First-person mystery story Firewatch revealed by Campo Santo at PAX

Ian Birnbaum at

Firewatch, which had been announced by Campo Santo earlier this year, but the details were left unknown until we got our first look during PAX 2014. During today’s panel, the team talked about their goals for the game and played the game live for the first time. Firewatch is a mystery story set in the 1980s Wyoming wilderness.

Firewatch’s main character is a “chubby” man named Henry. His life hits a rough patch, so Henry decides to get away from everything and everyone by taking a job as a lookout in a fire tower. Completely alone except for a walkie talkie connection to his supervisor, Delilah, Henry is surrounded by a hundred miles of forest to watch, some books to read, and a typewriter.

On his first day of the job, Henry responds to a routine call: some drunk idiots are shooting off fireworks in the middle of the summer-scorched forest. During the live gameplay demo, we got a look at the game’s storytelling mechanics, which have a lot in common with Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us series: a few dialog options vary in terms of humor, harshness, and earnestness, and letting the timer run out and the radio fall silent is always an option. Henry hikes out to confront the drunk campers at the urging of Delilah. Henry finds empty beer cans and bottle rockets and the player chooses whether and how to talk about these things with Delilah.

On returning to the firewatch tower, Henry discovers that his new home has been broken into and all of his things have been ransacked, which kicks off the mystery: how alone is Henry, really? Who else might be out here? Are there more dangerous things in the woods than bears and forest fires?

Even though Firewatch is set in an open forest that can be explored in any direction, Campo Santo, was clear that it will not be a traditional “open-world” setting. “This is not an open-world game in the vein of Skyrim,” developer Chris Remo said during the Q&A session. “This is a narrative game, and we want players to experience this narrative in a certain way, but with a degree of freedom.” You can go wherever you want and you won’t find invisible walls, in other words, but you will find empty forest until its time for the mystery to unfold naturally. Co-founder of Campo Santo, Jake Rodkin, elaborated: “I think Sean [Vanaman, the other co-founder of Campo Santo] framing it as a mystery is a good way to do it. At a certain point you’re not going to be able to advance in the story until you’ve found a key piece of information, but we want to give you the freedom to be wrong, to make mistakes,” he said.

A huge part of the story will be your interaction with Delila: how you respond, when you respond, pausing before responding, talking too much, and talking about nothing will all change the way she views you and interacts with you, especially as tensions start to mount.

Henry will be an unarmed protagonist exploring a wilderness mystery, a synopsis more at home to modern literature than modern gaming. A firewatcher’s safety, of course, comes from their tower, not from guns. When that sanctuary is violated, Henry realizes that he is completely unarmed and alone, and someone nearby doesn’t have his best interests at heart. It looks like it could shake out to be a tense, dark mystery told in an exciting new way.

Campo Santo is aiming for a 2015 release for Firewatch. Look to the team’s development blog for more details. You can check out all of our PAX 2014 coverage here.