We open seeing Henry standing in his watch tower for the first time, out of breath and sweaty. He's looking over the mountains and forest, taking in their beauty and taking note of the tranquil evening sky. As the sun begins to fully set, his supervisor, Delilah, snarks on the radio from a few miles away. Her voice on the radio is the only spartan human contact Henry has as he tries to figure out why he's in the Wyoming wilderness instead of at his wife's bedside.
This is the narrative that Campo Santo's Firewatch has handed us and is bringing to big cinema with their partnership with movie studio Good Universe, the studio responsible for Juno. We've seen plenty of film adaptations of video games, but no one has tried to tackle a game quite like this, or a conflicted, middle-aged protagonist like Henry. Where most adaptations focus on heroics and epic battles, Henry's battle coming to terms with his wife's early onset-dementia is a stark and welcome breath of fresh air.
Titles such as the movie that changes the game, Assassin's Creed featuring X-Men: Apocalypse, which reviewed moderately well with actor Michael Fassbender and The Division, featuring Jake Gyllenhal, plans to make a substantial splash in the cinematic universe. Now, Firewatch will be joining them, without the gore and heroics.
Don't Expect a Vanilla Hero-Beats-the-Bad-Guys Arc in 'Firewatch'
Firewatch is a game that isn't about delivering blood, gore, and magical presences into a fictional world. Firewatch is a narrative-driven game, one that plays out in the first person view, and delivers a beautiful experience of the Wyoming wilderness. The game's narrative isn't told just through Henry's communications with Delilah. Instead it is delivered in multiple formats such as letters, random NPC's that will appear at a distance or leave clues (not regularly, but from time to time), and Henry's own memories of his wife.
The story for Firewatch doesn't explore just the emotional trauma of losing someone to mental illness, it explores the need for a human connection and trust. Henry looks for this in Delilah, whom unexpectedly becomes his link to understanding his own flaws as she reveals her own. The game isn't just about a marriage that has fallen apart due to mental illness, it is a game that explores the human condition and how we react and cope with that vulnerability. It's about acknowledging imperfection in ourselves and others and learning hard truths about when to hold on and let go.
What gives me hope is that this major introspection is cleverly wrapped up in various mysteries about strange research centers, crummy teens, and a missing former fire watchman and his son.
Firewatch's Story is Short and Straightforward, It Doesn't Have Too Much Game To Jam In
The world Henry explores is both sparse and teeming with life. There are chances for new story elements at every turn in the woods, as well as older conversations with Henry's wife that never happened in-game.
There are chances to let us finally know more about Delilah than we ever did. The chances to truly see who she really is inside. Her story is hidden in sighs and offhanded comments, so we could take a bit more of a direct look at what this woman is like behind the radio.
This is also a time that Campo Santo and Good Universe's film adaption can truly show the dispair in Henry's face, not just his voice, when the story draws to a final close.
Henry Isn't a Super Fit Fighter (Like Most Other Game Protagonists)
Unlike the trends we are seeing with characters such as Michael Fassbender's characters Callum Lynch and ancestor Aguilar in Assassin's Creed, but alternatively Henry is pudgy. He's round in the sense that he's your average American every-day Joe. He's not a chiseled, young heroic figure. He grunts when he climbs up small rocks in the woods.
He shows that even the best of character's don't need to have some Herculean form in order to bring a strong story to life. Instead he breaks the trend in order to show even the most interesting characters can come in different shapes and sizes. This is actually quite good for the hundreds of thousands of us who enjoyed the game. Driving this narrative and casting call home will mean that both Good Universe and Campo Santo will have to carefully portray the characters as we know and expect them to be.
Movies That Firewatch Should Use as References
Movies like Still Alice (featuring Julie Ann Moore) shows the trials and tribulations that people face as Alzheimer's takes grasp of a loved one. The film portrays the real-life struggles of a woman who faces her self in a future where she's begun to deteriorate at an increasingly rapid rate. Her memory is going away quicker and quicker with each passing minute. Within a few months to a year, her struggles are now her families, her pain and suffering are with them as the consequences of her mental illness progresses.
The discussion of mental illness isn't uncommon. We've seen movies such as The Soloist (Robert Downey Jr, Jamie Foxx) portray the side effects of a man suffering from schizophrenia enter our worlds through the eyes of a journalist (Downey). We've seen movies such as Silver Lining's Playbook (Bradly Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence) display the effects of bipolar disorder on the person suffering from it and those around them.
These movies make up a small number of the box office and Firewatch could join them to create one of the greatest game-to-film movies.
Who would you cast as Henry and Delilah in the upcoming Firewatch movie?