During the 2017 Game Awards Firewatch developer Campo Santo announced their next game, In the Valley of Gods, due out in 2019. A short trailer revealed that the game is set in Egypt, and you play a camera woman exploring ancient pyramids
A follow-up statement by Campo gave more details:
“In the Valley of Gods is a sprawling narrative experience in remote, 1920’s Egypt. You are Rashida, a disgraced former explorer and filmmaker given one last shot at the adventurous life you desperately miss. Somewhere, beyond the endless miles of dunes, ruins, and tombs lies an incredible archaeological discovery—but it can’t be found without the help of Zora, the former partner you vowed never to work with again.”
What Even is This?
There’s not a whole lot going on in the trailer other than Rashida and Zora wandering around pyramids. Even as the modern, fast-paced, intense music starts going, there still isn’t a whole lot happening.
Poor music choice aside, this seems to be Campo Santo’s M.O. – games where you just wander around, more or less. These so called “walking simulators” have gained popularity in recent years, but the developers previous work was one of the better examples. At least, most people think Firewatch was a great game.
I was never a fan of the 1980’s fire watching game. The opening was all “tell, don’t show,” the game tried too hard to be a “standard” video game by throwing in nonsense about murders and government conspiracies, dialog options didn’t matter, and philosophize about that ending all you want, but it was crap. I say this because a game set in 1920’s Egypt where you play a filmmaker, exploring ancient tombs with your former partner sounds like it’d be right up my alley. But knowing Campo Santo, and watching the trailer all the way through to the end, I can’t muster much excitement.
The Sarcophagus in the Room
We have no idea what In the Valley of Gods will be, but the trailer and Campo Santo’s previous game gives us a good idea.
At the end of the trailer, the two characters are showing going to the top of some ruin at night and setting up their camera. Just as they finish setting up, the sun finally goes down, and a sarcophagus pops up, as if they knew it were going to happen. Already we’re getting the same vibes from Firewatch.
Imagine a game where you play a woman of color in 1920’s Egypt, exploring tombs, and you’ve got another woman of color with you. And what do they mean by “partners?” Just business partners, or something more? Oh, is this going to be a relationship drama between two women of color in Roaring Twenties Egypt, and some documentary work? How great does that sound?
There’s a great story in there, even for a video game. But, and while it is too early to speculate, this trailer shows that Campo Santo is either uninterested or maybe even afraid of a grounded game like that. Their previous game certainly shows that much, at least.
Except, again, knowing Campo Santo’s previous work and what we saw at the end of the trailer, that’s probably not what we’re getting here. Instead, we’re probably getting a story of chasing mummies or ghosts or some supernatural stuff first, a story of how nobody respects you because you believe in that stuff and are trying to film it and prove everyone wrong second, and any personal relationship drama, talk of race and society and the time between will be background fluff at best.
A lot of that comes down to expectations. Campo Santo did a terrible job selling Firewatch. From the trailers and interviews, it sounded like it was just another “walking simulator.” You could occasionally talk to somebody on the radio, and there wouldn’t be much going on besides that. Because of that, people got the wrong idea about what the game is. I remember reading a lot of comments asking what Firewatch is, and that it looks boring.
The reason a lot of people seemed to hate it early on is exactly why I was looking forward to it. I was expecting a grounded tale of two people getting to know each other in the middle of the wilderness, as that was the marketing behind the game. When it was finally out, we instead got a bloated mess with the aforementioned murder mystery and government conspiracy nonsense, and the relationship between you and Deliah, the woman you talked to on the radio, was inconsequential.
Here, it seems like Campo Santo is letting us know up front that this game will share a tenuous relationship with reality, and that we can expect supernatural shenanigans. Even if they did let us get excited for the possibilities of this narrative throughout the trailer and spring this disappointment at the end, at least we know now and not in 2019 after the game comes out that it’s another also-ran ghost chasing scary story.
Why Am I Always So Cynical?
I would love nothing more than to be wrong about In The Valley of Gods. I want it to be great, whether it’s grounded in reality or if you’re given a proton pack by the end of it. But the way Firewatch was so unsure of itself as a narrative experience, and with this trailer’s silly music trying to make it feel more grandiose and the ridiculous ending, I can’t say I have much faith.
Either way, we’re not going to know until 2019, so I’ve got plenty of time to think of all the ways to tell people I was right all along.