I’m a sucker for games that create A Thing. Games are things, yes, but the ones that manage to establish themselves as some sort of conduit to further creation are my god damn jam. And in that vein, Firewatch is everything it needs to be.
My review of Campo Santo’s debut was critical of the story and its many, sometimes disengaging flaws, but even in spite of that, the world of the game hasn’t quite left my mind even after all these months. It’s impeccably good. Though it’s set in a very real national forest and based on a very real sequence of events in the late 80s, it feels completely fantastical while being totally evocative of reality.
The crisp and vibrant aesthetic is surreal, feeling like a some sort of stained glass impression of the serenity of nature. You could turn any direction and stare out into a bucolic eternity. The simple yet elegant composition of your path gives you the distinct impression that you could simply step off into the boundless estate of the green and blue and keep going (despite being constrained to the relative proximity of your watchtower).
Through that, the game cultivates this immeasurable and invaluable quality of being wilderness. The Thing that it creates is this sense of truly being out not just in the Shoshone National Forest but truly any untamed expanse of land. You latch onto landmarks like this weird shaped rock or this particular cluster of trees. You manage to orientate yourself, never feeling lost but also never quite having a complete grasp on the world around you.
There are certain games that you never fully excise from your brain. As you walk around your daily life, scenes of them flicker through your mind. The infinite infinities of BioShock Infinite‘s ending. The grim resignation of John Marston’s inevitable conclusion. And now the full and tender and stoic wilds of Firewatch.