Passion projects tend to turn out one of two ways; either they become exactly what you hoped and are amazing or the passion shown doesn’t match the quality and disappointment reigns. There was much excitement when Firewatch was announced, with long-time friends forming Campo Santo to create the experiences they wanted to see in gaming. Firewatch exploded into people’s minds, with the beautiful visual style and snippets of humour seen catching the attention of many. However, while they had experience from other studios, Campo Santo were still untried on their own and Firewatch itself was only shown in small doses, leaving people to wonder exactly what Firewatch actually was beyond a first-person adventure game. Well, today I’m here to tell you about my journey through the summer of 1989 as a fire lookout named Henry.
I begin hiking through the wilderness as I make my way towards my tower and home for the next three months. The scenery is incredibly beautiful, with a distinctive style brought through from Olly Moss, and a lovely palette of colours used in the surrounds. I found myself simply wandering around at many points during my summer, simply looking for new areas and new scenery for me to capture on the disposable camera I found in my first week in the forest. The beautiful surroundings set the perfect backdrop for my adventure and brought me straight into the game.
As I finish my first hike, during which I have played through a choose your own adventure story reminiscing on the reasons for my being in the forest (which I won’t spoil here), and slowly make my way through the door into my tower, the radio on my desk bursts to life. Soon, I’m going to realise that this radio will effectively be my life for the next 3 months, but for now the banter with my supervisor Delilah begins. While the graphics are beautiful, and the music wonderfully matching the ambience and situation, the writing is what really sets Firewatch apart from other games. With varying degrees of wit, sarcasm, humour and affection, the relationship that sprouts between Delilah and Henry is endearing to see. The script is so well written, and the voice acting so perfectly on point, that I was drawn to opening and lengthening conversations at every opportunity. The characters of Henry and Delilah felt real and engaging in a way that I haven’t seen in a game in quite a while, especially considering the variety of responses that I can give and the directions this can take out relationship.
As I spent my time listening in to Henry and Delilah’s conversations, I meandered my way through a story that started sweetly and somewhat sadly, but quickly became much more thrilling and menacing than I expected. After some tense moments dealing with some campers who had more booze than sense, my journey quickly took a turn for the worse. The story slowly and surely built suspense, as Henry, Delilah and myself grew more paranoid and edgy as we tried to work out what was happening around us. Things were going bump in both the night and day, and our journey seemed to be taking a walk into science fiction, and then the journey abruptly came to a stop. After the slow climb towards the pinnacle of the story, it was like finding an unpassable crevice three quarters of the way up. After all the time exploring and experiencing the world of Firewatch the games story and all of its mysteries are wrapped up and swept under the rug in a period of 15 minutes. It was an underwhelming and disappointing way to end the game, and left me feeling like I hadn’t quite gotten my fill.
My journey wasn’t all roses and scary stalkers, there were also a few bumps along the way that hindered me to varying degrees. The camera controls are interesting, with a really slow initial movement and then an exceptionally quick acceleration when you hold the stick to the side for more than a second. With no options to adjust the camera controls in game, a large part of your time is spent adjusting to the controls so that you don’t spend hours spinning in circles. The other hurdle comes up frequently, in fact much more frequently than it ever should. Firewatch suffers from some of the worst technical performance I have seen in quite some time. The framerate drops constantly as you look around and move, leading to screen tearing and somewhat leaving you wanting to not look around. On top of the frame rate, there are also complete stops and hitches at times. Sometimes they occur when the game autosaves and seemingly at other times when the game is attempting to populate or load the next section of the open world prior to you getting there. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the overall experience, however, it did detract from the experience and this sort of performance should not be accepted by players.
Overall, my journey in Firewatch was engaging and fun, with wonderful scenery and some of the best written and most believable conversations I’ve ever heard in a game. It was a special journey, however, the ending felt rushed and the feelings that were invoked during the game were brushed under the carpet. Additionally, the controls were frustrating and the technical issues are inexcusable. I would definitely still recommend Firewatch to anyone and everyone, but it would have done well to have been kept in the oven for a while longer.
Gorgeous art style and scenery br> Wonderful script and characters br> Perfect voice acting
Abrupt and disappointing ending br> Frame rate issues br> Frustrating controls