There’s a lot to say about Campo Santo’s newest release, Firewatch. At the core it’s a guided narrative in video game form that tells a story of harsh romance while weaving an intriguing mystery surrounding the two main characters, Henry and Delilah. I suggest you go play this, it’s close to 4ish hours. Then come back and hopefully you’ll know more about what I’m trying to say in this review. I’m going to dance around the story beats because that’s pretty much the entirety of the game but before that, let’s talk about performance.
I played the PS4 version on Firewatch and can say that I was pretty thoroughly disappointed in the amount of hitching I experienced. Every time they needed to load in a new area, there was a brief but very noticeable hitch and this happened a lot because I was pretty much in a constant sprint the whole game. The other thing I noticed was that the load times were pretty long on PS4 as well. There are moments that you are just dying to know what happens next and it takes a while for the day to change and load in the next area. It leads to frustration for me because I really want to get to the action but I feel interrupted, I just wish it was a bit smoother. The last technical issue I have is objects clipping through each other or just strange bugs like placing a jar of peanut butter in the same exact place a jar of coffee is, or stomping out a nonexistent fire, or stumbling upon a floating tree just about a foot off the ground. It ruins the immersion in an otherwise very immersive game.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the actual gameplay. The atmosphere is the first thing I noticed when I stepped into this new world. The game has so much style, you feel like you’re playing a Pixar movie. The colors are vibrant, the world is alive, and the music hits at just the right moment. Primarily you are surrounded by the sounds of nature but the times where the music chimes in is seamless and gets your blood pumping.
The story is paced very well. You learn little bits about the characters at appropriate moments and you can choose different dialogue options to determine how much you want to let the other character into your life. It gives you a small amount of control over the narrative that feels like more than it truly is. I played as a faithful husband in the game but there are definitely a couple of different ways to go about your relationship with the other character (However, they all end the same way). There are moments, however, that the developers force you into that made me seem as if I was not playing the way I chose to such as having a photo turned over or my wedding ring off. Regardless, the two have an awesome dynamic full of jokes and playfulness that it truly fun to participate in. The relationship between the two is a major component of the story and twists around just like the mystery surrounding them.
The other part of the story is a discovery your character makes surrounding the mystery of his post. It all comes together in a specific moment that in my opinion, was underwhelming. I didn’t expect it, which was good, but when it happened was just like “…oh gotcha.” There’s just some disconnects for me in terms of why you would think certain things about the mystery. I know that sounds vague but they could’ve gone in such a cooler direction with the mystery very easily and I would’ve still been engaged for a couple more hours at least. It just didn’t have to end there. They just do such a great job with the journey along the way by peaking interest with the dialogue and discovering pieces of the puzzle. I really did love the story for what it was and can appreciate what they set out to do and I know that sounds like a positive thing but I just was kind of expecting more. I think they set up this large, exciting possibility and then minimized their whole effort and focused on the relationship aspect more which I was far less interested in (because I didn’t want Henry to be a bad husband).
Overall, it was a very enjoyable trek through an incredibly vibrant and stylized world that was unique and although I didn’t necessarily agree with the direction of the story, they did a fantastic job with what they set out to do. The technical issues did take me out of the experience and this was hard because the exploration and discovery is intense at moments and beautiful at others. The relationship is something that people can easily relate to and you may end up falling for Delilah in the end. The game is a little short but maybe that’s just my heart wishing there was even more. Keep doing your thing Campo Santo, you’ve made a new fan. I give Firewatch a 3.5 out of 5 walkie talkies.