by Joshua Russo
Developer: Campo Santo
Publisher: Panic Inc.
Format: PlayStation 4 (played), PC, Linux, Mac (played), Xbox One
Release Date: February 09, 2016 (Xbox One – September 20, 2016)
Firewatch manages to withstand the heat as Campo Santo’s debut release. The experienced team at the newly formed studio has delivered an experience that’s as narratively gripping as it is visually stunning.
Firewatch begins in 1975 with an interactive backstory of the protagonist Henry and his relationship with his wife Julia. Players will make a number of choices during this sequence, including their first conversation, pet adoption and career paths. This introduction follows the cutesy highs and devastating lows of Henry and Julia’s relationship, from the very beginning to its current status in 1989. This brilliantly gives players an insight into Henry’s mindset and gives them an emotional investment into their protagonist.
Henry has taken a job in the Wyoming wilderness at an isolated watchtower to report and track wildfires. His only social interaction is via a walkie talkie with Delilah, his supervisor. Delilah’s watchtower can be seen in the far off distance of the mountains, but her voice is just a click of a button away.
Henry and Delilah will have many conversations during their summer together, from the casual and light hearted topics to the deep and personal. Each discussion with Delilah leaves Henry with multiple responses to choose from. He can be open and honest, sarcastic or just plain not even respond. The dialgue choices can open up new topics and inside jokes between Henry and Delilah that can carry straight to the end of the game.
Shortly after settling in, Henry’s first assignment from Delilah is to stop a couple of teenagers from shooting off fireworks near his tower. This is the first real chance players have to explore the area around the watchtower. When Campo Santo first announced Firewatch, the only thing they had to show from it was a single painting by Olly Moss. Firewatch is a beautiful game and Moss’ art carries through very well in the final product. Distant trees, mountains and boulders appear almost as a watercolor painting, which feel perfectly natural in the aesthetic of Henry’s surroundings. Dead trees, sandy mountains, lakes, caves and green forests provide a spectrum of colors and shades that change as days go by.
As Henry explores his surroundings, the sounds of wild Wyoming take over. Birds sing during the day from the trees and the skies above. Winds blow through the tree and bushes rustling the branches. And ducks and frogs quack and croak around the lake. During certain points in the game’s narrative, music will accompany the wildlife at just the right times.
As gorgeous as Firewatch‘s nature is, it quickly becomes unsettling once Henry returns from dealing with the teenagers only to find that his tower has been ransacked. The mystery deepens when his prime suspects, the rowdy teenagers, are reported missing and Henry was possibly the last person to see them. These factors give the peaceful wilderness a much more eerie and frightening vibe. The mystery in Firewatch is so compelling that it’s nearly impossible to put down before reaching the end. Each new piece of information only leaves more questions and puzzles for Henry and Delilah to figure out, while simultaneously amplifying the threat of the unknown.
The emotions carried through the voices of Henry and Delilah are done so excellently. Rich Sommer does an amazing job as Henry, whether he’s joking around, shouting at teenagers or opening up about his personal problems. Delilah is voiced by Cissy Jones, and her experience in voice acting is obvious. The roles are performed as well as they are written. The best thing about Henry and Delilah is that they are authentic and deep characters. Every interaction they have with each other is genuinely human. The final relationship Henry builds with Delilah is dependant on his responses and discussions with her.
During Henry’s time in Firewatch, he finds a disposable camera with over twenty pictures left in the roll. Players can use this to take their own shots of nature while they explore, and they should. The game has plenty of spots that would make great photo opportunities.
For players that care about trophies or achievements, Firewatch is disappointing in that department. There are only five story-based trophies/achievements that can be earned simply by finishing the game’s story. While Campo Santo has said they did this because they did not want to dictate how individuals play their game, Firewatch has more content than the trophies lead on.
Firewatch clocks in anywhere between four and six hours depending on how much players decide to explore. Not a single minute of that playtime feels tedious. If anything, Firewatch leaves players wanting more of everything it has to offer.
For this review, Firewatch was played on PlayStation 4 and a computer. Both review copies were provided by Campo Santo.