Firewatch, developed by a group of just twelve people has finally arrived on the Playstation Store. For a developer’s first to have received such marketing hype was an achievement in itself. Ultimately, well deserved. Firewatch was far shorter than I had expected but the things it showed me… The insight into the struggles of a mid-life crisis and certain sayings that will stay with me for long time all came from a small game with a big story. And an even bigger heart. Do not let the cartoonish style of its presentation fool you into thinking Firewatch is designed for children.
Developer: Campo Santo
Certificate: 16+ (unofficial rating)
Avg Game Length: 4.5 hrs
Firewatch remains mostly light hearted, more so in its colourful art design than its dialogue. It consistently draws you into a world who’s characters are adults and discuss things like adults. Firewatch’s open ended sense of exploration with map and compass would would suggest a day / night cycle. In this day and age, such things are now almost expected. However, the developers have opted for a more segmented sense of time. They place you in separate days throughout Henry’s summer job as a fire lookout in ‘Two Forks’.
This serves to place you in wonderfully lit times of the day. In forests and canyons as the sun pierces through tree branches. Smartly, Campo Santo know how to make use of lighting to make you pause just to soak it all in.
Visual And Audio Tones Serve Up The Perfect Sense of Atmosphere For Firewatch
Light acoustic guitar and piano tones only serve to boost the atmosphere all the more. You’ll even collect a camera to take snaps of your most appreciated views. Suffice it to say, Firewatch’s story develops with time moving forward not organically, but through player discovery. Is this a bad thing? Well, in terms of ‘extra things to do’, I suppose you could say – ‘yes, it limits the gameplay massively’. However Firewatch knows exactly what kind of beast it is. A beast of quality story telling and narrative that is never once designed in such a way to pull you away from that kind of experience.
Inspecting Anything You Like Breathes Life Into Everything
From the get-go, Firewatch will gently hint at you that you are playing a puzzle game. Henry has the ability to pick almost any item up and engage in dialogue about it. While observing it and twisting it around for a better look, you’ll likely pay a massive amount of attention to just about anything you do.
Even if it is utterly pointless in pushing the story forward, this mechanic has you thinking constantly ‘should I be paying attention to this / is this important?’. In making you think this, Campo Santo have ensured that you soak in and appreciate every aspect of their game.
Charming Wit And Excellent Writing Is Your Reward For Divulging All Of Firewatch’s Secrets
Yet, this almost obsessive eyeballing of every interactive item simply draws on and on. There’s no real meaning or conclusion to a vast majority of items. Aside from the often very pleasing dialogue you will get from looking at said item. That is your reward for picking it up – charming dialogue that you would not have otherwise heard. Again, this makes you want to test the game and its limits.
Players will likely find themselves trying to catch the developers out. Perhaps on something that they hadn’t designed a piece of script for. What we have as a result is a simple walk-and-talk-athon. An interactive drama that you must chit chat your way through, seeing it to its conclusion. Consider it an added bonus that you can do all that, with branching options as reactions to often interesting set-up lines, among some beautiful, eye catching scenery.
Knowing Me, Knowing You
At the very start of Firewatch, we are sucked into a kind of questionnaire. You’ll read a bit about Henry’s life leading up to that point. Then, at different intermissions, you may choose different branching paths. After about the halfway point in this starting sequence, you are already presented with some difficult choices. They will likely start to wobble the moral compass somewhat. Players will get to the end of this sequence and Henry begins his first shift at ‘Two Forks’, working under Delilah.
Henry has left a very troubled marriage behind him. Coming to the countryside for what many would consider a job of solitude and loneliness, Henry wants a reprieve from life. One of the first questions Delilah asks him is ‘So what’s wrong with you?’ as the job usually attracts troubled souls. As the story progresses, we see both Delilah’s and Henry’s emotional armour slowly erode. This is after getting to know each other through plenty of banter and a little flirtation. Of course the two never actually meet as all communication is over the radio. Henry will not see another face for the whole of his time in the countryside. This only serves to make the game world seem bigger and you – a lot smaller.
I Would Walk 300 Miles…
The dynamic between the two protagonists of this story is the driving force of its charm thanks to its fantastic voice acting. However, the game did fall down from time to time with sticky frame rate issues. I’m not quite sure why they were there. I can’t imagine Firewatch being at all demanding for the PS4 hardware. However, I experienced some choppy issues when performing context sensitive actions like jumping or when climbing rock-faces.
I was also personally, a little underwhelmed by the ending of the story. Yet regardless of this, it was an ending that still had me thinking about my actions and choices that led me up to that point. This will lead many a player’s mind to fidget restlessly at the end. Were we unwitting participants stumbling to a singular and inevitable end? Or did our actions have purpose, serving up a change in Henry’s time at ‘Two Forks’.
…Just To Be A Tad Confused About You
Of course, the answer shall remain un-aswered with no after credits tease for future stories. I would expect something, personally. When I thought about it enough, there were some major moments that remained a mystery by the end. Perhaps it was all part of Campo Santo’s plan to deliver a mysterious game that would stick in the mind for some time to come.
A little like 2000: A Space Odysee, I get the impression that this is just a short snippet of Henry’s life. Therefore, not really supposed to have any final message or meaning. I did feel that, even with the reduced asking price of around £15 on PSN, perhaps the game was a little too short at around 4 hours. However, for a small development team’s first game, this isn’t bad going. To have received so much exposure and delivered such a memorable experience is a fantastic achievement. Indeed, anybody who plays this game will not forget it or its developers any time soon.