Campo Santo's first game, Firewatch, is one of the most unique gaming experiences out there, especially in terms of character and plot. If you haven't played it go take a look, or read, as I ramble on about it below.
Set in the wilderness of Wyoming, after the Yellowstone forest fires of 1988, you play as Henry; a man looking to get away from his life, and it's problems. Your point of contact, through a walkie-talkie, is your supervisor Delilah. She also happens to be the only other character in the game, for the most part. Your job: to watch for forest fires, spending the summer in your watchtower within the wilderness. However, due to various hijinks and mishaps, you end up spending more time exploring the nearby surroundings. As a graphic designer, I loved seeing Olly Moss' concept art come to life. The game uses colour brilliantly, with a palette and fantastic lighting that create striking scenes.
Partway through the game you find a disposable camera, letting you capture your own memories. Different from the standard screenshot button, the photos you take end up being offered to you in a physical format. For a pretty low price, the games’ creator and a print company teamed up, and "develop" your photographic memories. This grounds the game in a way, and that theme of being grounded in reality is one of Firewatch's strengths.
If I had to compare Firewatch to another game it would be Gone Home, the first game from Fullbright. Gone Home is about a girl coming home after a trip abroad, and exploring her house to piece together a story about her parents and sister. The strength of both games lies in their genre-subversion, personable dialogue and simple. but thought-provoking, themes. These two games tell stories that many of us can relate to. However, they don't bring an unnecessary plot twist, or a fantastical element solely for entertainment. Instead, the creators present dialogue and a plot that is grounded, and leaves us asking questions.
As Henry, the life you've left behind is complicated. The game presents this simply through white text on the screen at the beginning of the game, along with some dialogue choice. The player gets a glimpse of Henry meeting Julia; falling in love, making mistakes, and living life. Soon, however, the game punches you in the gut, and reveals that Julia has early onset dementia. Within the game it’s a powerful revelation, despite a simple delivery. As Henry, you continue to make choices about how to take care of Julia, and hold on to what you have. No matter what you choose Henry leaves; fleeing into the wilderness for more than just a spell to forget. Henry wants to find himself, and figure out what Julia means to him. Mostly he wants to, well, hide from everything.
The heart of Firewatch is the player's relationship with Delilah. She’s your lifeline on the other end of a walkie-talkie. She has her own isolating problems, but she is very reluctant to let you know them.
Over the course of the game you craft a relationship with her. In my playthrough, we were flirtatious and sarcastic, playing off each other's wit. Despite never meeting face to face, we found comfort in seeing the light coming from each other's towers. Over the course of my game, however, the relationship develops further. Becoming slightly sexual, it cuts off before saying too much, but hinting at more. Henry and Delilah’s relationship is yours to craft. Again the game doesn’t force you down any particular path. My version of Henry was scared of going back to Julia, and found Delilah an easy choice; even if it was the wrong one.
Their banter and dialogue, no matter which route you take, is natural, well-written, and the voice actors have fantastic chemistry. It's the subtle touches that strengthen this aspect of the game. At one point, the game transitions to a new day, where we see Henry’s wedding ring sitting on his desk, next to a face down photo of him and Julia. This scene follows him telling Delilah how much her company has meant to him, and that he wanted to spend time with her. She suggested to him that they would do more than just be together in the same place. I had the choice as the player to put my wedding ring back on, and fix the photo. I left them as is.
Although my version of Henry was hopelessly in love with Julia, she barely recognized him any more. He was afraid he had already lost her. You might say he took a coward's way out, but then again, he’s only human.
As I mentioned earlier, Delilah had her own problems. During the previous summer, a lookout named Ned neglected the rules of his position, and brought along his son Brian. Delilah takes a liking to Brian and decides not to report him. Ned is well-meaning, but harsh. After fighting in the Vietnam War, he continues to struggle finding his place in the world. His son Brian is shy but curious; a bright young man who escapes into fantasy worlds and science projects.
One day, they both abruptly leave without telling Delilah. Out of your tower, you explore the environment with her chiming in via walkie-talkie. While doing so you come upon clues that suggest what happened to them. Soon a lot of weird occurrences follow. You begin to suspect you’re being followed, your conversations are being recorded, and there is more to these woods than meets the eye.
The game draws up many ridiculous explanations for those weird occurrences. They ultimately prove to be Ned, who never left. After Brian fell and died while climbing, Ned hid deep in the woods. Ned had originally left his life behind to watch fires, and find a purpose. When he fled deeper into the woods after his son's death he ultimately retreated further into himself. Ned tried to scare you and Delilah off his scent, but you stumbled upon Brian's remains. After reporting this to Delilah she falters. She blames herself, and says she'll never return to her tower.
After a forest fire threatens to engulf the wilderness, Delilah and Henry are forced to evacuate, and their relationship finally arrives at a moment of truth. My version of Henry races to Delilah's tower and begs her to stay until he gets there. In the route I’ve taken, Henry feels lost, and that leaving the forest with Delilah will relieve that feeling. However, she’s already gone when he gets there. I think Delilah didn't want to meet Henry while mourning Brian and felt the same need to get out of the woods as soon as possible.
Instead, their final conversation is through Delilah's radio. They talk about the summer, and their futures. My version of Henry chooses to tell Delilah to come back with him to Boulder, and see what happens. She’s, well...less than enthusiastic. Delilah, on the other hand, tells Henry he needs to go back to Julia. In response, he simply asks, “Would you?" Delilah knows Henry still needs to face Julia and sort out a lot of things before she can ever be something in his life, and my Henry reluctantly sort of agrees. Then, they say their goodbyes and the game ends.
Firewatch as a story is fairly normal, but it’s a story very well told. It's a story strengthened by its medium. This same tale could be told as a book, or movie, but as a game you put yourself in Henry's shoes; crafting his tale as you go. You can help choose the jokes. You can stop and take in the scenery around you. Ultimately, while many choices don't lead to massive plot divergences, like in other games, your choices make the story more relatable to you, the player. The game also suddenly ends, leaving you no real resolution to the relationship between Henry and Delilah.
I think that’s the point though. Sometimes, life doesn't wrap up in a nice little bow at the end. There aren't always periods. There are ellipses, commas, and semicolons; often with no follow up. The game lets you decide on your relationship with Delilah and, ultimately, leaves you with a choice of what happens after the credits roll.
Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.
Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.
When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.
Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4