Review of Campo Santo’s debut game Firewatch.

14 Feb 2016

Firewatch is less a game, and more of an interactive film experience. It is one of the first games I’ve finished in a very long time. I’m not much of a gamer, I don’t have a console, and my favourite game of all time is Rollercoaster Tycoon 2. When I heard that Panic was making a story driven game—revolving around radio communication with a character we never meet—I realised I needed to give it a try.

Since the game is so story focused and the story is so mysterious, I’ll endeavour to stay spoiler free. The game starts with you reading a series of screens of text and making important decisions, like naming your dog. Something that must be noted is this game revolves around making decisions, usually between two or three choices, and those decisions impact the remainder of the game.

Some decisions are clearly the illusion of choice. The game sort-of directs you back towards the route it wanted you to take. Others, though, impact the direction of the story.

The attention to detail here cannot be overstated. Campo Santo has gone to great lengths to reward players for taking note of each scrap of paper, everything our distant counterpart Delilah says, and of random items like book titles. The best pieces of media add in easter eggs that foreshadow plots and small images for the best of viewers. Firewatch takes this idea and allows you, the player, to discover these items. To, first hand, realise these slight nods of the head forward and back in the game, and to other pieces of literature outside of this small patch of forrest in Wyoming.

The playtime was all up around three and a half hours. Something refreshing in today’s game market, with playtimes of often upward of 50 hours. I finished playing earlier in the evening than when I went to see Tarantino’s Hateful Eight (in 70mm special release). Your actions are defined by the story, and your actions define the story. The music leads into cut scenes; cut scenes that progress the story—not the action.

The best way to look at it is, you don’t complete missions to progress the game; you do what feels right in service of the story. A story that leaves you asking questions the whole way though, proposing potential outcomes and all around keeps you engrossed.

I’ve never reviewed a game before. I review films. Stories.
Firewatch is a story, wrapped in the guise of a game.

The game isn’t scary, but like any good storytelling the Campo Santo taught me to be wary of certain situations. As the game progressed, I became increasingly nervous whenever music played and, most notably, when the aspect ratio of the screen changed. The frame became narrower during cut scenes, and would often go narrower a little before the main action of the scene.

This began to make me almost fear the narrower aspect ratio. For it often brought something bad for our protagonist, Henry. Fearing cut scenes in games is not uncommon, but usualy the length and annoyingness of them causes this. In Firewatch I feared them for what it meant for our characters, and for what turn the story might next take.

I’d often find myself scared to turn around as I walked kilometres from place to place. I was always guessing just what might happen next, who was causing the events to take place—and why. I was totally engrossed in the story. More so than many films. And definitely more so than any other game.

Campo Santo told a story, and made a game in the process. Firewatch is unique and amazing. As Polygon puts it, “Firewatch is the video game equivalent of a page-turner.” Wired says, the game is “an emotional gut-punch all the way through, for many reasons, and largely a pleasure to explore and find yourself lost in.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m reviewing an experience, that just happens to be branded as a game. An experience that I believe, has unconditionally earned five out of five stars.


With graphics largely inspired by eighties’ national park posters, and music that fits all too perfectly, Firewatch is a truly breathtaking journey. One that everyone should take.

This post was last updated on 03 Oct 2018
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