Too Hot To Handle?
Having played, like, a million video games, I rarely find a game that actually beats me. But after playing Midway's FireBlade for a couple hours, I'm reminded of watching my little sister play Mario 64, the way she'd just run off the first cliff she came to and then stare at the screen blankly. I don't think I've ever read 'Game Over' as many times in an hour in my life.
In FireBlade, you play the pilot of two equally ill-fated choppers, the Talon and the Vendetta. One is small and fast, while the other is big and rugged. With your two specimens of soon-to-be-flaming-wreckage, you've got to put a sock in the mouth of evil terrorists known as the UES (United Eastern States). With the right amount of patience, you'll get to fail miserably at attempting to sabotage the saboteurs' plans in four regions of the globe (Switzerland, South America, Latin America, and the Arctic).
I say fail miserably because the mission objectives are simply unreal. I kick ass at videogames, but nobody kicks as much ass as FireBlade demands, except for like, Jesus or Mohammad or something. Contributing to the embarrassment are missions which must be completed along very rigid lines.
Ironically, the briefings are extremely simple: "Kill all this stuff." But then you discover that "all this stuff" is like thirty boats, all of which must be gone in two minutes. Why the rigid time limit? Isn't mass destruction reward enough? Why is everybody in such a hurry all the time?
What's cool about FireBlade is that everything you're asked to do actually can be done, just not without lots of trial and error. FireBlade's 18 missions demand an A-effort, and if you're willing to put that much time and energy into a helicopter game, you'll probably be very pleased with it.
The helicopter itself handles like most others, with the left analog stick controlling direction while the right controls vertical and horizontal thrust. The face buttons toggle your stealth and heat vision, while the shoulder buttons fire your guns, rockets, and missiles.
Both of the helicopters can cloak, an ability which is essential in several missions. When cloaked the gameplay changes substantially, as your ship moves more slowly and is more vulnerable to enemy fire. However, once cloaked you can turn on a little heat vision and snipe with your EMP (very powerful and never runs out of ammo) or your Vulcan cannon.
Stealth missions are fun, but are also largely target practice. FireBlade is definitely about the all-out mayhem. Central to this is a good strafing scheme and ammo-crates which always keep your chopper ready for a little of the ol' thirty to one.
Graphically, FireBlade is bland, but with several striking details. Heat vision mode is nicely done and very helpful, while the level of detail applied to enemy infantry is astonishing. Also astonishing is the game's ability to stay fast and furious even when dealing with millions of flying objects. With thirty or so ships all shooting everything they've got at you, the screen gets extremely cluttered. Thanks to the consistent framerate, you get completely drawn into the insanity.
The sounds are decent but repetitive. The music should be turned down in favor of something really violent, like Bustah Rhymes or maybe some DMX, while the effects themselves don't really contribute to the excitement.
It's a shame that FireBlade is burdened by such stringent objectives when it could have been so much more entertaining. It's recommended for helicopter sim fans only, and might be too tough for the casual gamer.