From the creative minds of Hello Games, The Last Campfire is a quaint story-driven puzzle game that explores life and death, loneliness and community, and other aspects of the human condition. It’s a markedly different experience to that of their last game, the well-known No Man's Sky. While The Last Campfire does offer an emotional narrative, the core backbone of the game, the puzzles, are ultimately too easy and rather forgettable.
Dealing with emotions
The story in The Last Campfire follows the journey of an Ember, a little hooded creature, on their important voyage. Though the purpose of this journey is never implicitly stated, I got the sense it was dealing with death and the acceptance of traveling through life. As the story unravels, the Ember helps others who are wrestling with the idea of moving on.
In order to get this theme across in a delicate manner, The Last Campfire features a beautifully gentle narration. The entire game is narrated by a single voice, whether it’s speaking what Ember is thinking, doing the voices of those forgotten souls they meet, or the main characters guiding Ember to their next location. It’s a soothing experience that offers a wide range of perspectives on how people deal with their own emotions when all hope seems lost.
Though the narrative is gentle and sweet, it does feel like it takes a while to really kick into gear. The game can also be a bit heavy handed with its symbolism. The little creatures you save are called Forlorn, and to help them accept their situation, you must retrieve a faint ember called Hope. At times, the simplicity of the story makes it feel like a child’s book tackling emotions and how to deal with them.
Puzzle games live and die by their puzzles. A really good puzzle will stick in the mind of the player even years later. They might not be able to remember the intricate details of the puzzle, but something about it will pop out. Whether it’s how the rules of the puzzles are incrementally taught to the player in The Witness, the physical nature of Portal 2’s co-op puzzles, or the computer-language of Baba is You, each of these are striking in their mechanics and growing challenge.
Unfortunately, the puzzles in The Last Campfire are rather straightforward in their design and almost entirely forgettable. Most have players reach an end point by moving objects around to clear the path or ferrying a flame past windy statues that threaten to put it out. The solution is always immediately obvious.
To this end, more complexity within the puzzle designs would be nice. This would have helped hammer home the sense of losing hope as the player becomes worried they may not figure out the solution.
There were also some problems with puzzles breaking. In one instance, a pig floated above an elevator, walked through a wall, and then disappeared. What’s more, if you fail a puzzle and it resets, it plays a small cinematic. This becomes insufferable with some of the puzzles that require a bit of experimentation to complete.
The Last Campfire also features some graphical problems such as stuttering and pop-ins. There are also some menus that appear to be unfinished as they fail to match the aesthetic of the game. For such a simple art style, and based on the technical scope of No Man’s Sky, it’s certainly surprising to see this.
At one point in the story, the player receives an instrument that lets them move objects in the environment. This has an undesirable effect of letting the player easily move the camera out of bounds when searching for the next item to move. It just breaks the immersion to be able to see behind the curtain with such ease.
However, without this tool, there’s no other way to control the camera. The player must rely on the game’s automatic camera that tracks and moves based on Ember’s position. This leads to situations where the player can’t tell if they’re going down a path to a potential secret or stuck running up against a dead end as the auto-camera fails to show Ember’s location.
Unfortunately, the controls in The Last Campfire are also a bit clunky. Ember can be tough to move, and often gets caught on tiny lips in the environment. Similarly, the tool used to move objects sometimes disengages or fails to pick an item up.
The Last Campfire sets out what it promises to do, tell a heart-warming and tear-jerking story about life, death, and the emotions one feels when all hope seems lost. While the narrative does take a few beats to get started, the real problem lies in the overly simple puzzles that the game is built on. It’s a lovely experience that is quickly forgotten.
The Last Campfire
- Tells an endearing story
- A couple of interesting puzzles
- Peaceful and serene sound design
- A majority of the puzzles are far too simple
- Graphical pop-ins and stuttering
- Controls and movement can be a bit clunky
- Some menus look unfinished
- Glitches with environments and puzzles
Sam Chandler posted a new article, The Last Campfire review: Waning light