I think we’ve all seen those giant fire towers while passing down a forest-side road. The towers stretch above the ceiling of trees like an airborne sanctuary, and there Forest Rangers sit in their endless watch.
We wonder who they are, how they cope with that seclusion, and what it’s like to be broken away from society to stay sentinel against a raw force of nature. What sacrifices do those brave men and women make for their vigil? What have they experienced in their toilsome journeys?
With Firewatch, Campo Santo is telling that story. And they’re even marrying it with what appears to be suspenseful mystery worthy of Twin Peaks.
All Along the Watchtower
The winds are rising, billowing in streams and steady whispery zephyrs. The sky is clear and and bright, and overhead a bird screeches from the heavens above.
Here in his asylum in the sky, a lonely firewatcher sits in his tower. He’s watching and waiting, safeguarding against the cataclysm of a roaring inferno that threatens to eat away the wilderness.
But even in this stronghold of safety an unnerving sense of the supernatural is at work. It feels like there is more out there to worry about than wildfire; something dark, something mysterious.
A force that turns the peaceful solitude of the Great Outdoors into an impartial graveyard of sorts even in its breathtaking beauty. So he gathers his survival gear; rope to scale cliff faces, a radio to keep in contact with others, and other necessities.
Thus armed, our watchman enters the unknown, unsure of what’s out there within the heart of the forest.
This is Firewatch.
The Wilderness, a Living Graveyard
Firewatch is the culmination of gaming talent from renown industry greats who’ve come together to form a studio called Campo Santo (which, curiously enough, translates to “cemetery” in Italian and Spanish).
The studio is made up of alums like graphic designer Olly Moss, Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman from Telltale Games (The Walking Dead series) and Nels Andersen from Klei Entertainment (Mark of the Ninja).
Since being revealed at PAX 2014, the Firewatch reveal trailer has been vastly disseminated, analyzed and acclaimed–and for good reason.
Personally I find shades of Twin Peaks cleverly layered within the footage. There’s a very distinct sense of awe and mystery to the experience, which is amplified by the inclusive environments. Enshrouded in this mystery comes a feeling of otherworldly-ness that pierces the veil of wonder, letting darkness and unease bleed through.
If anything, this air of secrecy and peril doesn’t turn us away from the amber-crested forests of Firewatch; it pulls us in like a psiren’s harmonious song.
“Why are we even here?”
“To make sure the wilderness doesn’t burn down.”
“No. Our job is to be here when that happens. Henry, there are some things you can’t prevent. So just stay in your tower, okay? Stay in there. And watch.”
But in this beauty is a truly lonely sense of wonder that lacks humanity; the forest itself doesn’t care if you live or die, and if you should die, it would move on without a beat. The sun would still rise and fall, the rivers would flow, and nature would continue its never-ending cycle.
As we see in the footage, the inclusive environments seem to weigh on the psyche. What used to be a scenic vista is a vast expanse of loneliness. Players bridge this gap with radio contact with Delilah, a fellow co-worker, who tethers Henry to reality with human interaction.
At its heart Firewatch looks to be a tale of human survival. Players take on the role of a firewatcher who delves into the heart of the unknown while battling the rigors of seclusion. For all of the splendor of the wilderness, there’s a true sense of detachment and danger, and one realizes soon enough that this may very well their grave.
Campo Santo is playing with fire, and I think it’s fair to say we all want to see what they conjure up. So far their pyromancy is keen and brilliant, and they’ve set our hearts and minds aflame with this one.
Firewatch may release sometime in 2015 and is planned for Mac, Linux and PC. For more info be sure to hop over to Campo Santo’s official website.