No one will argue that the first-person shooter genre has become flooded lately. Ever since the previous generation of consoles, it has proven to be a very popular video game genre. Titles tend to reuse the same hackneyed premises, and more often than not, games in this genre have you playing as a mercenary, space marine, super soldier or world-class spy. Plot lines may differ, but your character is essentially the same. It's not often that someone decides to change things up a bit in this well-established genre, and it's rarer still to see such a change happen on a console that doesn't have very many shooter games at all. Conspiracy Entertainment and Epicenter Studios have done just that with Real Heroes: Firefighter, and while the game may be rough around the edges, they prove that a compelling first-person shooter doesn't always have to involve the player wielding a firearm.
The premise of Real Heroes: Firefighter is as straightforward as the title. You play as a rookie firefighter who's fresh out of training. As soon as your training was complete, they put you on Engine Company 13, one of the busiest firefighting teams in the city. Your mission is to live the life of a firefighter as you try to keep the city safe from one of snature's most devastating forces.
Just as in real life, the job of a fireman doesn't mean that you're running around spraying water at fires all day long. Your tasks will include stopping fires by means other than water, creating ways to free a room from choking black smoke, and rescuing civilians and your fellow teammates from being burned. For that, you're given tools such as a fireman's ax and crowbar for opening doors and breaking apart objects. You also have a portable fire extinguisher so you can get rid of small flames in your path when there isn't a hose nearby. Certain situations also call for special tools, like the circular saw and the famous Jaws of Life, but don't expect that to happen too often in the game.
The overall game is quite fun. Despite not having an enemy that rushes at you or deals out some crafty tactics, the fire can be a formidable enemy. It spreads if left untreated, and that forces you to be constantly aware and be sure that you've extinguished a flame before moving on. The environments also convey a good sense of tension. The first level, which takes place in a chemical factory, shows how electrical wiring, ruptured gas pipes and malfunctioning machinery all come together to make for some pretty dangerous places in which to fight fires. The game is about 10 levels long, and it feels just right for extended and short play sessions. While most of the game's objectives are pretty straightforward, you can also play the role of fire investigator for a while and find clues that will then show you how these enormous blazes started.
There are a few things that manage to drag down the quality of the game's experience. For starters, the victim AI isn't as smart as you want it to be. Oftentimes when you're asked to clear a path for them to escape, they get very specific about the route they want to take. You can clear out a good chunk of the fire that is directly to the left or right, but if the path he wants isn't clear, he'll do nothing until you clear out the flames he wants you to clear out. Also, the title doesn't give you a very good indication that you're about to faint from heat exhaustion. Instead of a health meter, you get the red screen effect that's become popular these days among most first-person shooters. However, you don't really get varying degrees of red to show how much you are in danger of losing. You'll get into the practice of backing away at any hint of red just because you don't know if it'll be survivable or not.
For the most part, the controls work well enough. Although you're using a fire hose instead of a battle rifle, the player controls the game much like any of the first-person shooters on the market today. The analog stick moves your character, and the Wii Remote handles the aiming reticle and camera. The d-pad switches out between the different tools needed. The B button is a universal trigger for all tools while the A button activates all switches and acts as the pick-up button as well. The controls feel fine during firefights, and while the default sensitivity of camera movement is overly responsive, that can be adjusted in the options.
The controls stop feeling fine when the player starts using the other tools in the collection. The motions for using the crowbar and ax are done by holding the B button and swinging the Wiimote in the desired direction. This works well enough, but the transition to this and hose is a bit too abrupt because the camera will instantly follow the aiming reticle once a hose is selected. Since most players will likely do this switch after swinging or thrusting has been accomplished, there will be plenty of times when the player will have to reorient the camera view in order not to get lost. Also, while using the circular saw is easy enough, there is a lack of better vibration from the remote, so you don't get the feeling that you've made a deep enough cut or that you need to start moving down the line to extend the cut.
The graphics are a little better than one expects from a game like this, but that idea only comes through in certain areas. The environments do their job well enough, and it's easy to differentiate between objects because the textures aren't muddy. The same goes for the character models of victims and your teammates, which have a pretty good polygon count. There's nothing spectacular here, but they do their job well enough to not look too much like an early PS2 game. Particle effects are the real highlight here. The water spray looks nice, especially when you change the nozzle flow to a water spread instead of stream. Fire may be patchy at times, but it also looks good. You won't mistake it for real fire anytime soon, but it looks rather good in comparison to the fire seen in other Wii games.
The sound is rather good, and Real Heroes: Firefighter is one of the few Wii games to take full advantage of the hardware. The music isn't anything special, but it does a good job of bringing an action movie feeling to the game without being too dramatic or bombastic for its own good. Sound effects also follow this vibe. Everything from water spray to the sounds of the Jaws of Life prying metal apart sounds nice and crisp. This is especially true of the fire, which seems to carry some nice bass whenever you get close. It's not overwhelming bass, but it's not muffled either.
The voices are what really stand out here. Few people expect it from a budget title, but the voice acting is done very well here. All of the members in your crew deliver their lines with the right amount of seriousness and humor, depending on the situation. This should come as no surprise, though, as the game features voice-over work from known movie, television and video game actors. The voice talent includes: John Di Maggio, who voiced Marcus Fenix in Gears of War and Bender in "Futurama"; Jenette Goldstein from "Aliens"; Michael Jace from "The Shield"; Jack McGee from "Rescue Me" and "Backdraft"; James Marsters from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; and comedian Jamie Kennedy.
Even your own character has good vocal delivery, which is unexpected since most games have the playable character be silent or come off very badly. Your chief sometimes has the tendency to speak faster than anyone else to the point where he blends two different lines together into one breathless sentence, but it doesn't happen often enough to be bothersome. What also impresses about the sound is the fact that it puts the Wii Remote speaker to heavy use. Out in the field, the speaker acts like a two-way radio, and your teammates will bark out orders from here. Even though the speaker has often gotten a bad rap for being less than clear to hear from, it fits perfectly with the game's theme and therefore becomes less of a criticism and more of a beneficial effect, especially when you begin to hear faint voices during some radio conversations through the device.
Real Heroes: Firefighter isn't a perfect game by any means. Everything here, from the graphics to the sound to the controls, comes off as average with a few issues sprinkled here and there. The premise of the game, though, is what helps make it stand out in a positive light and makes it a fun experience. It's rare to see a budget title like this work, but it definitely works rather well. It makes for a perfect rental and not a bad purchase if you happen to have some spare cash and want to buy a good Wii game.
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