Campo Santo’s Firewatch is an emotional and mysterious ride through an abandoned wonderland. It’s a game filled to the brim with fantastic art direction, enthralling writing and spectacular voice-acting performances which then overflows with its grounded, real and tragic characters. It offers a very lively and worthwhile experience that I haven’t seen in awhile.
The game follows protagonist Henry who runs away from his responsibilities in Boulder, Colorado and escapes to complete isolation in a summer job as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Perched atop his watchtower, his only connection back to humanity is a handheld radio with his supervisor, the equally as emotionally withdrawn, Delilah on the other line.
Once on the job, I was captivated by the beautiful and lush woods that are Henry’s home for the course of the game. I set out into the wilderness on a few simple tasks by Delilah at first and here I was able to immerse myself in the great rendered outdoors and escape my own life for the four to five hours of story. Things quickly take a turn for the mysterious when a couple of teenage girls start causing trouble by the lake and then go missing. From that moment forward the game turns into a mysterious thriller as stranger and stranger happenings start occurring and I no longer feel so alone in the big bad woods. Tensions rise, sanities are questioned and friendships become strained as the search for truth only results in more confusion.
Henry is mine to limitedly mold as I’m given choices to make in a introductory prologue that plays like a text-based adventure. I’m able to give Henry a serious personality or a funny one. I went with the latter. Throughout the game, Delilah will contact Henry to chat and joke, and I too can take out my radio and talk to her about interesting sights and landmarks I run into wandering through the woods. This is where the emotional and captivating portion of the game is offered. The more I talked with Delilah the less alone I felt and the more she opened up. The option to completely ignore Delilah and play a completely solitary run through the game is also available; although, I feel that would take away a large portion of the game’s appeal because the minute to minute gameplay of the game is not very engaging.
For the most part, my objectives in the game are simply to go from point A to point B, C, D, all the way to Z. I can choose my own path and explore, but there isn’t that much to find aside from cache boxes, notes, and a turtle that you can adopt (I named him Leo for obvious reasons). I personally didn’t mind that this is a walking simulator but I would have enjoyed more animals and objects to interact with. There is no minimap, instead boyscout Henry is equipped with a map and compass to navigate the environment. This can be confusing at times and I’ve gotten lost here and there but it sold the overall experience and made me appreciate the detail to the world.
No game is without problems. Firewatch’s story burns bright but gets extinguished in a very unsatisfying third act and ending. It also suffers from a few technical stutters on the PS4. The environment would not always load properly, sometimes trees and rocks would spontaneously load in front of me. At one point, the game froze on me and when I loaded it back up I had a difficult time triggering the next objective so I had to load it back up a couple of times.
+ Beautiful game
+ Great dialogue
+ Voice-acting performances
– Story fizzles out
– Technical issues on PS4
In the end, Firewatch gave me a wonderful four to five hour escape from all my responsibilities that felt very worthwhile. It had great storytelling, well written characters and awesome dialogue. I would say, however, that the game is not for everyone, but if you enjoy a story heavy video game and don’t mind a lack of gameplay then check it out…eventually.
Matthew Owczarz is a Canadian writer for The Game Bolt.