Firewatch is a gorgeous first person adventure game from developer Campo Santo. This was one of my most anticipated games of early 2016. From the trailers and the gameplay seen last year, Firewatch looked like it had the potential to be the next big story driven adventure game.
Now, after playing and finishing it in more or less 4 to 5 hours, I can say that I am a bit disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, Firewatch is a great game. But I do feel that the team at Campo Santo had something so good in their hands they didn’t know what to do with it. In some ways, the game feels unfinished. An excellent starting and progressing story finishes so abruptly and the final reveal is so anti-climactic that I wish I would just have stopped somewhere in the middle when things were still interesting.
The main protagonist is named Henry, a husband whose wife is diagnosed with dementia and who decides to isolate himself from the real world, taking the job of a fire lookout in the woods of Shoshone National Forest, in 1989.
His boss, Delilah is his only companion during the entire game and together they start to build an interesting couple dynamic that exceeds the usual boundaries of employment.
During his daily strolls in the forest, Henry finds all sorts of ominous signs that something strange is going on inside Shoshone. So, most of the game you hunt for clues to uncover the secrets of this place.
There is this really heavy, atmospheric and unsettling feeling of paranoia floating in the air at Shoshone National Forest. There are rumors of wild animals in the forest, strange signs left on trees, a mysterious cave that is off limits for any explorer and strangers in the night who trash your lookout and spy on your radio conversations.
Graphically, the game is absolutely beautiful. I haven’t seen a game embrace and understand its atmosphere so well in a long long time. Firewatch is an instant wallpaper source for any moody nature lover and gives the players a chance of just exploring and looking at the beautiful scenery. The sunsets are outstandingly gorgeous and it is very clear that the development team put a lot of effort in making this a stunner game, whether you decide to play it on PC or consoles.
The soundtrack is also extremely well picked. It mostly contains guitar songs, things you would normally play by the fire, in the calm of the night. But the music also helps at times deepen the feeling of dread that floats just above the beautiful nature and make you feel alone, isolated. Again, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a game accomplish such a high quality of graphics and sound quality.
Finally, on the list of merits is the voice acting. The two actors that interpret Henry and Delilah are just great. You feel the chemistry between them, you see how the relationship evolves and grows and you literally laugh and giggle because there’s quite a lot of humor hidden in their back and forward talks over the radio between the two.
Because gameplay wise, that’s usually what you do most. You walk around from point A to point B, with the aid of your map and compass and you report the things you see via Walkie Talkie to your boss, Delilah. That’s mostly it. And besides a few crates that you can scavage and a very short and weird part where you get to use an axe, the rest of the time you spend talking to your lovely lady-boss that orders you around.
Firewatch is a slow paced experience. If you don’t enjoy a good, mostly silent walk along with the butterflies and grasshoppers, then you won’t like this game. There’s quite a lot of backtracking to do and by the end of it, you’ll get to explore all the areas the game has to offer.
What’s really strange is that there’s no real push for exploration besides the tasks you are given. Being a rather open world game, I expected Firewatch to put more emphasis on discovering things and having lots of side quests. But, unfortunately, the main story is the only thing that drives gameplay.
I was previously talking about the crappy ending of this game. And I would like to reiterate it here: this game had such an awesome building story, even with it being linear. But it all goes to hell when the players gets to that excuse of an ending which I won’t spoil because it’s so obvious that it doesn’t require any spoiling done.
I really wanted more from this game. I would have loved to get lost inside its world for hours and just explore and find all sorts of clues and mysteries. But unfortunately the budget constraints or the lack of imagination of the developing team makes this game seem as a disappointment in the end.
There’s one more thing to say about the story: there are several parts where you can actually choose the way it unfolds and I presume there is more than one thread to pursue, but the incentive for replayability is so small that I am not convinced to pick it up again.
Firewatch is a beautiful, funny game, driven by a story that could have been much better if there was more time and effort put into it. I really hope this game is an inspiration to other development teams that might create such unique looking and feeling experiences and expand upon the narrative and gameplay.
Firewatch gained a special place in my heart, even though it’s not perfect. I recommend it fully, especially since it’s priced at only at about 20 EUR on PSN. So, arm yourself with power bars, a map and compass, a nifty backpack and some climbing rope and lose yourself in the forests of Wyoming. For sure you won’t regret it.