The “choose your own adventure” model of in-game storytelling has been a popular one as of late, especially with the recent of success of games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Dontnod’s Life is Strange.
Though it’s not the episodic burns the aforementioned titles are, Campo Santo’s Firewatch takes this same model and twists it in such a way that makes you wish there were more to the story.
What Is It?
On the surface, Firewatch is a first-person exploration game, but its story-driven nature features just enough linearity so you don’t get lost doing your own thing.
You’re put in the shoes of Henry, a guy who finds himself in a midlife crisis due to difficulties in his marriage having a negative effect in his life at home. As an escape, Henry applies for a job as a firewatch at Shoshone National Forest, knowing he can use the opportunity to find solace in temporary solitude. Of course, as this is a video game, not everything is what it seems.
Why Should I Care?
The story itself is hard to talk about without giving away too much, as the introductory sequence does an exquisite job of explaining Henry’s situation by simply surveying you.
After that, the game becomes one of those rare instances where you’re playing from a first-person perspective yet don’t have a weapon. There’s no dying. There’s just progression.
Equipped with just a walkie, map, and compass, Henry has the entire Shoshone National Forest to himself, unless you count Delilah–Henry’s direct supervisor who maintains watch from her own station north of Henry’s.
Despite never seeing her in person, Delilah is literally the only person you make contact with in 99% of the game. In fact, without her checking in on you via walkie every so often, there’d be nothing to do as she’s the one giving Henry new objectives each day.
Most of these tasks require you to trek towards various areas in Shoshone. Your first task, for example, is to seek a couple teens setting off fireworks at a creek to the west of your station. Along the way, you find fireworks, alcohol, and clothes littered on the path as you make your way to them. When you find them skinny dipping, you have the option to scold them, scare them, or even ignore them. In my playthrough, I gave them hell by throwing their boombox into the creek and taking their whiskey.
Other tasks include things as menial as finding food at a distant dropbox, or checking to see if a power wire was cut. In fact, most of the duties you have to abide by as a Shoshone firewatch hardly require any skill at all. It’s really based on your ability to use both the map and compass you have as soon as you start exploring the park.
Both tools are used exactly the way you expect them to. When looking at the map, your current location is always plotted, so if you’re ever lost (which will happen), all you need to do is look at the compass, and you’ll be back on your way as long as you know your north, south, east, and west. Sometimes getting lost is a complete joy, because there are all sorts of different things you can uncover. That and the game is just looks beautiful, which makes the exploration and mystery hardly ever seem like a chore.
But the common denominator in each and every day of the job are the conversations with Delilah.
Over the course of the game, Henry develops quite a rapport with her, and the dynamics of their relationship really grow on you. It’s up to you whether Henry remains distant and lonely, or whether Henry and Delilah become close friends. Like Telltale’s episodic games, your responses (or lack thereof) really establish your relationship. But what makes it so intriguing is that you never come into physical contact with each other (at least in my playthrough), which is definitely an attribute to the superb voice acting by both Rich Sommer as Henry and Cissy Jones as Delilah.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Firewatch is just an awesome change-up when it comes to exploratory, yet plot-driven gaming. Your first playthrough can take anywhere from six to 10 hours, depending on how you explore the camp. As for replay value, it really depends on how invested you are into the characters and story in the interest of seeing how differently situations play out, though there’s bound to me “You Play” features on YouTube within the coming days. If you’re a trophy hunter, Firewatch unfortunately only has five trophies and doesn’t feature a Platinum, so that might disappoint completionists.
Play length and achievements aside, Firewatch is an impressive game. The writing and amazing voice acting really breathe life into a game that could otherwise appear dull since you never actually see any of the character’s faces, but that’s what makes it surprising. Firewatch has you actually feel the emotion instead of seeing it, which up to this point I thought only books were capable of doing.
The game is a feat of creative brilliance that should definitely be given a try by any gamer looking for a mellow, yet thought-provoking experience. Campo Santo has got a real winner here, and if Firewatch is any indication, it’s tough to contain any excitement over whatever the developer’s next project is.