Critical Play: Firewatch

I bought and played Firewatch, developed by Campo Santo and published in 2016, on PC. It’s a single-player walk simulator game that has a great focus on story-telling and character-building. It also features a beautiful landscape, soothing soundtrack, and engaging banter between the protagonist Henry and his supervisor Delilah. I would say the target audience of this game is anyone who likes stories, can accept a slow-paced game, and/or can relate to the protagonist.

Formal Elements

Objectives and Narratives

In the game, the player controls Henry, the protagonist who is beaten up from real life because of his wife’s dementia and escapes to do a firewatch job at a national forest. The general objective of the game is to follow Henry’s life and do his job as a firewatch. This belongs to the type of enacting stories narrative where day by day we witness the expansion of Henry’s life and his growth as a character. In addition, there are embedded narratives in this game where small details found during gameplay add to the overall story. For example, the snack bar found in a cache box reveals some information on the previous worker.

Procedures and Immersion

When the player is plaything the game, they are in a first-person perspective of the protagonist and can perform various activities such as walking, jumping over obstacles, and looking at the map and the compass. The game is designed to be immersive, intending to have players submerge themselves into this world, by making a lot of details as close to real life as possible. For example, when you put back a book that you picked up earlier, the book does not end up in its original location even if you execute the action to put back the book where it was in the first place; its position is off by a little bit. When you climb stairs and open boxes, the camera moves just like how your view does in real life. Every detail of user-performed actions in this game makes you feel like the game world is real.


Types of Fun


As I’ve discussed above, the game uses both enacting and embedded narratives to deliver a solid story and character development to the player and brings fun to those who enjoy experiencing a good story.


The world of Firewatch is huge, and a lot of secrets are hidden in various corners. Every so often, the player might discover something new and interesting, obtaining fun in such processes.

What Can Be Improved

Although my general experience with the game

has been positive, there are a few places that I feel can be improved. First, guides to current objectives can be unclear. One of the first few missions is to find a cache box to get a rope, and it got me stuck for 10 minutes because I was very confused about where to find it. I understand that the designer wants the user to discover the way themselves. but providing some more hints can be very helpful. Also, there are some settings in the game that are just hard to fathom: the character cannot run, the map is not viewable when walking, and jumping over an obstacle sometimes fails for no reason. As a result, sometimes I just spent too much time traveling between different parts of the map. Sometimes walking slowly is enjoyable, but I should also be given the option to progress through the game faster.

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