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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Sneaky Bastards
Release Date: May 26, 2020


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PC Review - 'Wildfire'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 11, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Wildfire is a stealth game equipping players with elemental magic.

Stealth games are all about restrained power. You often play characters who are good at taking out enemies unaware of your presence, but you're never hardy enough to take out entire battalions in a firefight like in a typical action title. For some, there's excitement in these limitations, so the challenge is to develop enjoyable situations that use the limitations effectively. By all accounts, Wildfire does just that.

You play the role of a regular person who's on a quest to nab a tasty chicken for the village's annual celebration. When you return to your village, you see something falling from the sky and landing in a nearby cave. You investigate and discover that a piece of a meteorite that has given you special powers. The Arch Duchess has also sent her soldiers to look for the artifact, burning down your home and taking away all of the villagers as prisoners. Your tale becomes a combination of revenge and rescue as you seek to have the Arch Duchess pay for what she's done while rescuing villagers along the way.

Wildfire is played in a classic 2D perspective, and the stealth elements are basic enough. There aren't any shadows you can go skulk in, but you can crawl through snowbanks and tall grass without risking detection. Enemies have good vision when it comes to spotting you, but you can flee and they won't follow you up tall ledges, crawl through tight passes, or swim after you. You can whistle to catch their attention, but that comes with the risk of them reducing your sneaking space if they cut the grass or snow where you were last seen. One interesting genre twist is that you can't kill guards or other enemies from the shadows, except for the sections where you play as a lost bobcat. The loss of that ability may make some stealth fans scratch their heads, but it also means that you can't get rid of the opposition before exploring.

The stealth is basic and effective, but Wildfire's main gimmick is the ability to manipulate the elements. You start off with fire, which you can use non-lethally by setting things on fire to open up passageways and scare/distract guards who run away screaming. Setting patches of grass aflame is enjoyable if you have a little pyromaniac in you, but it is a fun ability due to its unpredictability. Set fire to grass, and you can watch it spread to burn a vine or witness an ember go rogue and set off a few explosive barrels that eventually ignite gates. It is the type of chaos that can work in your favor or completely muck things up since it also destroys any potential hiding spots, but it always amuses.

Fire isn't just used to set things ablaze, though. As you progress through the game and collect points from shrines, you'll be able to use that same fire to conjure smoke bombs to distract guards or cause an explosion to perform a rocket jump, just to name a few. The same goes for the two other elements you can access later in the game. Water may be useful for putting out fires, but you can also use it to freeze enemies or create bubbles that you can ride to higher areas that a normal rocket jump can't reach. Earth, on the other hand, can be used to temporarily trap guards in vines, create vines so you can climb to higher areas, or even use leaf gliders so you can safely jump to lower platforms.

As you can imagine, each level is a little sandbox where you're free to conjure up any strategy you want. Most of the levels have you reaching for the exit, but a few let you carry villagers to a runestone, so they can be whisked to safety. Since you must carry them, it skips some of the complaints commonly associated with escort missions; it's hilarious to see you toss them into cover when needed. The game also adds some optional side objectives that range from simple things, like covertly listening in on a conversation or traversing a stage with large bodies of water without getting wet. There are also evergreen side objectives, like trying to get through a level without being spotted or finishing under par time. Aside from giving the game more replayability, the side objectives are tempting to complete, since they provide extra points to help power up yourself and your elemental abilities.

Even when you gain every power possible, Wildfire provides limitations to balance things out. For example, you can't manifest every element out of thin air, so fire needs to be gathered from campfires and you need to be on grassy patches before you can create vines. None of these things regenerate, so you must play conservatively unless you want to run out of a necessary element and be forced to start over. Holding elements also means no ducking into tight spaces or being more aware of where you're headed, lest you accidentally ruin your ammunition. Guards may not chase you from one end of a level to another, but you can't jump over them, since they can still reach you, so you must get creative in your escape. Hitting them with fire also doesn't work, as it is treated like a punch, so it only works in your favor if you can somehow trap them in a blazing inferno. This creates that balance needed in stealth games, and more importantly, none of it feels cheap, so failure is accepted rather than scorned.

The overall presentation is rather nice if you look in specific places. The sprite work emphasizes the backgrounds and elemental effects, which makes it look picturesque. The characters aren't exactly squat, but they are small and animate well, which is reminiscent of games like Celeste and Towerfall. It looks nice overall, and there aren't any slowdown issues even when things go off the rails. As for the audio, you get basic effects for speech, which works fine; the music is standard fantasy fare that works well with the game but is also invisible, so you might not remember much of it when you exit the title.

In the end, Wildfire is a solid stealth title that plays well on the idea of restricted power. The various uses of your three elemental powers works well in adding a puzzle element to the stages and makes each stage feel chaotically fun, while the stealth emphasis and lack of focus on killing makes the endeavor feel fresh. The journey is a long one, but it doesn't feel like it drags on, thanks to the various objectives thrown your way. Wildfire is a wildly enjoyable romp that genre fans will absolutely enjoy.

Score: 8.0/10

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