The Last Campfire Review: A fun, new retro adventure game from No Man’s Sky creators
Played On: PlayStation 4 (Original)
Difficulty Played On: N/A
If you’ve ever heard of the studio Hello Games, you likely remember them for creating the infinite space exploration game No Man’s Sky – whether it was really finished or not. No Man’s Sky was clearly a victim of overhype, false marketing with trailers that showed things that were never in the initial finished product, and an infinity concept that just wasn’t going to appeal to everyone. Personally, playing No Man’s Sky was a big letdown as the alien creatures you would find on planets looked like garbage, the gameplay got old and pointless after a while, and I distinctly remember the game crashing on me somewhere around twenty times. It was made even worse by the fact that Hello Games was completely silent throughout this whole ordeal and left a bad mark on their name.
However, since then, they’ve gone reworked their image greatly by having No Man’s Sky debut on other consoles than the PlayStation 4 and gain a new audience that wasn’t burned by the initial game’s release. They’ve also tirelessly worked on updating the game to give it the look and feel they likely wanted to when it first released. All of this, and more, is what made the next game they released more important than ever and immediately drew me to their latest game, made by a small part of their team, called The Last Campfire.
In the game, players take control of a lost ember, naturally named Ember, as they attempt to navigate unique areas after they become trapped with a dark forest. Looking to restore hope to other fallen embers, called forlorn, they find along their journey, players will be tasked with solving puzzles that will let them interact with the environment to create new paths and reignite hope in the hopeless forlorn. Along the way, Ember comes to learn more about the forest that surrounds them and helps other creatures they encounter as they attempt to light The Last Campfire and return home.
In a similar vein to old-school adventure games, basically like the original Zelda games, players progress by exploring areas, collecting important items, and solving environmental puzzles to unlock new areas and find forlorn to help. With No Man’s Sky, Hello Games showed how much they love exploration in games, but with The Last Campfire, they make it much more rewarding by utilizing every inch of space in the game’s small areas and makes retreading them remain fresh as players can get a new perspective on things as well as find hidden forlorn.
Every time I thought I had swept an area clean, there was always something just out of the corner of my eye that lead me to something new. There were even times where the game shows something just off in the distance or in an area that wasn’t necessarily accessible yet and it was a great motivator to figure out how to create new paths or get a new items that would expand my reach. It speaks to the strong level design that the game has and how the exploration in The Last Campfire is both gratifying and constantly pushing you forward. Not to mention, it has a really great design to it that makes exploring these areas even better.
From a cavern that’s hidden away under a mountain to a dark and mysterious marsh filled with deadly plants that block new paths, the environments are very visually pleasing and match the mystical fantasy vibe experience you get from start to finish. Every time you visit a campfire, it truly feels like you’re awakening spirits and the adversaries you meet along the way are perfectly fitting for any kind of fantasy adventure. There’s a friendly fisherman with a funny looking fish hat, a gluttonous pig that will literally eat anything, a boat building robot with a creative vision, and plenty other characters players will run into that have their personalities displayed through their unique visuals since they all basically have the same voice.
Personally, the use of narration in this game doesn’t work as it’s just the same voice for every character. It’s obvious that the narration is meant to act like a mother reading a fantasy adventure story to their child and in concept I could see why that could be cool, but in execution it just becomes tiresome. Outside of the character designs and visuals, the voices of the narrator don’t really change so it detracts from the experience a bit – especially after hearing her voice for the entire game. Not that she does a bad job or anything, but instead of it feeling like a parent really trying to immerse their kid into a story before bed, it comes off more like a parent just trying to get their kid to go to bed.
As for the puzzles, for the most part, they’re pretty intriguing and fun to solve. Some range from finding items to help out new adversaries to moving things around to create paths to new areas or nearby forlorns. There’s actually a solid challenge to figuring out where things are and where they go, but it’s what ultimately makes exploring so rewarding and every step forward feel earned. There’re are also puzzles that players will have to solve when reigniting hope in forlorns that generally have them trying to create a path in order to release a burning flame at the end. These kinds of puzzles are also fine for what they are, but aside from some puzzles that utilizes a block and platform moving mechanic, they’re too easy. A lot of times, the solutions are all too simple and are so easy to breeze through that it’s hard not to find yourself craving something a little more challenging. The puzzles for helping the adversaries are especially too easy and unsatisfying and make the experience a little lifeless at times.
The technical flaws of The Last Campfire also drag down the experience of playing as the game is filled with plenty of glitches and framerate issues. Every time I interacted with a forlorn, the transition into the puzzle would be consistently choppy and there was even a moment where I was moving the camera and made it outside of the area map. Even worse, some items can be glitched and there was a moment where I was holding a necessary item and then it suddenly got sucked into a wall for no reason. Thus, I had to reload the level and it’s one of the ways that can make The Last Campfire unnecessarily frustrating. By no means do these technical flaws make The Last Campfire unplayable or broken, but to say that its an unpolished game would be a bit of an understatement.
Even for some technical issues and all too easy gameplay, the story of The Last Campfire did win me over – with some time. At first, it was a little tough to figure out what exactly was happening as the game just throws lore at you from all directions and it can be a little overwhelming at the start. However, as you keep playing it’s easy to find yourself relaxing into the surprisingly emotional story that unfolds throughout the rest of the game. The Last Campfire excels at bringing out its themes about losing hope, overcoming obstacles, and not being afraid of the end of a journey. The end perfectly encapsulates all of these themes and displays them in a way that’ll leave you misty-eyed. It makes all of the efforts you’ve made throughout the game valuable and it’s a pure swell of emotion that ends things on the right note.
While it’s certainly not in the same visionary standard as No Man’s Sky or without its own imperfections, The Last Campfire is a solid game for Hello Games to have under their umbrella. It evokes the kind of nostalgia that’s fitting for any fan of retro adventure games and hits its own strides through its surprisingly emotional story, charming environments and characters, and mostly fun puzzle-solving.
*All Photos Used Here Were Taken by the Author
Watch the Trailer Here: