Originally published on Trevor Trove on February 14, 2016
TL; DR(eview) – Firewatch tells a dynamically interesting story set among a beautiful Wyoming forest locale, but graphical performance issues continually pulled me out of the story.
One of the games I hoped to play back at the PlayStation Experience was Campo Santo’s Firewatch, but the booth only had two demos and the demo itself was about a half hour of the game. So when they told me at 3:00pm on the Sunday of the show that I might not get in until before the show floor closed at 6:00pm, I decided to just hold off and wait until the game finally released. And I’m kinda glad I did.
Regardless of where that demo had fallen within the game, that half hour would’ve likely represented about an eighth of the game’s four(ish)-hour story. Not that I had any issues with the game’s length either but I wouldn’t have been too eager to have to replay such a substantial bit of the game again. In that four hours, Campo Santo tells a finely crafted narrative of two fire lookouts – Henry and Delilah – and the variety of relationships that can form between the two, depending on the narrative choices you make as Henry. The opening sequence, a short choose-your-own backstory was even an incredible way to hit the ground running and let me know exactly why Henry had taken this seemingly-random summer job to watch over a bit of the Shoshone Forest in Wyoming.
The story unfolds over a sequence of days, with Henry exploring his little part of the forest while communicating with his superior Delilah over a two-way radio. All of the banter between these two felt sharply written and grounded in strong performances by Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones so I was eager to report pretty much anything and everything I stumbled across in my time with the game. Additionally the slightly cartoonish art style and design of the game was beautiful to take in. There were often moments I found myself stopping to enjoy an overlook or vista.
But traveling across Henry’s little piece of the forest often felt like too much for my PlayStation 4. Frame rates were incredibly choppy and muddled nearly anytime I was moving around and the inability to adjust the sensitivity of the camera angle felt like a huge misstep as even the slightest movement of the right thumbstick felt as though I was giving Henry whiplash. Frequent texture pop-ins further kept me from feeling fully immersed in the experience, which is incredibly disappointing because when you’re standing still, it is an incredibly beautiful world to take in and enjoy.
I don’t know what kind of post-launch support the team will be providing the game (if any) but I really hope they can patch the game to fix some of these performance issues. I’d be interested in playing through it again and completely changing up my Henry to see how that alters the experience, but not if it’s going to continue giving me PTSD-flashbacks to the choppiness of Fallout 3 on the PlayStation 3.
Firewatch is available now on PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac. For more information, visit their official website.