Firewatch PC review | PCGamesN

Firewatch PC review

Firewatch PC review

The best thing a videogame can give to you, after your finite enjoyment of its systems runs its course, is a sense of time and place. That sense of virtual tourism is often undernourished in even the best games, but Campo Santo's debut title places it at the fore, leaving a heightened, dreamlike experience of Wyoming's Shoshone national park in 1989 that keeps coming back to occupy your thoughts after the credits roll. 

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The best way to play Firewatch is to go in knowing as little as possible about it. That's not to say it's constructed like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, balanced on a precarious central conceit. Writer Sean Vanaman also penned the first season of Telltale's Walking Dead episodes, so as you might expect, the storytelling is measured, slow-burning, never showy.

Firewatch PC review

But among its charms is the sensation that, for a while at least, you're not quite sure what kind of game this is that you've found yourself in. And I don't want to deprive you of that. 

However, I will, because you've read on after I gave you fair warning. Essentially what Campo Santo have created is a non-genre game, broadly similar to recent treasures Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (surely soon to arrive on PC if there's any justice in the world).

It preys on the expectations you have when playing a first-person game, sometimes taking on a horror complexion, sometimes happy just to leave you to your own devices and drink in the atmosphere of the Wyoming wilderness. You'll want to do this quite a lot.

Firewatch PC review

Like The Witness, Firewatch takes a natural environment already rich with beauty and shines it through a stylised prism to create something less lucid than reality and more painterly - a sort of hyper-nature. This hyper-natural Shoshone National Forest is the game's strongest asset, constantly demanding that you just stop in your tracks for a second and appreciate the way the light, colours, and silhouettes have combined to make you feel intrinsically happy. Artist Olly Moss (who designs these wonderfully reimaged movie posters and the Resistance 3 box art) deserves awards - actual silverware - for his art direction.  

Better than being simply a great setting for a hiking sim, the forests, meadows, caves, and creeks of Shoshone play host to a tightly-wound narrative, conveyed primarily through radio conversations between protagonist Henry and fellow fire lookout Delilah. 

Firewatch PC review

Henry's found some kind of refuge in his new job maintaining a national park in the middle of nowhere. It gives him distance from his problems in the life he knew - a wife who doesn't recognise him anymore, in the latter stages of Alzheimer's and being cared for by her parents on the other side of the globe. The scale of his surroundings, and the triviality of his tasks - such as confiscating fireworks from reckless teenage campers - is comforting to both player and character. 

However alone Henry might be in the Shoshone landscape, there's always the walkie-talkie. At the heart of Firewatch's story, which I'm trying desperately not to go into detail on, is a relationship between two people who haven't met, both isolated by the same vast wilderness. It's told wonderfully, oscillating between moments of levity and tension, drama and tranquility. 

Firewatch PC review

At least half the fun of my playthrough came from anticipating what Firewatch might reveal itself to be. Initially a text adventure, then a hike through arresting scenery, then a straightforward park ranger procedural, then... what? Campo Santo bait you, lure your mind down different paths by throwing in the subtlest suggestion of a sinister element, then leaving you alone in the wildnerness to stew on it.  

Slightly jarring, though, is the staccato pacing that wrenches you unexpectedly from a particular moment, fades to black, then places you back in the story after vast swathes of time have passed. It feels at odds with the satisying daily cadence of its opening hours, in which you get accustomed to having a particular job to do each day and enjoy the comfort of hiking back to your tower in the twilight. This is a game in which you'll spend a good portion studying a paper map and compass for directions, listening to the wind brush through the trees, so it's disconcerting to have such an injection of pace exerted on you.

Firewatch PC review

The momentary feeling of disengagement that those fast-forwards create is minor collateral damage to a narrative that can withstand a few knocks. Campo Santo's soft touch approach disguises the fact that your interactions with the world are limited by adding detail to every object and scene you encounter.

There are letters stored in supply caches between former rangers and drinking buddies, paperbacks bearing late '80s designs and other treasures from the era that exist to reward your curiosity, and paint a picture of your world in finer brushstrokes. You might not be impacting that world systemically, but as events happen to you - I'm just going to call them 'events' - you're invested because of these details.  

