Campo Santo's Firewatch made it to the top of quite a lot of Game of the Year lists back in 2016. As always, I'm a little late to the party, but here's my quick and dirty Firewatch review.
Firewatch is a first person, mystery adventure game. Released in 2016 - like we’ve already established - it raised quite a few eyebrows, and developer Campo Santo got a lot of awards thrown their way for the effort. One of the things that made Firewatch stand out, was the stunning visuals. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, there’s not doubt about that.
The game sets the scene in the summer of 1989, and you play as Henry, a 40-something who takes a job as a fire lookout in Wyoming. Why would someone want to spend months in the middle of nowhere looking for smoke? In Henry’s case, it’s because he’s having some family issues at home. Reluctant to face these issues, he decides to escape into the woods instead. Very mature, Henry!
But he is not the only fire lookout in the area. On arrival in his tower, Henry is hailed on his walkie-talkie by Delilah, who is working in one of the other towers. They start talking, and after a few days it gets very friendly, as in “don’t-forget-that-you’re-married-Henry”-friendly. But what happens in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness stay in the Wyoming, right? Not when they discover someone is listening in on their conversations, writing down everything they’re saying.
Not That Wild
Playing Firewatch after The Long Dark was weird. In the beginning I was very careful not fall off any of the many cliffs Henry encountered while running around. But after I while, I realized that he can’t fall off the cliffs, or anything else, for that matter. The game simply won’t allow it. Henry is also incapable of jumping, which can be rather frustrating at times.
There is no option to pick up any of the items Henry finds on his adventures. Unless they are relevant for the story, that is. If that’s not the case, you can’t put it in Henry’s backpack. Frustrating when your brain is wired for playing a survival game. None of this is particularly relevant for the Firewatch experience, but I guess it’s worth mentioning if you’re looking for a survival game. Firewatch ain’t one.
If Henry picks up anything, and it doesn’t go in his backpack, you rarely have the option to put it back where he found it. The only option is usually to drop the item, which means Henry will simply throw it on the ground where he’s standing. Any location Henry has visited will look like a pigsty when he’s done. None of this is particularly relevant for the Firewatch experience, but I guess it’s worth mentioning if you’re looking for a house keeping simulator. Firewatch ain’t one.
Despite Firewatch being set in a national park, you’ll encounter surprisingly little wild life. Henry saw a buck. It ran away. Henry saw a bee. It stung him. I’ve also heard rumors you can find a tortoise, and a racoon, but they never showed up during my play through. A wee bit more wild life surely would have been nice.
While the story in Firewatch is interesting, it never really managed to grab hold of me for more than a few seconds at a time. It also feels painfully linear. You are presented with a few options in your walkie-talkie dialogue with Delilah, but all the dialogue branches will end up at the same place. Firewatch is very a linear game set in an open world where there are no choices. In many ways, the game feels more like a beautifully illustrated novel than an adventure game.
My play through lasted for roughly 4 hours. Because I have no real sense of direction, a good part of that time was spent wandering around, looking at the map. The game is good for a single play through. After that, you’d probably never boot it up again, unless you decide to go after any achievements you missed the first time around. Still, the game’s price point feels a bit weird considering how short the adventure is.
Without spoiling anything, I can say that the story ends in a way can only be described as rather anti-climatic. There is no real suspension towards to end - that the game doesn’t allow Henry to die makes sure of that - and there isn’t even a hint of a cliff hanger. Will there be a second Firewatch game? Most likely not.
Campo Santo is working on another game, though. In The Wally of Gods is created using the same mold as Firewatch, and looks absolutely stunning. Let’s hope that this time around, Campo Santo also manages to create a story that matches the visuals.