The untouched American wilderness. Sprawling. Majestic. Beautiful. Quiet. Lonely. What sort of people would volunteer to live there and what happens when they make contact with each other?
Firewatch is the debut game from Campo Santo and the brainchild of Sean Vanaman, of the Walking Dead Season 1 fame. Set in 1989, the game puts you in the shoes of Henry, as he starts his summer job as fire lookout at Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. Upon arrival at his lookout tower, Henry is greeted over the radio by his supervisor Delilah, who lives in a tower across a canyon. The two apparent hermits-by-choice quickly strike up a friendship.
So lonely in Shoshone
Henry’s job primarily consists of looking out the windows of his tower at the scenic landscapes that surround him and occasional trips to deal with unruly teens. Not long after his arrival however, he notices some strange goings on in the area and begins to wonder if there’s more to this job than he thought. In the meantime, he and Delilah grow closer and learn about what brought them to Shoshone in the first place.
As befitting the late eighties setting, navigation presents its own challenges, with only a map and a compass provided to help you find your way around. Henry’s map magically pinpoints where he is by default, but this sorcery can be toggled off in the menus by those seeking a purer orienteering experience. Delilah and Henry remain in near constant communication and Henry’s dialogue options and reports of what he finds are controlled with the trigger buttons.
The Tension Is Mountain
The game tells a good story, alternating from relaxed and humourous chit-chat, quiet moments of introspection and tense encounters — all of them enhanced in their own way by the sense of total isolation save for that friendly voice on the radio. The game’s use of editing in its story is interesting too. Henry’s summer in Shoshone is shown to us in fits and bursts, jumping forward days, sometimes weeks at a time. Most of the time we join him as he wakes up in the morning, but occasionally we’ll cut to him already going about his day. This is smart choice that cuts down on the backtracking and keeps things moving, similarly, when the notable events of the day are concluded, the game simply cuts to the next section.
It’s unfortunate then that these cuts involve quite sizable load times. The frame rate is noticeably choppy in places, though given the sedate pace of the game this is a minor issue really. In addition, I’m aware of at least two cases of save files corrupting. Make back-ups kids!
For all its indie game artistic trappings, Firewatch arguably doesn’t have a grand point or message to make, aside from perhaps a general theme that people are flawed, have regrets and make hard to explain decisions from time to time. However, it’s an engaging story nonetheless and a sweet depiction of two people connecting, as well as a window into an odd but real way of life in a beautiful part of the world.
A witty walking-sim with a mystery element but with its feet planted firmly in the real world. Mild technical issues only slightly hamper the lovely visuals and sense of loneliness. The quality dialogue and gently taxing navigation hold your attention well.