Firewatch is a recently released first person adventure indie title from Campo Santo. The idea behind this game is exploration combined with a mystery. The game starts off with a choose your response style opening that establishes the relationship between your character, Henry, and his wife Julia. Without spoiling anything, its an incredibly effective sequence that perfectly explains why Henry is taking a job in Wyoming in the middle of a forest.
Once the game begins, Henry establishes contact with his boss, Delilah. It’s a credit to the writing and voice acting that their relationship feels authentic, despite the fact that you never see her. You don’t even have any real contact with another human being outside of a couple silhouettes. The game is structured into the days spent out in the woods, and as time goes on, the story unfolds into darker territory. It is here the atmosphere of the game really shines. This is a game that needs to be played with headphones on and no other distractions. The ambient sounds of wildlife in the background of the game’s more quiet moments amplify the feeling of isolation, especially in the later parts of the game. There are moments where Henry will climb a cliff and as he gets to the top, the camera dips slightly and then he pops up. I can’t say how many times I expected something to be in my face, and the excellent storytelling never allowed me to get rid of that feeling. Navigation is performed with a compass and map, and the developers did a great job of making this portion of the game as simple as possible. There were moments where I got turned around, but it never lasted more than a couple minutes before I was back on my way.
Fortunately, getting lost wasn’t too bad a thing, due in part to the incredibly well animated environments. The art style is a mashup of cartoonish and realistic elements. It’s almost like a far more advanced Wind Waker art style. There were times where I would just stop and take in the graphics. The game takes place in the summer, and the world is very bright and colorful early on. As time goes on, and a fire begins to ravage the park, the environment reflects the aftermath. In other areas, places where controlled burns took place look appropriately charred. Campo Santo did an amazing job making the park feel like a previously existing place. There is even an in-game disposable camera to use as well, so you can take pictures that will be displayed in the end credits.
The majority of your time will be spent walking, climbing, and speaking to Delilah for instruction and story exposition. You use a walkie-talkie to do all your communicating, and even that comes into play as an important plot device. You can communicate with her about pretty much anything you pick up or see, resulting in some pretty cool dialog that further enhances the relationship between the two characters. You are also able to recover items and fill in your map through supply caches placed throughout the park. The strange thing about the game is that you only hear wildlife, and the story is so engrossing that it actually enhances the feeling of solitude. It’s a large part of the game, and Henry even begins to question the one relationship he has in Delilah at certain parts. The feeling of being alone is compounded further each time the reason he’s out there is brought up. It makes you question not only how Henry could be there, but whether or not you would do the same in his shoes.
I can’t stress enough how amazing this gameplay experience was. There isn’t any combat, but there are some pretty cool moments. The important thing to note is that this game is all story, but it’s a story with experiencing. Adrenaline junkies may want to steer clear, as the slow pace and lack of action may bore you. For everyone else, if you find yourself with 4-5 hours to spare and nothing to play, buy this game. It’s absolutely worth it.