Author: Dakota Campion
Developer: Campo Santo
Genre: First-Person Adventure
Release date: 2/9/2016
Platform: PC, PS4
Hours played: 5
The debut of the current gen consoles brought with it plenty of promises, and. thankfully. one of the promises kept was a larger indie presence. The new generation brought in many new genres that AAA games seemed too scared to explore, one of them being the narrative first-person adventure game. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Gone Home familiarized the console gaming community with games that are heavy on the story and light on the action. Enter Firewatch, another entry in this growing genre. Firewatch is the first project from studio Campo Santo and has the player taking on the roll of Henry, a newly hired fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest. On his first day, Henry befriends Delilah, a fellow lookout and his superior, who just so happens to be situated in the sector beside him. Over the course of the summer, the two become friends and slowly learn that they are a part of a mystery that Shoshone has held for years.
Firewatch is a very cerebral game, meaning that it is heavily focused on telling a story, and it does that through snappy dialogue and beautiful environments that you are heavily encouraged to explore. The Shoshone is home to canyons, swamps, lakes, rivers, grassy clearings, and a multitude of other different and striking environments. One mistake that I made on my first playthrough was not exploring the area more. There are a lot of rewards for exploration in the form of more dialogue between Henry and Delilah. One of the few gameplay mechanics in Firewatch is the ability to report certain objects and events to Delilah, prompting wonderfully written dialogue. As I said before, the dialogue is your main motivator in the game. You will find yourself picking up empty beer cans or notes between rangers just to hear the commentary between our two favorite lookouts. Some of these items and events will force you to go out of your way to find, but wandering around Two Forks, Henry’s lookout sector, is almost always a joy. Often, you are prompted with choices in dialogue, and while it can be fun to play around with the different options, none of them change the outcome of the game. The only problem I had while getting through the game is that sometimes it feels like the story is hurrying you through this great world that Campo Santo has created.
The Shoshone is a sight to behold in Firewatch. The art direction throws you into a stylized, color saturated world that I’d compare to the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker. and like Windwaker, Firewatch will be beautiful years after its release. The lead artist, Olly Moss has worked with the likes of Lucasfilm, Mondo, and Studio Ghibli, a prestigious résumé that shows the type of talent Campo Santo employs. Looking at his art, you can clearly see how Firewatch got its incredible art style. I did have several graphical issues on launch day, but there has since been a patch that does fix most of them. Adding to the atmosphere is the soundtrack composed by Chris Remo whose most notable composing credit goes to Gone Home. It is an ambient mix that most heavily features piano and acoustic guitar. The music is especially noticeable in the exploration periods of the game where neither Delilah nor Henry speak. The soundtrack has a very outdoorsy feel while still managing to have unsettling undertones, which are reflective of the ominous mystery that you find yourself a part of.
Firewatch is $20 USD and offers around a four hour campaign. At launch, a lot of people had a problem with the length and the ending of the game. A review by Luke Plunkett of Kotaku described it as “A short ride that leaves you feeling a little empty at the end”. For people who are not into mildly artsy games, I’d recommend waiting for a PSN or Steam sale to pick it up. The game offers some replay value in that you can play with different dialogues, and, if your first playthrough went like mine, further explore the forest. While I liked the pacing of the game, I would have loved for it to be a little longer with a little more to do. The exploration segments, while fun at first, became a bit tedious, with the player having to constantly go to the edge of the map only to have to walk all the way back to your watch tower. The game could have done well for itself to include more activities to give the player the ability to lengthen the game. You feel somewhat hurried through the game, making it feel like you don’t have much time to explore, when in all reality, you can walk around and do whatever you want at any time. Adding in breaks where the player actually feels like they can explore and do things, like go fishing or track animals, would help and allow the player to feel like they can freely wander without missing out on the drama. While these things probably would not influence the story, they would add extra content and make it feel more like a game, rather than a first person movie.
Firewatch is a beautiful story wrapped in a visually stunning world. It doesn’t offer much in terms of action or varied gameplay mechanics and for that, it suffers, but if you are looking for an unsettling plot with lovable characters and a bold lesson about running away from your problems, Firewatch is sure to please.
Overall Score: 85/100