Firewatch is a mystery adventure game from Campo Santo that takes place in the Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming in 1989. You play as Henry (voiced by Rich Sommer), a middle aged guy who takes a job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness to get away from the troubles of his normal life. Your only form of communication is through a walkie-talkie with Delilah (voice by Cissy Jones), your supervisor and fellow fire lookout. Mysterious and unsettling events drive Henry to explore the environment below his lookout tower.
Henry: What’s a lichen?
Delilah: Well wouldn’t you lichen to know.
Henry: Oh my god, GOODBYE.
The story is strong in Firewatch and for the most part well written. Dialog is a big part of Firewatch and is usually delivered as time based responses to Delilah via a simple list of responses. In fact, part of what keeps the story going is the dialog. Henry and Delilah’s banter always left me wanting to find some other contextual element to get them talking again.
It’s not all good though in the story of the Shoshone National Forest. Several plot points were never realized and the ending was mostly unfulfilling. In fact, the mystery the made this game so intriguing to me turned out to be less interesting than was initially lead on to be. I want to give some concrete examples here so spoilers ahead.
Very early in the story, Henry has to chase off some partying teens. I chose to do so in a… abrasive manner and chuck their shitty music into the lack. It felt good to do that by the way and if I ever play Firewatch again, I’m doing that again. Eventually, these teens end up missing and Delilah implies that possibly Henry had something to do with it. Obviously, Henry didn’t and puts out that fire with Delilah but what actually happened to the missing teens is never resolved or mentioned again.
Early on in the story, Henry overhears Delilah talking about him to someone else. It was cryptic and when Henry pushes Delilah, she gets defensive enough to AFK her walkie. So from then on, I was under the impression Delilah was tied to the unfolding events in Firewatch. Unfortunately, this was never addressed or explained and I think it’s left as a false positive of the main conspiracy. Boo – I wanted more.
Finally, in the middle of the story, Henry stumbles upon a fenced in area. Delilah has no recollection of this area even though it’s apparently been there for awhile and she’s been a forest fire lookout for years. What Henry finds behind that fenced area is truly odd and spooky. I was exceedingly more excited by this as events unfolded. Unfortunately, by the end of the game, the realization of who created that area didn’t add up or amount to much at all. The purported character actually wouldn’t have had the resources to build such an area given his circumstances. It made no sense and really tainted an otherwise outstanding story. This is the end of any spoilers.
Gameplay in Firewatch is mostly a linear experience. You do have the ability to explore most of the Shoshone National Forest available in the game with exception to areas that require a tool you might have yet. But most of Henry’s actions are directly guided by Delilah or an event. Very little is required by the player other than movement and contextual interaction with elements. I don’t think this is a negative for such a story driven experience and for what it’s worth I also really enjoyed Gone Home.
I played the entirety of Firewatch running through my Sony 2.1 soundbar and even with just two channel stereo the environmental sounds surround you. There’s one section where Henry hears someone following him close behind. If you stop, you could hear someone rustling the wildlife around you. A small touch but an important one that helped keep suspense of the scene going. The voice acting of Firewatch is also top notch. It’s so spot on that I never once thought I was listening to an actor read lines on a page. Campo Santo obviously did very well casting Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones for the roles.
Firewatch is visually very well done. The Shoshone National Forest has a unique, almost Team Fortress 2, look to it that envelops you in the story with it’s different sets pieces and environmental elements like lighting, weather, and sounds. At several times during my playthrough I would stop to take a screenshot of the beautiful environment that sprawled before me. I love when a game’s art direction doesn’t need to be realistic to be authentic and Firewatch nails the look. If there’s anything to complain about in the visuals department it would be performance. I played Firewatch after it was patched from Campo Santo, which was said to have fixed many framerate issues. Unfortunately, a lot still remained during certain areas. This really didn’t impact gameplay because of nature of this game and interactions with the player but it was still a slight annoyance. Further to that point, I also wish the game ran at 60fps, especially since Firewatch resembles the cartoony style. I had a similar reaction to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
I think in many ways, Firewatch shows what the strengths and weaknesses are of a small developer. We think of the word “small” as mostly a derogatory adjective but in the state of video games today, I personally believe that’s not the case. For the past few years I’ve enjoyed small gems like Firewatch more so than the triple A offerings from any of the big publishers. And that’s why even with it’s shortcomings, I really enjoyed the several hours I had with Firewatch. The art direction, music, sound, writing, and dialog are outstanding and shouldn’t be passed up by any gamer interested in a short romp through the wilderness. Yes, it’s story could have tied back into itself better and offered more interesting solutions to it’s main plot but I think it’s more about the journey than the destination.
Campo Santo’s first game is a mysterious adventure with two very well written characters at it’s core.
A mysterious and well written adventure with outstanding voice acting that drives the narrative.
The story ends too abruptly with some of it’s more intriguing plot lines feeling empty.
First Person Mystery Adventure
PC, Mac, PS4
Feb 9, 2016
A little over 5 hours to completion