Firewatch is the most stunning game we’ve played in a long time, despite being three hours long, featuring almost zero gameplay, and being almost entirely linear. After finishing it there’s the same kind of mourning as when you finish the last episode of Breaking Bad or finish reading The Martian (The Martian is an excellent comparison to this by the way, if you enjoyed that book or film you’ll get a lot out of this game), it’s a slight sense of accomplishment alongside a very real sense of grief that it’s over. We really hope Campo Santo is immediately setting to work on their next game because something like this isn’t like to come around again anytime soon.
Firewatch as a game sits somewhere between walking simulators like Gone Home and dialog-driven adventures like The Wolf Among Us. You star as a new recruit to the a Firewatch post in a forest in North America. Your backstory is shaped somewhat by decisions you make in a text-based prologue, then for the rest of the game you drop in to various days across a Summer, completing basic tasks and exploring the wilderness. The things you are doing are quite simple, such as retrieving supplies and investigating smoke, and the game goes out of its way to present them as monotonous and every day. Because the tasks are so mundane it’s easy to get wrapped up in the beauty of the heavily stylised environment and rely on your sole companion, a radio link to your boss, for entertainment. The real heart of the game lies with your interactions with your boss and this is all done through dialog options which are then beautifully voice acted. The actors deserve no end of praise for being completely and utterly convincing and captivating. The script is similarly excellent, with incredible amounts of pathos and some genuine humour that feels so natural it’s difficult not to care for them.
A slightly more complex story expands before you and while you have some significant choices about how to react to things it’s essentially linear. This could be annoying for some but it’s also designed to avoid some of the cliches of modern games. This isn’t particularly ambiguous, things are explained and there are payoffs for all of the mysteries and questions. The soul of the story is in the telling and the way the characters deal with it, but the actual events are definitely interesting and keep you engaged in wanting to find out a little more.
The game might be a little short at three hours and very little replay value, but the whole experience was so entrancing we would happily have paid more for this. The graphics, music, acting and script are all so good that they put many other games to shame. This is a real work of art and so perfectly realised that we sincerely hope other developers take note. This game is easily as important as Journey or Gone Home and is a must-buy for anyone who cares about stories in games.