I know there’s a lot more to a game than looks, but from the moment I saw Campo Santo’s Firewatch I was hooked. It just looked so stunning. Seeing the trees and lakes covered in the soft glow of the setting sun was a sight that I could look at for a long, long time. I’ve even thought that if Firewatch was just a walking simulator where you were free to just wander around the park with a camera taking in the views that it would still be a good game.
But it isn’t just that. It is also a game with some top voice acting, an engaging story and a suitably great soundtrack to boot.
I will keep this review as spoiler free as possible, although there may be a few minor ones.
The prologue starts off with a kick in the teeth, setting the scene for why you – Henry, have taken a job in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest as a fire lookout for the summer. It seems like an easy job. It’s quiet, peaceful; you can relax and get away from everything.
You arrive in your lookout tower, it’s small but it looks cosy enough to live in. It has everything you need, a cooker, ample reading material, a bed – albeit a very small bed. It’s the perfect getaway.
Delilah is your supervisor and sits in one of the other watchtowers. She helps you through your first couple of days talking to you over the handheld radio. As she is the only person to talk to you quickly build up a pretty good friendship with her. You talk about each other’s lives, share stories and make jokes with each other. Whilst I was playing I made every opportunity to make conversation with her as I thought it would make the game more interesting. You can, however choose to not talk to her on many occasions – how much this actually changes the game and your relationship with her I don’t know. But it’s certainly something that you might want to go back over and try again to see the different outcomes.
Things are going well until one day you come back to your lookout to find it vandalised. Who could’ve done it? And possibly more important is why? Maybe it was those drunks kids you shouted at after you caught them setting off fireworks? Or maybe it was someone else, someone with a plan a little more sinister, a little more unnerving. Over the course of the next few days, many more strange occurrences happen and you get the feeling that there could be something a lot more dangerous than forest fires to keep an eye out for.
Firewatch quickly goes from easy going and happy to tense and unnerving in a matter of moments as you start to suspect that someone has been following you around and listening in on your conversations with Delilah.
The game play out over a number of days starting at day 1, day 2 etc… and then quickly jumping through the days as until you’re up to days 25 -70. You don’t play through all of these days however – most of the time it just skips through a number of them. During the days you’re fairly free to roam around as you see fit, if don’t fancy heading straight to your marker on the map to check out whatever it is you’ve been asked to check, you don’t have to. Go off and explore if you like!
You don’t have any fancy GPS here either, you have a map and you draw on it to mark locations of interest. Along the way you can find supply caches which also have maps in them. If you take a look at them it will provide you with the chance to update what you’re carrying, marking new cache locations and other points. It’s all very ‘manual’ and I like that. There is no mini map or breadcrumb trail leading your way. You will need to refer back to your map to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. What I like about it is that it keeps things real and grounded, I think it helps with the immersion in the game.
There seems to be a growing trend for games that are less about gameplay and more about the experience – if that makes sense… There isn’t exactly much in terms of gameplay as you walk around the park following directions from Delilah. OXENFREE is another game that is taking- what I see, as an experience route, as is the upcoming Adrift. This is in no way a complaint. I actually really like it. The slower pacing of the game allows you take in the sights and absorb the story, I feel like it allows you more time to connect with everything that’s going on. Standing still in the middle of a field talking over the radio with Delilah was some of the best parts of the game. This has a lot to do with the top notch voice acting. Both Henry and Delilah felt like real people and there friendship that built over time felt real and I couldn’t help but feel for them and become attached to them both.
I’ve already talked about how amazing the game looks and it should really come as no surprise when you have Olly Moss behind a lot of it.
In the game you get given a camera, you can then use the camera in game to take pictures. You only have a set number you can take so you may want to use it sparingly. What I love about this feature is that you can share them here and then order real life prints of the pictures you take in game. I’m very tempted to order the pictures that I took because they look amazing.
It took me just over 4 hours to complete the game and I know to some people that won’t be enough. But personally I loved every minute of it. I also think that if the game length had been much longer that it might have started to drag on a little bit. I know some people have felt aggrieved with the time spent playing but I thought it was a good length.
I really do think that the quality of the acting in the game, the story telling and the visuals is enough to make this game a must play. Sure it’s short and you might feel like it isn’t worth the price but for me it was £14 very, very well spent and I can’t wait to see what Campo Santo come up with next!