Firewatch Review – Stay on the Trail
Isolation. Fear. Nature.
These are all tough things to convey, regardless of the medium. Do they translate well to the world of video games? In the case of Campo Santo’s Firewatch, yes and no.
Henry has lived a hard life. His wife’s got dementia, his father-in-law hates him and he doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life. To get away from it all, he has run away from his problems and has taken a job as a fire lookout in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest. He is assisted in his duties by Delilah, a fellow ranger who helps him out via walkie-talkie.
The setup to the plot is simple enough to keep you hooked, but the game gets off to a bad start by dumping walls of text on you without any imagery. This is rectified when players finally hit the forest, with backstory provided through interactions with Delilah. Much like TellTale’s The Walking Dead (which certain Campo Santo staff members previously worked on), players can choose how to answer Delilah’s questions about movies, life and nature in a number of different ways. However, these choices matter far less than you would expect – all players will get the same ending with only the names of fires, turtles and other trivial things changing in the long run.
During Henry’s summer stay in the wilderness (which translates to about four hours of playtime), there are some plot threads that pop up that affect both him and Delilah as a whole. However, without spoiling too much, most of these threads are left unfinished, with the ending of the game providing more questions than answers. It almost feels like the writers wrote themselves into a corner – a properly interwoven tale would have likely taken twice as long to convey.
Players are given a huge map to explore in Firewatch, with a number of different trails to hike through. There’s lakes, streams, trees, abandoned campgrounds, abandoned sheds and other locales to explore. Trouble is, Henry is railroaded for much of the game. There are oftentimes small areas Henry is literally dropped into, which require plot progression to progress. There are no puzzles to solve (almost all lockboxes have 1-2-3-4 as the code), and the most players will find off the beaten path are the occasional cassette tape, animal sighting or book. Survival instincts or at the very least puzzles would have gone a long way – this is nature, after all.
One thing worth noting though – Firewatch is a looker. The art style looks great when the settings are maxed out on PC, with oversaturated colors and a rounded look for both flora and fauna. It’s just a shame that there isn’t as much to explore as the game lets on.
Firewatch has got an interesting style to it, but it just doesn’t have the follow-through. It’s not a terrible game, but rather an undercooked one. Those looking for something new will likely appreciate its unique style, but even the most fervent of fans will be aware of its faults.