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Firewatch by Chris Remo (Review)

posted Mar 5, 2016, 1:36 PM by Koray Savas

Firewatch is the first game from indie developer Campo Santo. It is, non-disparagingly, a walking simulator, an increasingly popular genre in which the gameplay almost exclusively consists of environmental storytelling and exploration. The game follows the character of Henry, who takes a job as a firewatch in the Wyoming wilderness as a means to escape the tragedy that destroyed his life and marriage. Completely isolated, his only contact is Delilah, his supervisor who is only reachable through a handheld radio.

The score is written by Chris Remo, who also worked on the game's design, story, and audio. With so much of the game design focused on the environment, the score plays a very important part in establishing the emotion of what's happening on screen. As the player traverses the woods in search of possible fires as well as trespassers, Remo's score is the anchor that helps inform us of how Henry interacts with Delilah. Whether it is a somber guitar rhythm or mysterious electronic underscore, the music supports the terrific voice acting and how the story progresses.

The "Prologue" introduces the listener to Remo's soundscape, which consists primarily of guitar and piano. During this segment, as the player chooses options in the opening narrative, the guitar intensifies in its speed and volume as some important events occur. This association is later explored towards the climax. Remo gives the guitar a great sense of duality, at one end representing the sort of blue collar nature of Henry and the job, but also using it to hint at the strange mystery that unfolds in the story. "Stay In Your Tower And Watch" showcases this, as does its follow-up, "Something's Wrong." Later in the game, as Henry unravels some truly puzzling discoveries in this woodland mountain range, I felt a great sense of disturbing paranoia. Remo echoed this perfectly in the score, with the cues "Infiltration" and "Exfiltration." The latter of which was the moment that really sold me on the game and its music. The surprising yet appropriate use of electronics nailed the fleeting tone of the narrative, and successfully played with my thoughts about what could really be happening. It is a bit hard to explain without spoiling details, but the music always contains a great sense of urgency that translates really well with the gameplay.

Regardless of how effective the score is in the game, Firewatch also doubles as a fantastic standalone listen. Chris Remo's use of guitar and rhythm surpassed my expectations, and has now left me with a superbly paced album that I will revisit often, if only to return to that sunbaked wilderness the team at Campo Santo created so well.