Telltale’s The Walking Dead was met with critical acclaim when it was released in 2012, and arguably revitalised the dying adventure game genre. Firewatch has much in common with Telltale’s game, released by Campo Santo, a studio founded by creative leads who had previously worked on The Walking Dead.
Unlike Telltale’s point-and-click inspired adventure games, the story unravels from a first-person perspective. Early marketing hinted at a game that looked and played like a survival game, with the player chopping down trees and exploring caves, but the player’s interaction with the environment is in reality, rather limited. Firewatch is not a hiking simulator.
The four-to-five hour story follows a volunteer fire lookout, Henry, and his relationship with his supervisor Delilah (they communicate via walkie-talkie). The script, from writer Sean Vanaman, manages to succinctly tell a story which mixes humour and mystery. It’s short for a videogame, which is ultimately a good thing as there’s no filler or plot thread that is unnecessary. The voice actors Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones (who play Henry and Delilah respectively) bring life to script in a way that is unparalleled in video games. Henry and Delilah are relatable and believable characters, both hiding from their past. Without spoiling too much, Firewatch isn’t a story that is grand or fantastical; it’s grounded in reality with a tight focus on the interaction between its main characters. Some have complained that it is anti-climatic and non-cathartic, a symptom of the fact that it offers something new in video games – a narrative that is more subtle. Gamers are used to instant rewards and results, but Firewatch requires the player to think and reflect.
Those who can’t afford a flight to North America to visit it’s lush national parks will find solace in the setting of the beautiful wilderness of Campo Santo’s debut release. The environments, rendered in the Unity Engine, are inspired by Yosemite and Yellowstone. Whether you are walking around a forest, a cave or a lake, the game is truly breathtaking. The changes in environment and time of day are reflected in Chris Remo’s moody score. When the game is at it’s most thrilling, the soundtrack adds even more suspense. It’s part of the continuing trend of indie games with great soundtracks.
The only downside to an otherwise spectacular debut, is the game’s poor performance on the PS4. Normally, I don’t like focussing on the technical problems with games, but with Firewatch the frequent framerate issues are noticeable. However, play the game on PC and you’ll be able to fully enjoy one of the best adventure games in recent years.
Firewatch is out now on PS4 and PC