Firewatch captivates the player and invests him or her in the story while providing a relaxing way to unwind and take in some beautiful, virtual scenery.

Firewatch, the debut game from development studio Campo Santo, invites players to spend the summer of 1989 in Shoshone National Forest. However, what should be a peaceful summer for a fire duty becomes one filled with mystery.

Firewatch, released Feb. 9, puts players in control of Henry, a Wyoming man who is happily married to the love of his life, Julia. But, Julia is diagnosed with dementia at age 41. As her condition worsens, so does their relationship. Julia’s parents eventually snatch her away to take better care of her than Henry was, and he takes a job as a fire lookout to put it all behind him.

When Henry arrives in Shoshone, he has a walkie-talkie that allows him to talk to his supervisor, Delilah. The rest of the story revolves around their dialogue and a mystery that gets spookier as the summer continues.

Firewatch focuses on two mechanics: talking and walking. Delilah is the only person Henry has contact with, and because his job is to report fires and keep Shoshone safe, there’s also plenty of walking.

Fortunately, the game balances both quite well. The dialogue options are well written and voiced. The conversations between Delilah and Henry sound natural. The two have a great banter, whether she's assigning him a job, talking about life or discussing the strange happenings that drive the storyline. Though Henry and Delilah don’t see each other during the summer, Firewatch doesn’t suffer from detachment. The voice acting is top-notch, so not being able to put a face to the voice on the other end of the walkie-talkie isn’t a problem.

The only difficulty the dialogue has is that sometimes Henry will talk with Delilah as if he has no knowledge of something, even if he’s currently doing it or if he has recently examined a task.

The story itself, though captivating, leaves the player with unanswered questions, possibly on purpose. On one hand, the story feels a bit incomplete after it runs its roughly five-hour course. On the other hand, it leaves the player to fill in the blanks in the story, which not many games try.

Navigating the Shoshone wilderness feels natural and satisfying. Most games allow players to plot a waypoint on a map that will lead them to the goal. Firewatch doesn’t. Instead, players have Henry hold up his map and compass to orient himself (although a marker does tell the player where he or she is on the map at any time). It feels about as organic as walking through the wilderness in a video game possibly can.

Not to mention, Campo Santo’s rendition of Shoshone is beautiful. There are lakes, burnt meadows, gigantic redwoods and more. The game’s visual aesthetic forgoes some textures and looks more like a painting or drawing than photorealistic. This approach works for Firewatch, and it makes walking through the Shoshone wilderness a calm, peaceful experience. For maybe the first time, walking from one end of a game’s map to the other doesn’t feel like a hassle.

As a side note, the inability to adjust look-sensitivity is jarring at first, but the player gets used to it fairly quickly. Even so, it seemed odd not to include the option in a game primarily focused on walking.

The game isn’t without its technical bugs and glitches. One glitch on the PlayStation 4 can cause the map to stop generating, and Henry falls through it, resulting in the need to reload the saved file. Some items float rather than being tethered to the ground. As chunks of the map load, the game stutters and the frame rate drops quite often.

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Even so, it’s easy to recommend Firewatch despite its flaws because it is a unusual experience. It’s not action packed, and it doesn’t require twitch reflexes. It doesn’t provide countless hours of play or any multiplayer modes. Instead, it’s delightfully simple and straightforward. Best of all, Firewatch captivates the player and invests him or her in the story while providing a relaxing way to unwind and take in some beautiful, virtual scenery.

Score: 3.5/5

Firewatch is available on PC and PS4.

@GS Matt