If the name of this post didn’t warn you already, I’m going to spoil the hell out of Firewatch. Consider yourself warned!
As an avid listener of the Idle Thumbs podcast and with The Walking Dead Season 1 being my favourite Telltale season by far, it’s safe to say I couldn’t wait to see what Campo Santo’s first game Firewatch would be like. The writing team behind The Walking Dead, the art work of Olly Moss and the music of Chris Remo. I like all those things!
Aside from the first trailer I pretty much went dark on Firewatch up until its recent release. Very few games I do this with (the anticipation can often get the better of me), but if the wonderful surprises of Firewatch are anything to go by, I’m going to do it more often.
To say it starts off intensely is an understatement. Not because there are explosions or you’re on the run, instead it’s because of the beautifully written words on screen. Almost like a text adventure, it details your character Henry’s past and what drove him to take the job of a fire lookout in the Wyoming forest. It’s quite a tragic tale that makes you sympathise with the character more so in the first five minutes than most games entire playtime.
And in the next few hours it took to complete Firewatch I was sucked into the story of Henry and the other fire lookout Delilah. Delilah being your only other contact throughout the game as she constantly talks to you on your radio. It’s this relationship that’s at the heart of the game. As each day unfolds you can choose to confide in Delilah or ignore her with each conversation offering multiple responses.
It’s a game that is light on action to say the least. Each day you’re given a new task to do by Delilah, which usually involves doing a lot of walking through the forest, using a map and compass to navigate. But before long the mystery begins.
Your conversations are recorded and a constant presence appears to be watching you. It almost feels like a horror movie at times as each moment you climb onto the rocks above, you almost expect someone to be there, ready to pounce. It’s a story that either ends satisfactorily or with a whimper depending on who you talk too. It’s certainly received a split reaction.
Initially I was a member of the latter, an ending that seemed to just happen, it felt very anti-climactic. But then once I started to think about what I experienced, the ending made perfect sense. This whole LOST-like conspiracy you have in your head being nothing more than your imagination going haywire, the truth being far less exciting, but a lot more real.
If there’s one downside to the story, it’s that the disappearance of the young boy and father isn’t given enough time to truly develop. Perhaps an issue due to the games short length (a few hours if you rush through it) the discovery of the boy’s body after a climbing accident could’ve been far more impactful if the mystery had been given more time in the story rather than the, quite clever, story misdirect. Coming across a research station manages to let Henry’s, and your own, imagination run wild about what exactly is going on. The reality though being a lot less fantastical.
The most disappointing aspect of Firewatch is the PS4 performance. It’s been patched since I last played it, so I don’t know how well it’s been fixed, but for the first few days the framerate was pretty appalling with some players even reporting crashes and getting stuck on scenery. Yet despite this it never detracted too much from the overall experience.
Firewatch is a game that come the end of the year may earn itself a few Game of the Year accolades.