Stop, drop, and roll away from the PS2.
Even before the events of 9/11 turned them into action
figures, firefighters performed good deeds on a daily basis. Did your cat
run up a tree? Call the firemen. Did your car skid into a ditch? Call the firemen.
Did you accidentally set fire to your girlfriend’s irritating toy poodle that
refused to stop barking, even AFTER you glued its mouth shut? Call the firemen!
Then, call a shrink.
And while you’re on the phone with them, recommend that they visit Konami’s HQ to
find out exactly what was going on upstairs when they decided to create a game
all about firefighting. After all, the “fireman” genre hasn’t exactly produced
big winners over the years ” unless you consider either this or this to
be a winner. Hmm’on second thought, don’t even bother calling a shrink. The strange Firefighter
F.D. 18 isn’t really worth the effort, though it certainly scores points
in the “What Were They Thinking’ column.
premise, at least, is rational. You play as the ruggedly-named Dean McGregor,
a fireman with a seemingly insatiable hatred for flames. Over the course of
this short single-player game, you put out fires, save victims, and battle
your inner demons while getting to the bottom of a string of mysterious arsons.
Following a linear, melodramatic storyline, you go from scenario to scenario
accomplishing tasks, almost all of which involve saving people stuck in burning
buildings. But while this kind of game has actually been made before, Firefighter
F.D. 18 tries to make it more immersive by literally throwing you into
the fire and making you hose your way out.
Conceptually, it works; functionally, it’s a mess. Level after level sees you
inching along in third-person, squirting water from your seemingly inexhaustible
fire hose at the flames while you make your way to trapped victims by following
a handy little map. You’ll occasionally have to navigate around fallen objects
or find a keycard somewhere before opening a certain door, but it’s mostly a
straightforward meander through the fire.
And by meander, I mean meander. Dean moves at a snail’s pace thanks to the sluggish
control. Just moving the hose around seems like a chore; his evasive maneuvers
consist of an awkward jab step in one of four directions. Though the bulk of
the fire creeps along slowly as well, occasionally it will spout out some flame
balls that are nearly unavoidable. Couple that with scripted explosions that
toss you around like a rag doll and you wind up with a game that’s harder to
play than it should be.
Fighting the fire itself is decent enough due in large part to the fairly life-like flames. It’s a lot like virus containment; you’ll spritz down one area while another spreads, really giving you the sense that you’re fighting an uphill battle. Different kinds of flames require different solutions, so you’ll occasionally have to use other methods like fire extinguishers and impulse blasts. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of different items and more often than not you’ll wind up just using the hose.
This leads to some repetitive gameplay, made even worse by the fact that you
keep doing the same thing over and over again. The number of people you need
to rescue changes from level to level, but without fail you just spray down
the fire and navigate to the victims. There’s very, very little creativity in how you play Firefighter
However, you can’t say the same about the oddest bit of all: the Boss Battles.
At the end of each level you’ll
face off against a Boss Fire that forgoes the otherwise realistic movement of
the flames in favor of traditional Boss patterns. Fighting these Bosses is a
bit like that old carnival game where you squirt water into a clown’s mouth to
inflate a balloon, except you also have to avoid flaming gobs of cotton candy.
Just keep the water focused on the middle of the Boss and dodge the nasty bits.
The strategy is pretty much zilch and renders what could have been the best part
of the game into tiresome, predictable affairs.
Firefighter F.D. 18 does get one thing right ” the fire itself.
The flames look real enough and when bunched together into an inferno really
give off a sense of chaos and heat. Couple that with thick smoke and exploding
cars/pipes/walls and you get some truly intense moments. But sadly, everything
else is bland and uninspired. Dean shuffles along like a zombie through gray
environments that feature little in the way of interaction. They’re really just
set pieces for the flame and very much feel that way.
But compared to the voice-acting, the bland graphics are Halo-esque. Between Dean’s overwrought cheeseball Kurt Russell imitation to the grating teenage drama queen antics of news reporter and constant irritation Emilie Arvin, you’ll relish your moments alone with the flames and the silly heavy metal soundtrack.
To top off this flaming disaster, Firefighter F.D. 18 can be
completed in about 7 hours, after which there’s no reason to play anymore except
to try out the harder difficulty levels or to try to improve your performance
on each level to get better reward medals. Not exactly worth your money.
The life of a real firefighter is filled with danger and fraught with peril, but Firefighter
F.D. 18 misses the mark completely due to its slow pace and boring gameplay. Fire bad, indeed.