Everybody’s running from something in Firewatch, the debut game from development studio, Campo Santo.
Available on the PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, and Linux, Firewatch is a first person adventure game that tells the story of a volunteer fire lookout in the summer of 1989. You play as Henry (voiced by Rich Sommer), a middle aged man spending a summer away from home (for reasons made known to the player at the outset of the game). It’s Henry’s job to make sure that Shoshone National Forest doesn’t burn down on his watch. Being new to the job, Henry is quickly contacted (and aided) by Delilah (voiced by Cissy Jones), his supervisor. It’s their relationship, your interaction and choices between the two of them, and the exploration of the surrounding area that is the crux of Firewatch.
The gameplay of Firewatch consists of you wondering around the surrounding area of the forest and interacting with both Delilah and the environment. You’ll come to areas in the environment that will be blocked off until you have a specific item, or you’ll come to areas where you’ll have to traverse the landscape. While roaming around, you’ll stop and take in the environment. That’s because it’s is a beautiful game. The environment is colorful, lush, and every landscape paints a portrait. The game also does a great job fitting a lot into a small amount of geological space. There’s a lot to see and interact with, and you’re never more than four or five minutes away from getting to a specific area. Yes, there’s the occasional backtracking throughout the game, and there are a few times you’ll have to think about where you need to go, but for the most part, Firewatch does a great job of keeping you on track.
Throughout your time wondering the environment, there will be specific instances where you’ll be able to pull up your radio and talk with Delilah about the current situation. Whether it’s lighthearted conversations about the word “panties,” or serious ones about love, loss, and abandonment; the conversations you have with Delilah will be prevalent throughout the game. As for the tone of the game as a whole, I think the introduction does a great job of setting that up. It introduces us the character of Henry, his life, and also lets the player “tweak” those in certain ways. We all end up with a Henry who is regretful with his current situation, but is he regretful and someone who keeps his guard up all the time? Through dialogue options, the players can make those (small, but conscious) decisions … that’s Firewatch.
Relationships, Interaction, and Exploration are the crux of Firewatch
Where the game shines is in its writing. Henry and Delilah are both humanistic characters, and the game feels like a real conversation between two people. Firewatch reminded me a lot of the game Oxenfree while I was playing it. While Oxenfree had excellent dialogue that really nailed down how teenager’s spoke, Firewatch’s dialogue does the same with a more adult demographic. It’s the moments when Delilah and Henry are talking about their lives, their relationships, and their turmoils that really attached me to these characters.
That being said, I wish the game focused more on the relationship between Henry and Delilah rather than adding more elements of mystery. Don’t get me wrong, the game moves along at a brisk enough pace that the narrative never felt boring, but I felt that I wasn’t truly invested in the mystery as much as I was with Henry and Delilah’s relationship. For instance, one of my favorite scenes in the game comes when Delilah is trying to sketch out what she believes Henry to look like, and subsequently, Henry is describing to her the makeup of his composition. It’s a funny, charming scene which I wanted more of.
I completed the game in just under four hours. From what I can tell, there are no real collectibles to find in Firewatch. (albeit a few “gags” that last no more than a few seconds — usually dependent on choices the player makes). There are supply caches sparsely littered throughout the environment that you can find and open. These usually consist of a portion of the map, that you can take and in turn updates your own map with a new, distinguishable path for easier navigation. You’ll often find notes written by rangers who were previously stationed in the forest. These notes are interesting, but besides adding a little flavor to the world, they serve little more purpose.
That’s the thing about Firewatch. It’s full of a lot of these little interesting things that the player is able to (or choose not to) do. Do you throw the rowdy teenage girls’ radio into the lake after they berate you and call you a pervert? Or, do you leave it alone and just give them a stern yelling? Like the introduction of the game, these choices, while conscious, don’t really matter heavily. Besides a few changes in dialogue, they don’t have an impact on the overall narrative.
Firewatch is full of a lot of little interesting things that the player is able to (or choose not to) interact with
With any narratively heavy game, the question I ask myself is; does that narrative come together? I believe that Firewatch’s does … to an extent. While I think the “payoff” to the mystery aspect of the game was a bit bland, I felt that connecting it to what I thought the overarching meaning of the story was, and viewing it as a parallel to the other characters in the game (especially to Henry), it worked well. Everyone’s looking for something in Firewatch.
If you like games with strong narratives and ones that give the player their fair share of dialogue choices (The Walking Dead, Oxenfree, Gone Home), then I would definitely recommend Firewatch. The narrative is strong enough that it will push you to see it to it’s conclusion (probably in a single sitting), and it’s elevated by the relationship between Henry and Delilah. The environment is beautiful, there’s a lot to see and interact with, and you as the player will constantly be engaged with the narrative with the dialogue choices you make. It’s a fine debut from Campo Santo, and one you should definitely check out.
A PC copy of Firewatch was provided by the developer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.