Hello Games' New Narrative is a Beautiful Light in a Dark Time.
The Last Campfire is Hello Games’ first foray into a fully single-player experience since their arguably rocky start with No Man’s Sky and its subsequent revival over the years.
This heroic effort by Hello Games to redeem their game and make it live up to what was initially advertised has succeeded, with many heralding No Man’s Sky as the great comeback story in recent gaming history. This is notable, especially among several other recent games that have had an abysmal launch yet seem to be struggling to update and engage player interest, most notably BioWare’s most recent title Anthem.
Hello Games does an excellent job here crafting a linear, single-player narrative as opposed to the branching and varied gameplay of No Man’s Sky. Given that the game design is in complete contrast, it makes it even more impressive that the quality of The Last Campfire is so stellar. In the game, the player controls an unnamed “ember”, who has lost themselves and must find their way back home while journeying through different lands. The movement style is point-and-click, which initially was difficult to get used to but becomes more habitual after an hour or so of play.
In each “hub” area the player finds a central campfire, with several missing embers that need to be found and redeemed to progress the story. These embers have gone “forlorn”, all losing their own hope to continue their paths home. Each hub world offers a variety of different areas to explore, all in keeping with the central theme of the zone.
For example, the player would never see a volcano in the Marsh area. The Last Campfire shines in terms of puzzle design, in that a puzzle must be completed for each ember to be saved but actually getting to the ember is most times a puzzle in itself. For example, in a later zone, the player must get to an ember across a chasm, with moveable blocks to cross the zone, a wheel to move the blocks vertically, and a statue that one must move across the blocks on an upper level. The player must climb up, put the statue on the blocks, lower the blocks, move the block across with the statue on it, then cross themselves and insert the statue into its area. All this is just to get to the ember, which invokes a separate puzzle altogether.
The message of the game is one of great hope and positivity, the main ember adventuring through these forgotten lands and restoring hope to everyone is a great story that makes the player feel positive about their actions. Each ember has their own share of problems, from self-confidence to a lack of trust and hope. These characteristics make them feel real despite existing in a fictional world. The heartwarming message is made especially more important given the tumultuous events occurring around the world at the time of release.
Different narrators may be chosen, but the excellent voice work (English UK) done by Rachel August as the default choice complemented Ember’s journey (the player character also being named Ember) excellently and set a great tone for the story that would not have been as impactful otherwise. The sound design was also immersive and fit the atmosphere of the game, from the soft rustling of the wind to the oinks of the playing pigs and the creak of Ember’s boat through the water, each sound was thoughtfully made to accompany Ember in their adventure.
The level design is great, the idea of each level being a hub that naturally branches out into smaller puzzles and areas is a design choice that leads into another great positive for the title: the sense of progression. At all times it seemed that one discovery naturally led to another, in that the player always seems to be progressing at a steady pace, with the next surprise waiting for the player just around the corner.
The art design is also fantastic, the environments are breathtaking while at the same time being cute and simple, similar to but also evoking a different atmosphere completely than Hello Games’ previous work. The world is cartoony but in a great way that fits the tone and overall aesthetic of the game, both cute and beautiful in unique ways. The character design is also fitting for the world, the embers are most reminiscent of pillows, which is fitting given the lighthearted tone of the game. Each non-player character is also wonderfully styled, from friendly turtles to giant pigs and a tribe of birds, each is unique and brings their own sense of style to the world that makes it that much more enticing.
The negative aspects of this game are very few, given the many great aspects mentioned beforehand. This might have been a technical issue with the hardware it was played on, but the character sometimes got stuck and would not walk forward to a certain area, requiring it to be restarted. However, this only occurred three times during the complete playthrough. In addition, the Marsh area of the game seemed to be almost too large, in that the player may lose track of what they are doing. This is due to its several branching paths and it naturally being the most expansive area of the game, and the difficulty may vary given the experience level of the player with similar titles.
Overall, The Last Campfire is an excellent next step for Hello Games and sets a great precedent for their future titles. The puzzle elements blend nicely with level exploration, item discovery, and conversation, creating a gameplay flow that always feels enjoyable. With a friendly and cute atmosphere, heartwarming story, fantastic art style, great sense of progression, and excellent voice acting, The Last Campfire is worth playing by all fans of the puzzle and adventure genres, and anyone who just wants a sweet and emotional story about a little ember who is trying to find their way back home.
Sooner Esports was not given a review copy or compensated for this review. This game was reviewed on PC.