After a little over a month and selling 500,000 copies, its clear that Firewatch is a success. For a debut title from a small studio like Campo Santo, its no small feat and more than worthy of its high-regard.
Firewatch takes you to Wyoming in 1988 in the character of Henry, a new fire lookout recruit in the Shoshone National Forest. From there Henry becomes increasingly entangled with some mysterious happenings around the forest with his only human contact being his boss Delilah on the other end of his walkie-talkie.
Before the gameplay truly begins, however, Firewatch takes its time setting the player up for the kind of tone they should expect. The player is given a series of choices that setup Henry’s backstory in a way that forces the player to become Henry. This approach is effective because it made my own decision making very difficult. Without replaying it, I can’t say whether or not these decisions alter anything beyond some line reads, but I can say it affected how I played as Henry.
When the game does truly begin, you’re placed right in the thick of things as you make way to your fire tower in the park. Once you reach the tower and strike up your first conversation with the disembodied voice of Delilah, you become acquainted with the character of Henry and what this job is really about for him. There is a lot more to unpack with the story, but Firewatch is so much about the experiences unfolding naturally that its very difficult to discuss without spoiling the game. This game is about story and characters over gameplay, which is limited to dialogue choices and exploring the forest.
I played this game with my girlfriend in essentially two sittings, as its only around four hours.* From the first moments, we were sucked into the story of Firewatch with our own individual ideas about plot twists and where all of this would end up with Henry. We got some things right and we got a lot wrong, but the ending was still every bit as rewarding as we could have hoped.
Firewatch is a great emotional and exciting ride and, with its notable success, I expect we’ll see more like it from Campo Santo.
*Worth noting, this game does open up at points for exploration. I’m not sure if it’s an actual spoiler, but there is a point where the game essentially asks you if you’re done exploring. If you do want to see everything, I suggest taking your time at this point. You can explore later on but by then the story is in full swing.
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