Welcome to Firewatch ladies and gentleman. Campo Santos thriller / mystery / narrative / walking simulator / adventure / fire watching sim / choose your own adventure / beer can collector / many other things of a game that had such a big buzz behind it that we decided to finally jump into the Xbox One version and have a play through ourselves
Lets add one thing before we start, Firewatch will be a game that you either love or hate come to the conclusion. There is no doubt that you will enjoy a lot of whats on offer here, but come the end of things, it might change your whole opinion on the overall experience. Firewatch might actually turn out for you as more of a interactive story than even a game at all. its really how and what you as the player takes away from Firewatch. You certainly play a game here, but the game plays more with you!
Set in Wyoming National Park in 1989, you play as Henry who has decided to take up a job as a volunteer fire lookout looking to get away from some troubles in his past, present and possibly his future. These issues and more are alluded to by your ‘partner in crime’ aka voice on the other end of the walkie talkie aka you boss, Delilah. The back and forth report between these two characters really gives a human element to the overall adventure, and as it turns out, not everything is as it seems, and being out in the woods on your own might not be as tranquil as first expected.
Its actually rather hard to explain the ins and outs of the story of Firewatch without giving away spoilers.
There are moments that build tension that it feels like a thriller, then there are the peaceful moments or trekking around the wilderness and the game feels like a walking simulator. This again is a beauty to Firewatch as one turn of a corner, one sentence said by Deliah, one typewriter (in Firewatches case) found on the floor, could turn the story upside down, and its fantastic because of it.
As Henry you take up your firewatch post, and you are joined by Deliah on the other end of the walkie. She and you become rather talkative over the months that you spend here, and is one of the massive plus points of Firewatch among many other plus points. The voice acting here in Firewatch by both Deliah and Henry (voiced by Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer) are some of the best found in the history of videogame, that’s how good they play the parts here, from a “Hi Henry” to a “It’s a bra” everything feels genuine and real, where you actually feel like you are Henry and Deliah is always available on the other end for a chat.
Nearly all the gameplay here evolved around what you come across in the national park, and then reporting back via your walkie talkie to Delilah to progress the story along. In most cases, options would appear on screen as you are wondering around the park, and its down to you what route you want to take. At times you could be forgiving, forceful or even argumentative in your responses, it will not change the overall outcome of the story, but it will certainly make a difference in your journey to the end.
There are also cache boxes that you come across around the park, which have various items, the likes of books, letters, clothing, food, and you have options to examine these items, collect them or report to Delilah about them. It does feel that there are elements here which could have been expanded on by Campo Santos, but most of what you find or collect has no real relevance away from the main story being told, which is a shame.
Massive props needs to go the the artists Jane Ng and Olly Moss who make a cartoon mix with cel shading dreamlike effect with stunning features and lighting that rarely doesn’t make your jaw drop. This is one of the best art styles used in gaming in the last 10 years. I rarely use the Xbox Screenshot feature but I must of ended the game with around 50+ screenshots as times it was just that stunning.
There are two other modes available in the Xbox One version of Firewatch.
First a commentary mode which you have various people from Campo Santo explaining the ins and outs of development story, and everything in between, and there is also a a freeroam mode that you can walk around away from being hindered by story aspects, which I would highly recommend as its a joy just to have a relaxing walk around (which I’m sure Henry originally signed up for!)
Talking about the end a paragraph back, this is where the game opinions might change for many people, it comes rather bluntly, and all the mystery that Firewatch was alluding too doesn’t come around, but for me personally I really enjoyed the ending, and thought it wrapped up the happening rather well.
Certain revelations to the story were interesting and came as a shock, and even though certain parts or even gameplay elements seemed wasted or a little forced, you still could decide in your answers how you wanted that chapter to close.
Overall Firewatch is a short and sweet title which can be completed in around 3-4 hours that has many a tense and even sad moment that can really bring on the feels. At times and what happens to the story you feel there is more of a mystery going on than is revealed, and I do wish a little more came of it. Gameplay and progression might not be as you expected but the voice acting, the narrative, the storytelling, and the art here is on par with a many AAA title, and in most cases surpasses it on most levels. There is a human touch here that is not found in many games, and this is a game that needs to be played to be experienced.