Developer: Campo Santo
Available On: PS4 (Reviewed), PC
Released: February 9th, 2016
Over the last couple of years, in certain gaming circles, you might have heard the question “What is Firewatch?” Well, now that Firewatch is available for download on PS4 and Steam, we can tell you exactly what it is. Firewatch is a new game from Campo Santo, a small independent team that counts among their number developers from Telltale’s Walking Dead adventure game, as well as incredibly popular artist Olly Moss. On first blush, it definitely resembles one of those dreaded “walking simulators”, similar to indie hit Gone Home, which created a split between people who thought it was one of the greatest narrative experiences ever, and those who complained that it wasn’t actually a game. However, Firewatch, while completely narrative-driven, also implements a surprising amount of interactivity with your environment, making it a true first-person adventure game. Most of all, however, Firewatch is the story of two people whose only real human contact is with each other, through handheld radios that connect them, while they sit miles apart, overseeing a large national park located in Wyoming, U.S.A.
To discuss the story of Firewatch to deeply would give away too much, but here’s what we can tell you. You are Henry, a married man from Colorado who, for reasons that will be revealed when you play, has taken a summer job at Shoshone National Forest, where your role is to sit in an isolated tower and watch for forest fire outbreaks. Not to prevent them from spreading, but to inform the proper authorities back in civilization to come and contain them. Your only line to the outside world is Delilah, your superior, who sits in a similar tower that you can just make out on the horizon. It promises to be a long, dry summer, with only Delilah’s disembodied voice for company, but almost immediately, things go sideways, and you find yourself thrust into a situation that you never could have predicted.
As the only two major characters of Firewatch, one of whom is never seen, the voice actors behind Henry and Delilah are in constant communication, and the frequent conversation between them is realistic and natural, emphasizing Henry’s dry cynicism and Delilah’s slightly bent sense of humor, making them into fully realized characters. Their interactions never seem fake or over-acted, and you quickly grow comfortable listening to their banter. When things get tense, they react like realistic people would, and as things spiral out of control, both actors deliver convincing performances that help draw the player into the plot.
Visually, Firewatch is stunning, combining realism with a stylized design to create a setting that seems both familiar and somewhat alien. The bright colors of Shoshone National Forest give the world an intensity that is incredibly striking and the changing environment as the summer moves on helps ratchet up the tension as the plot unfolds. The music, which will break in during opportune moments, also helps heighten the emotions invoked by certain events, and the entire package gives the world an atmosphere that greatly enhances the gaming experience. The only minor gripe we have with the PS4 version of the game is that it visibly stutters briefly every time the game auto-saves, leading to a less smooth journey around the world of Shoshone.
While not everyone will be satisfied with how the story of Firewatch plays out, in our opinion, it feels appropriate to the world that has been created, and may be one of the best written stories in gaming that we’ve experienced in some time. The game is also fairly short, clocking in at between three and four hours depending on the amount of exploring you do, so you may want to consider that fact when making purchasing decisions. For our money, however, Firewatch delivers more than enough value for its fairly affordable price, and is well worth picking up if you’re a fan of narrative and/or adventure games.