Buy 'FIREFIGHTER FD 18': PlayStation 2
Firefighter games (what else would you call them?) aren't exactly a thriving genre. In fact, I'm not sure if they even have enough entries to be considered a genre at all.
For years, the one flagship title that allowed one to take the role (however loosely) of a firefighter was Sonic Team's Burning Rangers on the ill-fated Sega Saturn. It was set in the future, and centered around a team flying around multi-leveled buildings, rescuing survivors, and putting out fires.
However, it is now almost a decade later, and after so long, Konami gives us a new high-profile entry into the world of firefighting "sims": Firefighter F.D. 18.
To avoid mincing words here, this game makes Burning Rangers looks like a kid's toy.
There is no magical flight or laser blasting here; no large robots to fight, no charge blasts, no obvious paths through buildings. The terrain is merciless; surprise explosions, ceiling crashes and other traps await you at every turn; when you put out a fire, it doesn't care, it will simply come back in a matter of seconds, because, well, it's fire. It's what it does. It's the most realistic firefighting game out there, and while that's not saying very much, it still holds true at a higher factor than expected.
You take on the role of Dean McGregor, who seems to have developed a complex of sorts after seeing one too many loved ones die in a blaze. From the beginning of the game, he makes it clear that casualties are not, repeat, not an option, and he says it with such determination that you can't help but agree (and wonder if he needs psychiatric help). Always following along for some reason is a reporter who doesn't know what the words "too dangerous" mean. To make things more interesting, said reporter may be linked to Dean's past, and it would seem that all of these fires are not random; there are some shady arsonists lurking behind the scenes.
Dean, with little regard for his own safety, charges into garages, high-rise buildings, elevator shafts, and anywhere else a fire rages, in order to rescue trapped civilians. He is armed with nothing but a fire hose, an axe, a chance to call for some inferno-killing backup three times, and--if you're lucky--a first-aid-kit or two. Dean has no special powers, and, like all carbon-based lifeforms, he is highly flammable. Using his limited resources and abilities (including the always underrated walking, running, and squatting) Dean must navigate fires, put out the ones that are necessary, and hunt down any and all survivors.
This is, of course, easier said than done.
The fire is unrelenting. You and Dean will have to deal with smoke, backdrafts, breakaway ceilings, obstacles that will have to be axed through, live electrical wiring, evil robotic drones (wait, what?), and a constant race against the clock. Each survivor you have to rescue can only survive in the blaze for a little while until they die. If there are any casualties, the game is over. If Dean is the casualty, you'd better believe the game is over. Be glad that the stages are short and allow you to save often.
Then there are the boss fires. These are some of the game's more "radical" encounters. They follow a set pattern, more like traditional videogame bosses, instead of the random patterns of the normal fire you come across. They also seem to have a supernatural presence about them. It's one of the rules that Firefighter has to bend in order to be a viable video game, but at the same time, disappointingly, it reminds you that it is in fact still just a videogame, and not a "true" firefighting "simulation."
Those bosses are a good challenge, though.
Still, even with all of this, the difficulty is rather balanced. At points it seems that things can get a bit cheap, but there are unlimited continues, where your energy and backup blasts are replaced, forever giving you a fighting chance until you come up with a way to solve the problem in front of you. It's like a firefighter's Dead to Rights.
Along with these benefits, the camera is actually quite stable. The fact that the right analog stick manipulates both the camera and the spray of the hose takes a bit of getting used to, but it works out in the end. I can't remember a single time I died and ended up blaming the camera for it.
The graphics that this game has to offer are genuinely likeable. Not only do they tap into the powers that I didn't even know the PS2 had, but they do their best to pull you into the experience. The human models are realistic, and textured with detail. If you squint, they almost look real. This goes double for the cutscenes, which appear to be running at a level of detail just a smidge higher than the real-time graphics engine.
The fire is everywhere, and it stretches for yards in every direction. It's bright and intense, and brings with it smoke and transparency effects, which are most apparent when the blasted stuff starts to burn its way into Dean's firefighter suit. There are also steam and water effects; you can see the water collect and ripple on the ground just before the heat causes it to disappear into mist. All in all, very well done.
However, all of this graphical goodness seems to have come at the expense of a soundtrack. I've gone through 6 stages now, and I hear the exact same music, over and over again. Granted, it's very good, mood-setting music--and if, Heaven forbid, I were ever stuck fighting a fire, I'd probably start mentally humming it (or Silent Scope tunes) to keep my mind at ease while I worked--but the monotony starts to stick after a while.
Aside from the very few actual tracks, one will mainly be hearing the sounds of the blaze; various crashes and explosions as the rooms you navigate deteriorate and explode around you; and random snippets of voice acting from both the survivors you rescue, your radio backup, and the cutscenes. The voice acting is decent, though it won't be winning awards anytime soon. It's just enough to get you through the game with minimal cringe factor.
The game has a few drawbacks at the moment. For one, it's quite linear and scripted. Once you finish, there's little incentive to go back. Also, though it can get quite hard, it's not impossible, and it's still not nearly as hard as the Shinobi's or Viewtiful Joe's of the gaming world. I've beaten half of the game and it only took me about two hours. Still, these flaws can be forgiven due to the fact that this sort of game is still very much new territory. The fact that what's brought to the table actually works is a testament to good game design in itself.
Firefighter F.D. 18 is a rock-solid rental at the very least. However, at $40 and dropping, it's not a bad pickup, either. It's a good way to test your gaming skills, and to have friends test theirs. More importantly, this is also one of those games that outright begs for a bigger, badder and hotter (pun fully intended) sequel. Konami's proven that they've gotten the concept down pat, and can make an enjoyable game out of it. Should they take it to the next level, I doubt any complaints will be heard.
More articles about Firefighter FD 18