Since its release in 2016, I’ve heard nothing but praise for indie studio Campo Santo’s Firewatch. To my surprise, I managed to avoid spoiling the game’s 5 hour (ish) story for myself since its release. On 17th December 2018, the indie masterpiece came to the Nintendo Switch and despite its fantastic art style, moving writing and convincing storytelling, the lackluster performance on Nintendo’s console is a deal-breaker.
I won’t spoil the story but I will establish the basics of it. Set in 1989, you play as Henry, a man who has taken to the wilderness of the Wyoming forests to escape his personal life. Your sole companion is your supervisor, Delilah, who is in touch with you constantly over the radio. You can choose your how to reply to her conversation – if you choose to reply at all – on the go. The voice acting is convincing, drawing you into the story and making their connection believable. Once you complete the story, you can return to the world to free roam or replay the game with creator’s commentary – both very welcome features.
This feeling of immersion is reinforced by the intuitive gameplay mechanics which allow you to pick up objects and inspect them, limiting your navigation to a map and compass and a simple movement system – you can walk, jog and climb certain surfaces. Visually, the art style is gorgeous. Simple tones of orange or blue are the main colours that coat the low-poly world. The sublime sound design and acoustic guitar-filled soundtrack envelop you as you walk through the colourful, cartoon-ish environment. The immersion is almost total if it weren’t for one issue: the atrocious performance on Switch.
Sure, when compared to the Xbox, PS4 or PC, Nintendo’s hybrid console is severely under-powered. This is only on paper, however, because Nintendo has optimised their games to run at 1080p/60 fps. Campo Santo did not achieve this. I don’t have an FPS counter but my years of playing on PC have trained my eyes well. I believe Firewatch runs at under 30 fps most of the time. This is less than ideal but would be manageable if it weren’t for the stutters and frame-drops occurring every few minutes. Sometimes the game even froze completely for a couple seconds which, combined with the low render distance, caused foliage to pop in nearby as you walk through the world, destroying any sense of immersion you could experience.
To me, immersion does not equal realism. If a game can transport me away from reality with a smooth, enticing world, I’ll be happy. Firewatch came close to sweeping me off my feet but fell short with every stutter. If you want to experience this game at its finest, don’t play it on Switch; the game’s short runtime and subpar fps don’t justify the £17 price tag. Campo Santo have made a game that will break your heart with its story and, unintentionally, with its performance.