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Firewatch review: Into the woods: Unpacking the isolating mystery of Firewatch

Firewatch a beautiful game with an intriguing story of isolation and mystery set against the captivating backdrop of Yellowstone National Park.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
2 min read
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Firewatch is an interactive storytelling experience made by a small development team from San Francisco.



The Good

Firewatch is a beautiful game that tells a compelling story that keeps you guessing. It creates an amazing yet unsettling sense of isolation throughout. The writing and voice acting are all top-notch.

The Bad

The game's final payoff may not please everyone.

The Bottom Line

Picturesque and mysterious, Firewatch brings a fantastic narrative that's a pleasure to experience.

You play as Henry, a man who has dealt with some serious life events and winds up in Yellowstone National Park as a forest fire lookout. Your only acquaintance is Delilah, a faceless supervisor that you converse with over a long-range walkie-talkie.

Firewatch's powerful brand of exposition is unlike many games I've played before, but it's an effective style nonetheless. Where most story-driven games like to give you pivotal choices that affect the outcome of the game, Firewatch tends to navigate away from that kind of mechanic (save for the use of dialogue branches). Instead, the story more or less happens to you as you play, relying heavily on its exceptional writing and superb voice acting.

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The game's seamlessness may be its most impressive feat because rarely do you get dragged into drudgery, save for a few backtracking segments. Instead, it's Firewatch's sense of mystique and compelling backstory that carry along its mostly passive experience.

At the same time, the game manages to create a shrinking sense of isolation. The wilderness can be a terrifyingly lonely place. As a result your character is largely left alone with his thoughts, but Firewatch's impactful pacing teleports you through time in satisfying fashion, reinforcing how significant every event becomes along the way. It's also the perfect canvas to observe your evolving relationship with Delilah, its growing complexities and all.

Firewatch is undoubtedly beautiful, with its world seemingly hand-drawn and brimming with the yellows, oranges and browns of a Wyoming sunset. This backdrop, coupled with two characters that are remarkably believable and who take part in such genuine banter result in a package of truly immersive fiction.

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When it clicks -- and it does the majority of the time -- Firewatch is an extremely compelling vessel for storytelling. It grabs the player like the slow burn of a thrilling novel and keeps them guessing along the way.

Whether or not the payoff satisfies will vary by player, but Firewatch's dramatic ambitions will stay with you regardless.

Firewatch releases on February 9 for PC and PlayStation 4, priced at $20. Judging from my testing on both platforms I found some technical stuttering on PS4 that wasn't as prevalent on PC.