Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC
When it was initially announced a while ago during a trade event, I was a little skeptical about how Firewatch would play out. After all, portraying a park ranger with very little action on your side doesn't sound like the greatest premise in the world, especially when you have alternative titles where you can grasp everything from a shotgun to a chainsaw.
But that's because Campo Santo wanted the game to follow the beat of its own drum, relying on more of an emotional approach rather than the usual first-person antics. And that's exactly why, with the full game released, Firewatch stands out. It leans more on storytelling than actually getting stuff done within the game universe, and while it has its moments of getting lost (or dealing with occasionally choppy visuals), it's a worthwhile experience, especially for those looking for more of a gut-punch from their games.
Welcome To the Jungle
The story follows the day-to-day work of Henry, a man who's been through misery when it comes to the love of his life. He feels that his job in the wilderness will give him solace, but it just makes him feel emptier. Fortunately, he's not completely alone, as he keeps in consistent touch with Delilah, his supervisor, who gives him orders and eventually gets to know him better as the weeks go on.
Most of the magic comes from your decisions in dialogue. You can be a jerk if you want, but taking more of the human route is where Firewatch really pays off, as your conversation provides a much deeper meaning, and you get to know Delilah better. It's not a full-blown love story, by any means, but it provides a sense of comfort that very few games are capable of – and kudos to Campo Santo for that.
On top of that, the missions have a great deal of structure as well. On occasion, you'll need to look for secondary tools or simply accept the fact that you don't get to do everything you want to do (like steal the clothes of the skinny dippers that are sassing you). Nevertheless, it adds to the overall uniqueness of the product, and though it comes to an end too soon, you come to enjoy the journey and worry not so much about the destination.
One more note – don't look for an HUD to save your skin here. You'll have to rely on a compass and map more often than not when it comes to getting from point to point. On occasion, you will get lost, but it's relatively easy to get back on track. It's just another inventive factor that makes Firewatch so different from the rest of the crowd.
A Presentation That's (Mostly) On Fire
As for the presentation, Campo Santo does a pretty good job setting up the game's environment, in the wilderness based back in 1989. The little details really stand out, like the way a glowing sunset basks over the land, or how the trees tend to leave these shadows that you don't mind walking into. There are occasional technical issues with the game's framerate, but never anything to the point where you're discouraged from playing.
The audio is excellent too. The little musical interludes lend a lot to the game's dramatic tone, and the voice acting is top-notch, with both Henry and Delilah coming across as broken (but not destroyed) human figures, just trying to get through the day-to-day process. It's the sort of work that you'd like to hear in other games as well, just to see what kind of haunted voices come from the characters you come to know. It's not entirely straight and narrow, either – there's a few good laughs here, to remind you that even in the darkest of places, some light can be shined upon.