February 10, 2016

Firewatch is a beautiful, engaging vignette of a summer relationship between a man avoiding his future and a woman dodging her past in the vast wilderness of a 1989 Wyoming.

It plays like an interactive version of the movie her, but replaces loneliness and futuristic technology with isolation and a pair of two-way radios. It evokes joy, fear, melancholy, disappointment, and peace within the player entirely via ambiance and conversation. The characters and the world feel real.

Although Firewatch could have had a novel-length plot with greater exploration and additional story arcs, Campo Santo deliberately chose to keep their first game short, focused, and engrossing. Gamers may balk at the 3-4 hour runtime and $20 price tag, but both the price and the time commitment are just right for the 20-to-30-year-olds this game would appeal most to. It's an experience best enjoyed in one sitting, while disconnected from the outside world.

I enjoyed playing Firewatch thoroughly, although your experience may vary on lower-end PCs or the PS4 (for the moment). Some reviewers and players find the ending to be disappointing, but to me it feels complete. It feels realistic, honest, and fully closed.

That said, I can't help but wish that Firewatch's story did move into deeper, bolder territory. I would've liked to learn even more about these two characters while star-gazing, or holed up during a storm. The characters feel so human that we want to learn more about them, listen to their thoughts and struggles, and think about life together with them. Firewatch offers a peek at what a her-like game could be, but is forced to move in a different direction to complete its story in time. I would love to play something bigger.


And that, perhaps, is the best reason to buy this game, and for its full $20 price; to support a new developer that's pushing narrative storytelling forward in the right direction - Campo Santo, and Panic. Firewatch is proof that Campo Santo could make the game I/we want; a "game of the year" candidate that nudges gaming in a direction away from the massive triple-A shooters that dominate the industry. I'm excited to think about what they could do with more time, money, and new technology like VR.

Firewatch, for what it is, what it evokes, and what it supports, is worth your $20.