There are times when the hype behind a game is so real that come release it feels like the thrill of the launch has been lost, with previews, behind-the-scene interviews and trailers diluting the overall experience; secrets lost before they have even been discovered. The Last Campfire was first showcased in the big summer online conferences, before releasing on Xbox One at the end of August. But it seems to have passed a lot of people by, with many unaware that it even exists. And that would be a crying shame because it’s a gem of a game.
It was Hello Games who produced the excellent and life absorbing No Man’s Sky, yet whilst they work on their next big experience, in between they have managed to fit in creation of The Last Campfire – a little puzzle adventure which I think is as ambitious in scope as the huge space adventure that came before it. It’s a game that adults and children will enjoy playing, especially together, as it delivers a message of hope and warmth in these strange times we find ourselves in.
You play an ember, a traveler who gets lost from a pack of explorers at the beginning of the game. Ember ends up in an unusual strange world where other explorers lie around in a forlorn state, stuck in a frozen slumber. Your job is to comfort these travelers by entering their dream state – like Di Caprio in Inception – and free them from that slumber. You do this by solving a puzzle room in their mind and rescuing an orb of hope to bring them back to the waking world. There are three main areas and numerous forlorn to rescue in each area, so there is plenty to involve yourself with, as well as navigating yourself around the domain itself.
The story found in The Last Campfire is truly beautiful, told in a fairytale manner, that fundamentally focuses on a character trying to escape a weird world, rescuing others along the way. But underneath this main narrative many other elements are considered and reflected upon; depression, hopelessness and attempting to find the light at the end of a tunnel. It’s a piece of work about kindness, helping others and trying to find hope when all else is lost. The writing is wonderfully expressive in supporting these themes, but not didactic in it’s approach. And nicely there are hidden chests you can find throughout the world, and these hold fragments of journals from other travelers that provide insights, reflections and glimpses into the world.
The gameplay itself consists of guiding this ember through the many locations found in both the open world and the puzzle realms that make up the mind of the forlorn. The main world itself is rich for exploration, allowing you to search around, talk to characters and open up walkways between sections – creating pathways by moving trees across gaps or switching levels to create walkways. You are equipped with a little satchel which will happily store items that you can collect and use on other objects. For example, there is a switch that needs a lever; find that lever and progress can be made.
Further to that is a musical horn that you can play, switching the game into a top-down viewpoint and allowing you to manipulate environmental objects that can be moved using the power of music. This might come in the form of a set of stairs that can be ripped away from some rocks before being placed where it is needed, blocks that can be moved to clear pathways, or others which will fill in gaps to let you move across.
The puzzle rooms found in the minds of the forlorn meanwhile see you utilising a whole mix of skills that you’ve picked up along the way. There are puzzles which see you having to move architecture with the horn in order to reach a specific orb to release the forlorn. Sometimes though there are whole sections which will have you operating ancient machinery and pipe-based puzzles. These puzzles are inventive and rarely ever too complicated – at least until you get to the latter ones; even then these don’t ever feel impossible.
Visually The Last Campfire comes with a lovely atmosphere, complemented by a brilliant use of colour. With the Hello Games vibe, it reminds me of the tone of No Man’s Sky even though the concepts are completely different in style. The design of Ember and all the other travelers are superb; the little rounded hooded figures with only their eyes visible are utterly charming, whilst those you encounter over your journey – creatures like giant frogs and pigs – look like they’ve stepped straight out of a storybook. The use of lighting is superb too, as the entire game creates an atmosphere that is comforting and enjoyable to spend some time in.
The soundtrack is a slice of beauty as well: poetic, relaxing and able to provide a perfect antidote to the mind teasing puzzling that is within. But it’s the Nordic voice talent of Rachel August that sells the story beautifully; she does a brilliant job of telling the narrative with a sense of composure and assurance that is to be loved.
I have thoroughly enjoyed The Last Campfire, from minute one right up to the end of its seven hour or so running time. The world provided is an amazing place to spend some time in and is easily a place that I would happily return to in a sequel. The gameplay is simple, yet challenging and rewarding, and the narrative is told with accomplishment and beauty. But most of all it is the themes that I got the most out of The Last Campfire on Xbox One – in these times of uncertainty it is a game that promotes hope, friendship and kindness. It’s a game that I’m more than happy to give my time to.