What I envisioned this to be was less of a review of Campo Santo‘s indie hit, Firewatch and more of a comprehensive look at a game that can’t really be explained in few words.
Firewatch start’s with “You are Henry” giving you multiple choices of narrative to build your Henry. Very much like a choose your own adventure types. None of the choices are necessarily good, I was never really happy with any of the choices I had made, and by the narrative’s conclusion I ended feeling like a piece of shit, I’d made Henry selfish and inherently masculine. Earlier on when I was building my Henry I was building him thinking the game was just feeling out choices I would be prone to make later in the game, but as Olivia White pointed out in her Polygon piece, “Firewatch took away our ability to be good people, and that’s where it shines” you are Henry, Henry is not you. You are helping Henry pick only the choices he would choose. It’s a great new aspect to look at Firewatch with.
After the devastating beginning of Firewatch’s choose your own adventure narrative approach, and a philosophical look into ones own psyche, Firewatch becomes a semi-linear walking simulator. You can choose to wander around Firewatch’s gorgeous landscapes if you like, or you can begin your day to day duties as a Fire…watchman? Watch person? Let’s move on…
As with the opening chapter, Campo Santo’s strength lies with their narrative. In your first conversation with your supervisor Delilah, you feel an immediate connection. The dialogue is funny, creative, honest and sometimes sad and dark. It’s hard to pin down anyone one thing that makes Firewatch so great, but even with its beautiful scenery completely overloading your senses, it was the dialogue that really won me over.
You can’t talk about Firewatch without talking about its visuals. The landscapes are gorgeous and the wildlife park is well thought out. There’s different flora and fauna, trees that cover and surround you, cliffs and caverns, creeks, streams, lakes, and even a cave you eventually get to explore. All of this is taken in under different times of the day so you get to see oranges and reds cut across the sky during sunsets or (even stars under the moonlight?). The visuals are sometimes mard by Firewatche’s sometime choppy loading or frame rate issues. I’m not sure what the complete issue was but it’s easily looked over.
To help really immerse yourself into the game, I agree with Ben Kuchera of Polygon when he suggested you turn off the “show your location” on the map. I tried it and it really does make you feel more invested into the game. Firewatch then becomes more methodical as you learn the topography surrounding you, and the fetch like quests feel less fetch and more explorative. Yeup, made that word up on the spot.
There comes a point in Firewatch where you start to change your idea of what you think Firewatch is. It becomes a Hitchcockian suspense thriller. Paranoia starts to take over and you can start to feel as if your reality is unraveling right in front of you. I’m not going to divulge much more because of spoilers, just know that everything may not be what it appears to be.
Firewatch really is something special. It changes the dynamics of what you think a game should be or how you think it should be played. The story is presented to you in a fashion so atypical of modern games that by the end your surprised at how invested you are in to characters you’ve spent less than 6-8 hours with and really with one you never actually get to see. It’s all quite amazing. I applaud Campo Santo for making me question my sanity and believe in conspiracies. Like a great lawyer casting reasonable doubt on a jury, Firewatch made me want to believe. It’s something I really respect Campo Santo for doing, Firewatch isn’t a walking simulator, it’s so much more than that, it’s interactive story telling that’s letting you lead by a loose leash. Choose your path, but you’re never alone.