, is beset with early onset dementia and is taken from him. Unable to cope, Henry accepts a job in Yellowstone as an outlook assigned to keep an eye on campers and help prevent forest fires. It isn’t long before we sense that Henry and Delilah are being watched, and the tone of Firewatch shifts from sad to creepy.
Firewatch takes its time in the beginning, wanting Henry’s emotional state and that of the player to meld. Much of the game is simply walking around Yellowstone, traversing a cliff or looking for a way around a creek. With a warm, sunset-hued art style from Olly Moss, the game feels inviting even as it starts to spin off the rails.
Sometimes Delilah sends Henry on an errand, and the two chat along the way via walkie-talkie. When Delilah attempts to pry into Julia’s condition, the player, as Henry, can resist, or instead form a bond with this new friend. Delilah has her own secrets and her own inept relationship history.
At numerous times, Firewatch is scary, but this oddly haunting and curiously intimate game never deviates from its core themes.