Firewatch has been a game that I had been looking forward to playing for quite some time. The game is a first person mystery set in Wyoming in 1989. The game was made by Campo Santo, and is the first release from the studio.
The studio has writers from Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and other talented people like the artist Olly Moss. Firewatch has a powerfully emotional start, and we quickly learn about the main character Henry and his wife Julia. The game uses a clever dialogue system that sees you making choices that give you an insight to how they met. Without saying too much about the story, Henry has now decided to go and work at Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, to clear his mind, and try to overcome his wife’s illness. The only person you really talk to in the game is your boss, called Delilah, by radio.
I thought that the opening of the game was a touching and clever way of introducing Henry and what type of person you want to play as. I rarely find a game to be so emotionally compelling, and finding out that Julia is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a young age felt genuinely upsetting. You then start to play the game, and you start by hiking up to the tower in the forest. As you do, you talk to a woman called Delilah via your walkie talkie. This is really one of the only people you will communicate with during the entire game, and is what makes up the majority of the story. The conversations have dialogue options, that help you to define Henry’s character. It’s important to note that there is only one outcome to the story, and the choices you make are more about what kind of person you want to be.
Henry and Delilah, have much in common. You are both trying to find themselves, and both have their flaws. The voice acting is absolutely fantastic and really drew me into the story, and care about the characters. When talking to Delilah, or “D’, you get various options for dialogue, and you can even ignore what she says. The environments you explore are full of interesting objects and things to explore, and help add a sense of depth and realism to the world. The game takes you in unexpected directions and twists. What the game does well is to create an unsettling atmosphere, whilst looking beautiful. I found myself questioning what was going to happen, who is Delilah and this made the experience fully immersive.
The gameplay mainly sees you using your map, compass and radio to navigate the forest, with help from Delilah. You will come across certain scenarios and areas that leave you concerned and confused. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, but the game does a great job of making you want to explore that little bit further. The game isn’t hugely long, around five hours, and I finished it in two short sessions. You will find that you revisit certain areas of the map, but it still feels interesting because the time of day changes, which creates very different atmospheres. The controls in the game are simple, but different to what you might be used to. The game focuses hugely on navigation and using your map and compass to guide yourself. I played it on PC and liked how you use the shift key and scroll wheel to make dialogue choices.
The game is visually amazing. The world is full of exaggerated colours, with beautiful sunsets, scenery and overall tone. At times I simply stopped to look around and take in the awesome scenery. The game almost has a type of comic book style, or cartoon feel that works wonderfully. The game feels like a movie, but you are never certain on what type of story it is. At times it felt like a horror, then mystery, then romantic. I loved this about the game, and it kept me invested.
The sound design is also very strong. The game has ambient sound effects that immerse you in the world. There is also music that is subtly used on occasions between dialogue to guide you on your way. The game is fairly slow paced, but has a sense of purpose as it helps to exaggerate the more exciting moments. The game looks beautiful, but is extremely unsettling, and I found myself checking behind me and expecting something to jump out on me. The game ran fine for me on PC, but I have heard there are some issues on PS4. The only real issues I had with the game where things like not being able to climb over small objects, movement is slow and climbing can be fairly tedious. I think this was a deliberate choice to slow the pacing down, to fully immerse you in the world. I would have liked a bit more depth to the story, and was a little disappointed with the outcomes of the characters.
Overall Firewatch is a game that I would recommend playing. It’s totally unique and had me engaged throughout. If you want fast paced action heavy moments, this isn’t for you. What the game does offer is mystery, intrigue and beautiful design. The game isn’t very long, but doesn’t need to be anything more as it feels compact, interesting and felt like a movie. The game doesn’t really have much replayabilty, unless you want to play through again and make different dialogue decisions. The setting, tone and overall presentation is one of my favourite design choices I have seen in some time. Rarely do I find myself thinking about a game so much after I have finished it. I strongly recommend giving this game a go.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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