As these are both fairly short games I’ve combined their reviews into this one post.
The debut game from Campo Santo, Firewatch is a hard game to explain besides the dismissive term “walking simulator”. Taking place in 1989, you are a man named Henry. After dealing with a rocky relationship for many years with his wife who now has early on-set dementia, Henry has taken a job in Wyoming as a fire look-out. In this game you will explore the surrounding lands of your tower with a map, compass, and few other supplies.
What I liked about this game is that you weren’t rushed to go anywhere, even when there were moments I felt like there was an unspoken countdown that I had to beat. Using the game’s built-in camera (you can even get prints ordered!) as an additional encouragement, I could slowly walk around, listen to the ambient sounds and watch things sway in the wind. I also really liked the dialogue with Delilah, Henry’s supervisor. You never see her, and the talk can be fun, flirty, or even mysterious and questionable. As Henry explores, things will not always make sense and instill a sense of paranoia, imagining things that may not likely be true, and that’s part of the game’s appeal (and frustration for many others who were expecting more and/or something else).
When I first finished the game, I wasn’t happy how it ended. I didn’t like the way Delilah dismissed me and I never saw her. As time went by and I mulled it over and over, I realized it was the truest and most realistic way to end the game. Harry and Delilah both have problems, and they need to decide what to actually do about them. These few months away in the woods was a nice distraction, but you can’t hide forever. Yeah they got kind of flirty at times, but that didn’t mean it had to lead to anything. Harry needs to deal with his wife, and there was some apparent connection to her sister as well…
Similar to Firewatch, it can be easy to describe Gone Home as a walking simulator and leave it at that. Set in the mid-90s, you play Kaitlin, a college-age girl who has come back home from an overseas trip. No-one answers the door, and there’s a note from younger sister Samantha asking Kaitlin not to dig in to what happened.
Is that a weird way to start a game? Well perhaps if Gone Home ended up being the kind of game many (if not most) players anticipated when they got into the game, then it would actually be perfect. However, the game disappointingly doesn’t really amount to much happening, and the beginning is actually the climax of any semblance of plot or story. The player explores this rather large house for any clues, and there’s some nice atmospheric music, lighting, etc. There’s hints of ghosts, satanic rituals, and other odd things, but again in the end it’s revealed to all be pointless. I don’t know if this can even be called a “game”.
As I purchased both games when they were on sale, I didn’t feel too burned by their short lengths. I was disappointed as I wanted to keep playing and stay in those worlds, and I really wanted and expected more substance. Firewatch at least added on the free-roam option later on, but it was too little too late. If either studios next games don’t receive better reviews regarding actual gameplay, I’m not very likely to play them, sale prices or not.
I would like to note, however, that I really liked both of the game’s soundtracks (which coincidentally were both composed by Chris Remo), and they are both available on Bandcamp: Firewatch | Gone Home.