Firewatch PC review

The truth is, Firewatch is actually a small-scale linear game, developed by a small-scale team, that successfully conjures up something much bigger. It's a fairly brief experience, running at less than five hours, but the high bar Campo Santo set for production values never slips during that time.

Nor does the team pad its narrative or cheapen its world by gameifying it for the sake of it. As a result, you get a powerfully distilled story told in a time and place that haunts you with its beauty, its mystery, and restraint. Firewatch takes the time to turn its setting into a character, and it's one of the most three-dimensional videogame characters you'll encounter in 2016.


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LordCrash avatarMozalbete avatarPhil Iwaniuk avataricheyne avatarMrAptronym avatar
LordCrash Avatar
2 Years ago

And it's just February yet...

MrAptronym Avatar
2 Years ago

First, let me admit I haven't played the game. I watched someone else play through the whole thing. I might have missed some of the joy that could be found playing it due to that, but I feel there is still much I can critique. I am rather ambivalent about this genre of games (I don't think it is right to call them non-genre) I have really enjoyed a couple, while most of them have left me rolling my eyes. I don't mind them in idea, but I find too many fail at it, and yeah a lot of them are just pretentious. Firewatch interested me because it is rather pretty, and the dialogue I had seen is well written. However, I am glad I did not purchase the game.


Firstly, the game begins with a massive text dump. I tried to get into it, but I was not going to form an emotional bond to this character from the series of passive pages about events I can't closely relate to. Mentions of this stuff are spread out over the rest of the game anyway, they should have ditched this. You are expected to make choices for Henry during this, but he is very much not you. He had reactions I can't relate to already within this opening minute. You make choices, but they are of no particular consequence.

The game won me back for a while, it is gorgeous and the dialogue is fun and snarky. It is a bit surprising how linear some of the areas are but I started to get into the character doing mundane tasks for a bit. This part was honestly fine.

Then the game tries to move forward in its narrative and it just fails. The dialogue becomes markedly less interesting, and the characters seem to catch the same flavor of stupid that teens in horror movies do. There are several plot threads hovering around, but they never coalesce into something satisfying. Some never have anything to do with you, none are very impactful emotionally and at least one ends in an incredible anticlimax. The action builds to a point and then the game just releases. Some unfortunate things happen to people I don't care about, which I never met and don't feel connected to. Ultimately though, most of those don't go anywhere anyway.

Now, I am a guy who tears up watching movies, playing games or reading books all the time. I am the kind of person who sometimes finishes a chapter in a novel and puts it down to take a walk and think about it. I don't mind slow, I don't mind cryptic or thoughtful and it is honestly not hard to reach me emotionally. Firewatch just failed to inspire. It's like they figured out some sad things that could happen and an overarching allegory they could use (because of COURSE the firewatch is an allegory) and then just decided that was enough. The statement isn't particularly thoughtful nor the events interesting.

The game was by far at its best when I could forget the thing about my ill wife in the opening and just do some mundane tasks in the forest with a snarky companion. The second the game tried to do more than that it started losing me. Highlight of the game? Finding a turtle.

Mozalbete Avatar
2 Years ago

This review is one of the msot terribly, TERRIBLY pretentious things I have ever read. The only thing it tells me is this is no game, there seems to be no gameplay or challenge at all. Instead of talking about the "hyper-natura", why don't you talk about the gameplay? Why don't you analyze what is good or bad instead of trying to write cheap poetry about something that seems to be a cheap "DEEP" walking simulator?

Phil Iwaniuk Avatar
2 Years ago

"Seems to be no gameplay or challenge at all" is exactly right, in the sense that you're not trying to beat the game. As I mentioned in the review, it's a beautiful time and place to experience a story in, so it's very light on 'gameplay.' It sounds like maybe this isn't the game for you.

N.B. I didn't use the word "deep" once.

icheyne Avatar
icheyne(4 hours played)
2 Years ago

Dignified answer to a douchey comment.