Wait, what just happened?
So who or what is Firewatch? Tell. Me. Everything.
Firewatch is a first person adventure game by indie developer Campo Santo, a small studio that broke off from Telltale Games – famous for their interactive adventures in franchises like The Walking Dead, Borderlands, and Game of Thrones.
You play Henry, a burly, bearded middle-aged man who escapes the tragedy unfolding in his personal life by…basically running away, and becoming a fire-watchman (I guess that’s what you’d call him) in a national park.
Henry has sought solitude, which is promptly broken by Delilah, Henry’s boss. Through his walkie-talkie, he starts to develop a relationship with her. The player never meets Delilah, but she’s an almost ever-present part of his life in the park.
But after a month of relative hum-drum, strange things start happening to Henry, and around the park.
His tower cabin is broken into and ransacked, he stumbles upon some scientific testing equipment, and he finds a notebook that has detailed descriptions of his conversations with Delilah. His private conversations.
Indeed. Throughout the following weeks, Henry starts to question whether what’s happening is real, or if Delilah is in on some grand conspiracy. It really ramps up the tension and makes you question things yourself – and since you never leave Henry’s perspective, it wholly sucks you into his world and way of thinking.
So what, was it all a delusion?
Not exactly. In fact, it all builds to a big crescendo and then the final reveal falls horribly flat. Not 10 minutes later, the game just ends. Quite an anti-climax!
I won’t be spoiling any of that, because otherwise why bother playing it? Just rest assured that the journey is more satisfying than the destination.
That’s a shame. So how does it play?
It plays like many other first person ‘walking simulators’ such as Gone Home and The Stanley Parable. You walk around the relatively large park, guided from story beat to story beat using your trusty map – and Delilah’s suggestions over the radio.
Unfortunately the game has an awful lot of backtracking that can become tedious, and there’s no fast travel system. It makes sense in a game like this, but it can be pretty deflating to leave your tower for a corner of the map only to spend 2 minutes there and have to stroll all the way back!
Along the way, you find notes and books that help flesh out the work and the park’s past, and you come across tools like axes and rock-climbing equipment that unlock new areas of the park.
So, no combat?
Nope, but even without, it builds tension a hell of a better than many games that do have combat.
Nice. What about the graphics?
It uses an interesting, cartoony art style that makes everything in the world pop, and certainly sets it apart from its peers. And it looks fantastic. The sunsets are truly something to behold.
And the soundtrack?
Ambient music plays beneath the natural sounds of the forest – birds chirping, and wind rustling through the trees . But during key parts of the story, the music manages to make you feel exactly how the game wants you to, be it happy, sad, or scared.
The voice-acting is also uniformly excellent; the two leads have great chemistry, and their relationship has all the ups and downs to make it seem genuine. That’s obviously helped by a script that sounds real, heartfelt, and even funny at times.
Brilliant! So is it worth picking up?
Absolutely. Everyone should play Firewatch – even people who turn their noses up at walking simulators. Like most others, it does clock in at a rather short 4 or so hours, but it has a budget price to go along with it. Sadly, the backtracking, and the horribly anticlimactic ending do detract from the experience. But for under a tenner, it’s a walk that’s worth experiencing.