Firewatch: Getting back to nature

Mixing The Walking Dead’s relationship-focused narrative and mixing in a little Gone Home exploration, Firewatch is building the kind of subtle, evolving mystery that’s bound to grab attention.

This is developer Campo Santo’s first game, but with a team of designers, artists and programmers with top credits from across the indie landscape, it has an impressive pedigree. With Firewatch, it appears to be foregoing the apocalyptic survival route that is proving both fruitful and well-trodden for other developers and giving us something new.A first-person exploration mystery set around a Wyoming forest and a watchman tasked with reporting fire during a hot, dry summer period.

The roots into Telltale’s narrative style appear early with a clearly flawed protagonist in the guise of Henry. Campo Santo describes him as having a messy life, and he’s turned to the isolated and quiet existence in the watch tower as a means of getting himself back on track. Trouble is he’s having some personal issues with his supervisor, Delilah, who you communicate with via radio only. Your relationship with her and how you choose to interact with her promises to be a big part of the how the game progresses. Dialogue choices will play out much the same way as we’ve experienced with Telltale’s recent games as responses carry different emotional motivations and lead to different paths opening up over time. It will also involve choices as to how much or how little you choose to reveal to Delilah at certain points of the story. Withholding information early may well lead to new revelations, keep Henry out of trouble or cause you more grief down the road.

The deeper mystery, though, involves those fires you’re supposed to be looking out for and Henry venturing out of the tower and into the wilderness to find out what’s happening. While most gameplay details are a little scarce, it’s fair to assume from the gameplay we’ve seen that rock climbing and abseiling will be a big part of how you get around. These woods aren’t exactly built for fast or safe travel.

And there’s more out in the forest than dry grass, trees and idiots playing with fireworks. Early on you will be confronted with the possibility something more organised could be happening. Firewatch is an open world and you can go where you want, but the narrative is structured. You won’t find things until you’ve unlocked the piece of information you need to move the story along. It’s a fascinating and beautifully realised world that’s going to be a treat to explore.

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