Emergency Fire Response Review

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Publisher: DreamCatcher Games
Developer: Monte Cristo


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB 3D video card

Real-time strategy takes a break from orcs and aliens long enough to explore the real-life challenge of fighting fires. Playing as the members of the 615th Fire Station, you'll tackle a series of missions ranging from urban office buildings to railroad chemical spills and more. Beyond fighting fires, you'll need to rescue victims in various states of injury and try to preserve property from being consumed by ever-reaching flames. Emergency Fire Response is a single-player only game for the PC.

Rating:
Rob de los Reyes


Emergency Fire Response is a frustrating game. Not because it's a bad game – it isn't – but because it sometimes feels like it never even tried to be a great game. Get past the goofy title, and you actually have a fairly entertaining premise for a real-time strategy game. There's nothing wrong with killing orcs or post-apocalyptic warriors, but a bit of modern-day fire fighting nevertheless turns out to be welcome change of pace from the usual RTS settings. Although you might not suspect it at first, fighting fires isn't as monolithic a task as that bare descriptor would lead you to believe. Fires in sprawling fields are different from those in warehouses, residences or multi-story buildings, and the need to handle them differently brings enough interesting tactical and strategic differences to make for a good time. Beyond the fires themselves, each mission is sprinkled with mini-objectives such as saving victims and property yielding, all told, a solidly varied gameplay experience over the course of the campaign. That plus Emergency Fire Response's colorful, attractive graphics and animation gives you a solid foundation. But then what?

Its splendid graphics aside, Emergency Fire Response seems transported from the past in many ways. You are presented with a cinematic mission briefing, then dropped into your standard RTS view of the world. What you find therein is a game that seems to have taken no account of developments in its genre from the last five to eight years. Although there are a good variety of individual units, such as paramedics and technical officers in addition to the basic firefighter, there is no individualization within each unit. One basic firefighter looks and performs exactly as the next. There is no mini-map to give you a quick view of where your units are relative to one another, and, consequently, you'll too often play a whole mission with one lost man trapped in a corner somewhere. You have no ability to choose your own team for each scenario. Units don't improve or carry over from one mission to the next. And while you can drag-select more than one unit to issue group commands, you cannot assign permanent groups or select them via a hotkey. This last issue is particularly troubling here, where it's important if not imperative to keep your firefighters working in pairs or small teams.

The list of "modern" innovations in the genre missing from Emergency Fire Response could go on. But, ultimately, it's not that any one or two of those features is missing. You make the game you make, and if you don't want to blend RPG elements with your RTS (or whatever), there's no reason you have to. What's striking about Emergency Fire Response is that there simply doesn't seem to be any attempt at all to assemble a game beyond the minimum specs required to classify a game as a real-time strategy game.

Worse, the one new-ish element, the way you hand-drive vehicles around the map turns out to be poorly implemented. To drive a vehicle, you click on it and drag the cursor in the direction you want to go. At first, it feels a lot like playing with Matchbox cars and is worth a few grins. But when the scenarios start to get frenzied, it all falls apart. If you drag the cursor too far and run up against the edge of the screen (an action that normally scrolls the viewable area), you break the flow of movement and sometimes have to grab the vehicle again. At the other end of the spectrum, trying to traverse small areas and tight corners is a nightmare. The drag-and-pull movement is unforgiving when it comes to cornering or bumping into other objects. Be prepared to watch buildings burn while you try to maneuver your truck in what you'd expect to be a straightforward three-point-turn.

To be fair, Emergency Fire Response was released as a "budget" title, and, with most such titles, you know you're making a trade on production values vs. shelf price, something our rating system tries with varying degrees of success to take into account. In terms of raw looks and playability, Emergency Fire Response actually performs much better than other games tabbed with the budget label. What's maddening about it is that, with another quantum of effort and experimentation, it could have been a Very Good Game. But as it stands, it is more than merely playable. The fresh subject matter, strong aesthetics and bursts of intensity and excitement generally outweigh any of the troubles you'll actually encounter in play. What they won't outweigh is the sense that the rest of the game, the part not included, is out there somewhere just waiting to be inserted.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 10, 2003 2:00 PM.

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