The great outdoors, shadowed by a plethora of plant life and towering trees, each of them imbuing memories from a happier childhood as twigs snap underfoot with
nothing but an assortment of wildlife whistling beyond this green unknown and your own thoughts to keep you company - itís an experience many seek out - even
yearn for - and a pleasant one for most.
Firewatch - from developers Campo Santo - though has a different experience planned for you, one of paranoia, one of self-doubt and ultimately one of self-reflection.
In Firewatch the year is 1989 and you play as Henry - or as he doesnít like to be called, Hank - a middle aged, married man, who has recently
become estranged from his wife Julia due to her early onset dementia. Struggling to cope with this - and his wife now under the care of others - Henry decides
to take a brand new job as a fire watch lookout, within the sparse Wyoming wilderness.
Firewatch lets you experience this quick turn of events through a simple, text-only interaction; offering you various choices - all of them
by no means great - to the problems life has thrown at Henry. Itís clear in these initial proceedings that Firewatch is definitely not going
to be an emotional walk in the park to brighten up your day, nor is Henry an ideal visage of a man, but one broken, with problems jittering under the surface.
Itís on Henryís two day hike to the fire lookout tower that youíll be given your first taste of what Firewatch has to offer and be taken
aback by the beautiful art style the game employs. Whilst the actual modelled, 3D environments within Firewatch are fairly basic, itís the
vibrant colours - clearly guided by Campo Santo artist Olly Moss - that will convey the tone of the game, as it situates you in different times of
day over the multiple in-game days that youíll be playing throughout Firewatch. From dusk till dawn each of these instances give off a
unique lighting hue that completely transforms the wilderness around you, making it a character within itself and successfully able to instantly put you on
edge or at ease - especially in concert with the games sparse background music - exuding a distinct ambience that developers Campo Santo use to their advantage regularly.
The controls Firewatch employs are also extremely straightforward. As you hike towards your lookout tower - and home for the foreseeable
future - youíll be given a simple tutorial consisting of moving with the left stick, sprinting - by toggling the square button or pushing the left stick down
- interacting with objects using the R2 button - that can quickly become fiddly when presented with a large number of objects, with button prompts galore -
and finally traversal.
The traversal mechanics within Firewatch are all context sensitive; meaning there is no jump or climb attached to a button, instead as you
approach an object that you wish to climb, or descend - if and when prompted - simply press the X button to initiate that action. Whilst the traversal
mechanics do their job, there are times when it can become cumbersome with multiple obstacles to traverse in a row, especially on the common routes that
youíll use a lot to get around - waiting for the animations to play out - you may find yourself trying to find quicker paths to your destinations to
circumvent this, and be grateful later in the game when a certain tool shortens a few of those routes for you.
Thankfully even without any helpful waypoints on-screen, finding locations within Firewatch is a breeze. Using a map of the area along with a compass - that is accessible via the
directional pad - it provocates a vast area for you to traverse. Not to worry though as these large open areas are merely for show, crafted with branching
paths in any specific direction smartly funneling into one another. This creates a sense of spontaneity when you explore within Firewatch, as you stumble across items
- such as an abandoned backpack - that have clearly been well placed for every player to find, but giving you the illusion that mere chance brought you
here to uncover the mysteries hidden within.
Though like all illusionís a peek behind the curtain quickly breaks that immersion, and you will regularly come across invisible walls and terrain that arenít
traversable. Itís clear when looking at the bigger whole, the Campo Santo team didnít want to tax the player, allowing them to wander off - become lost - and
not complete their objective; instead as long as you head in the general direction (your player icon is indicated on the aforementioned map) you will have no
problem finding all of your destinations and complete the goal that Campo Santo are clearly targeting all of their creation towards - forwarding the story.
As you finally arrive at your destination and climb your watchtower for a long night of rest, youíll be greeted by the voice of Delilah, who like you is a
lookout, but in a neighbouring watchtower. In the middle of nowhere - with no one to help - the gentle voice of this disembodied Delilah will be your only
solace and your radio will be constantly on hand, becoming a personal safety blanket that is accessible via the L2 button. As you traverse the Wyoming
environment, find items or merely fancy a chat - with a variety of dialogue options for you to choose from - Delilah will be your guide as you both joke,
laugh, shout and ultimately become embroiled in a mystery of whether you are truly alone out here in the middle of nowhere.
And that is frankly the best part of Firewatch, the mystery, the paranoia; can you really trust Delilah? How well can you ever know a person
from just talking? Heck, can we even trust Henry? Firewatch does its best work in these moments, when it asks you these questions, when you
feel like you are being watched - whilst the rudimentary mechanics merely serve a means to an end.
Firewatch is definitely not revolutionary in terms of gameplay - nor does it aim to be - itís clear the direction that developers
Campo Santo - whose team consists of members that previously worked on TellTaleís The Walking Dead - are heading with their beautiful creation.
To create an immersive experience that gives the player a sense of vulnerability, of being watched, of inducing paranoia but intriguing them enough to press on
and uncover the mystery afoot - itís also a game thatís best played knowing as little as possible.
Through roughly 6 hours, I was hooked. Finishing the game in a single playthrough as I reached the games heated conclusion and was ultimately left satisfied
as I pondered upon its message. Firewatch is definitely not for every gamer out there, but if youíre already a fan of immersive, story-driven
games then Firewatch is absolutely a title you need to experience for yourself.
Review copy provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.
8th February 2016
- 4 Out of 5 Stars
Traversal can become tedious
Examining objects can be fiddly
Beautiful art style