Critical Play: Walking Simulator – Firewatch

Game: Firewatch

Developer: Campo Santo

Platform: Steam

Target Audience: Teens, Young Adults, and older

Firewatch is a first-person walking-simulator mystery game that has the player control Henry, a new fire lookout posted in the wilderness. It is a single-player game where the goal is to complete tasks scattered throughout the open-world map. I identified three main areas of interest that stood out to me while playing.

1. The Prologue

In the somber prologue, you are presented with the backstory of why Henry ended up working this lonesome job in the first place. The developers don’t just throw exposition at you however: they slowly present you it line by line, and the player must click through each one as if they were taking the action. You are truly put in the shoes of Henry, as the narration refers to him as “You” and gives you small choices to shape his backstory (for example, adopting a beagle or a grayhound). I found that all together, the presentation of the prologue immersed me in the game before the actual gameplay even began.

2. I Walk A Lonely Road

Based the hour and a half I played, the amount of actions available to the player seemed quite limited. The most important mechanic is that of walking (or jogging for slightly more impatient players like me). Traversing distances in the game takes a decent amount of time, which sets the pace and tone to a more relaxed level. It is clear that the game designers intended for players to derive some fun from the feeling of being out on a hike in nature. Reaching a destination and seeing a beautiful vista was quite common in my playtime, and elicited in me feelings of both awe and loneliness. And you do feel alone while playing the game – I personally never saw any other character up close, and the only friendly human voice I heard is that of fellow firewatcher Delilah over the radio.

3. The Map, The Map

I found it fascinating that I was given distant tasks to reach, but in contrast to other titles, did not have any convenient fullscreen UI map or glowing arrows to help me reach my destination. Instead, I had to use a small ingame handheld paper map alongside a wobbly compass to find out where to go. I found that the design choice to present the map in this more realistic and slow way helped create a powerful feeling of immersion.


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