GAME REVIEW: Firewatch

Developer: Campo Santo
Publisher: Panic/Campo Santo
Switch Release Date: 12/17/18
Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Synopsis: You play as Henry, a man who takes a temporary summer job as a fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. Set over the course of one summer, the player is tasked with protecting the wilderness in Henry’s sector all while learning more about what brought Henry to this job in the first place.

Story: Firewatch is a single-player adventure walking simulation game, where story is king and everything around you is in service to the story taking place both in present day and in the past. With a game like this, if the story doesn’t work, the game doesn’t work. There are no flashy action sequences that will distract from a poorly written narrative, so the writers and developers of the game really had to work hard to craft a story that is captivating and compelling. The team at Campo Santo not only achieved this goal, they completely obliterated it.

Part introspective journey of self-realization, part mystery, part nature simulation, the story in Firewatch is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in a game. I felt like I was watching a movie unfold before my eyes, but a movie in which I was in complete control the entire time. And at the core of this story is the relationship between Henry and his supervisor Delilah, beautifully portrayed by Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones, respectively.

You never see Delilah–you only talk to her through a walkie-talkie, so voice acting is one of the most crucial aspects of the game. Both Sommer and Jones deliver tour-de-force performances, imbuing every word and interaction with honesty, awkwardness, humor, anger, devastation–whatever the specific circumstances of every interaction dictates. I was so invested in their story that I found myself pulling out my walkie-talkie just to see what Delilah was up to during the times she went radio silent.

Source: Nintendo Everything

As you get deeper into the game, you realize that there is more at play than just the mystery of Henry and Delilah’s pasts–a present-day mystery starts to unfold around you. The story always keeps you on your toes, oscillating between having you act out the necessary story beats and abruptly jumping forward in time, forcing you to pick up the pieces of what happened since the last time you were with the two characters.

There is a lot of controversy about how the story ends, and that it didn’t really live up to the promise of the first parts of the game. While I’ll admit, initially I wished we got a little more from the end of the game, but the more time I’ve spent thinking about the game after I beat it, I have to say I absolutely love the way it ended. Have you ever had a relationship or a friendship that was so intensely important to you for a short time, but then it just completely faded away? That’s what happens here. The relationship between Henry and Delilah is of the utmost importance until, all of a sudden, it isn’t anymore. That’s life, kids.

Gameplay: The gameplay loop is simple, effective and addicting. You walk around and interact with things around you, and anything of interest makes you pull out your walkie-talkie to call Delilah and let you know what you have found. Controls are simple and smooth, and rarely get in the way of the story as it unfolds.

I will say, however, that I encountered a number of hiccups in the game as it loaded new areas, and the game even crashed at one critical point, making me restart my Switch and forcing me to pick up my game a good ten minutes back from where I left off. This was annoying, but the story was so compelling that I pushed through it. And that is such a testament to the writing of this game–if that would have happened in any other game, I would have turned off my Switch in frustration and come back at a later date, or maybe not even at all. But I needed to know more, so I powered through, lagging stutters and pop-ins be damned.

The opening minutes of the game are beautifully realized, as well. You alternate between reading about what happened in the past (and choosing dialogue options) and witnessing Henry’s hike up to his watch tower. The way the game jumps from the past to the present heightens the tension and gives a real dramatic weight to the events that drive Henry to this temporary job in isolation.

Design: I played Firewatch the same week that Horizon: Forbidden West came out. Now, please hear me out– I am not comparing the two. I know that people love Horizon and they are very excited about the game and particularly the graphics and what that means for next-gen (now current-gen) graphics. However, the simplicity of the art work by Olly Moss in Firewatch is absolutely captivating to me. I found myself getting lost in this world, in ways I never have been before. It’s a little cartoony, a little realistic, but it just all comes together to create a world that I felt was real, and want to visit in real life. And when the fire starts to rage? Everything gets hazy and fire-soaked, adding to the confusion and tension of the story. What a breathtakingly beautiful game.

Music: The score for this game, composed by Chris Remo, is absolutely phenomenal. I’m listening to it right now as I write this review, and it takes me back to my time in the wilderness playing this game. It’s equal parts folksy, beautiful, haunting, and playful, and never gets in the way of what is going on in the story. I consider the music to be a critical third character in the game–it is simply that good.

Remo knows when to hold back, too, and some of the most intense moments of the game feature no music at all, just the sounds of nature or the roar of a blazing inferno around you to add tension and mood to the moment. Overall, the sound design and score are both some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a game.

Final Score: 5/5

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I can’t overstate how impactful and important this game is. This is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this, and Firewatch will stick with me for years to come. Its a testament to the game, script, score and design that even literal errors in the game still don’t negatively impact my overall impression of it. Firewatch is like nothing I’ve ever read, watched, or played. Everyone should experience this masterpiece. It is one of the greatest games of our generation, and games from all genres should take notes from what the team at Campo Santo was able to accomplish here.

Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward SwordSuper Mario 3D World, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and, now, Firewatch. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.

Featured Image Source: GameLuster

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