Firewatch Download is certainly singular. The game is set in a few acres of a fictional national park in Wyoming, where you play as a fire lookout who intends to spend the lingering days of summer working alone at his typewriter, occasionally scanning the horizon for curls of smoke. The emptiness and solitude is apropos: Henry, the game’s protagonist, is here to heal a heart that’s broken in complicated ways. He is married to a person at once present and departed—a wife afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer’s, who now lives with her family in Australia. The game’s opening, which establishes the premise with snippets of dialogue, charting the decline of mind and marriage, is both tender and devastating. By the time you reach the wilderness, you share Henry’s guilt and his eagerness to escape.
The core of Firewatch Download is the relationship between Henry (voiced by Rich Sommer, better known as Harry Crane, from “Mad Men”) and Delilah (Cissy Jones), a neighboring lookout with whom Henry keeps in near constant contact on his battery-powered radio. Delilah, who has spent many summers here, is by turns a mentor, a therapist, and a flirt. You choose how Henry responds to her jibes and inquiries, selecting from a range of options to reply either in kind, in defense, or with silence. The characters’ exchanges are complex and nuanced right from the get-go. This study in rudderless forty-somethings is focussed and sharpened by an unfolding mystery in the forest, which mixes the mundane (the vandalism of beer- and vendetta-fuelled teen-agers) with campfire horror (abandoned caves, nefarious eavesdroppers, strangers glimpsed in silhouette). The tension is further wound by the ever-present threat of fire.
Homogeneity eventually becomes anonymity, but games like Firewatch Download will surely drive larger studios to take greater design risks, bringing further diversity to the medium. Moss, who studied English literature at Birmingham University, a course that he paid for by selling T-shirt designs on Threadless, hopes to continue working in video games. “For the longest time I wanted to be in advertising,” he said. “I’m so thankful it didn’t work out.”