Review: Firefighter FD18 (PS2)

Platform: PlayStation 2
Category: Action / Adventure
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
The Down-Lo: An emotional ride through one unique of a game.

Wow, what a busy month for your favorite rumor-mongler. 3 reviews. And I’ve still got Pitfall, Lowrider, Saturday Night Speedway, and a new one-shot edition of the Down-Lo to do. Not to mention a feature that The Scotsman, angrier members of the Kliq, and I are working on. Can you say overworked? Geez. I mean, it would be nice to get paid for some of this…

Ah. Wait. Nevermind… ;)

And yes, I said new Down-Lo. Don’t get your panties up in a tizzy, people. It’s just one little taste and then I go back to manipulating the Kliq into writing features for every Sega system ever created. It’s what I’ve gotten good at after all.

But, Ok…. The review. Firefighting games. Not too many out there huh? Rare breed they are. Remember what the last good one was? Yup. Sonic Team’s Burning Rangers on the Sega Saturn. With its anime flava and futuristic backdrops, that game had style for miles and gameplay to die for. Haven’t found anything like it since. Shame the best games Sonic Team spits out never seem to get the sequels they deserve, but I digress…

So Konami throws their hat into the arena with a third person action game yielding some fairly pleasing results. Only this time it’s not jetpack powered flying super heroes battling blazes in ultramodern locales. No, Firefighter FD18 takes place in decidedly more present-day surroundings, and the firefighters are more akin to the NYFD than comic book supermen. Let’s take a look…



LET’S REVIEW
10-Point Reviewing Scale Technology: “It’s why we’re just better.”

STORY:

You play the role of fire fighter Dean McGregor, a Rambo-style one-man rescue team, sent into the most insanely dangerous fire fighting situations ever conceived. It’s your charge to save everyone and anyone that needs savin’ before they expire in a fiery blaze of death. And you’d better not miss a beat in the life saving department, bucko. Dean already has extra baggage in that of an unsettling past. At the worst time imaginable our hero came up short being unable to save a loved one after a tragic accident. Now the guy just won’t stand for casualties. Fires and troubled pasts aren’t the only things Dean has to struggle with, though. He’s got a perky breasted screech voiced reporter who likes getting a little too close to the action, as well as a maniacal arsonist going well out of his way to take him out. Yeah, Dean needs to find a new line of work.

Much of the story is moved forward by between level B-Movie quality cut-scenes. These in-game cinemas aren’t bad per se’. They just feel hokey. Particularly the dialogue, which can be a bit contrived and downright silly at times. It gets the player mildly interested though, enough to keep you moving forward.

One could solely look at the dialogue and cut-scenes in this game and say, “Cheesy cheese with extra cheese,” leaving it at that. But if you look beyond the goofy Hollywood-mocking script and amateur writing and take a look at the story the actual gameplay tells, that’s a whole different ordeal altogether. Most action games detach you from the experience by creating ludicrously unrealistic scenarios. Killing zombies. Battling ninjas. Shooting demons. Stuff you’ve (hopefully) never done. But this hits closer to home. This game tackles one of the most heart touching professions one could actually aspire to be and conveys all the emotions and passions that come with it rather well. Unlike past attempts at fire fighting games, few they may be, this game succeeds at making you care. When the life meter of the trapped victim you’re trying to save starts flashing indicating their imminent death, your heart starts pounding with nervousness. When Dean’s own life expires giving out to the flames, you almost feel the pain yourself. To experience the challenges this game throws at you… it’s almost like someone’s pulling your emotional strings. And it’s no coincidence; events are very scripted to that result. Watching the chaos and devastation caused by the fire and how it effects yourself and others throughout the game is nearly as affecting as watching an action movie drama. The experiences the developers wrought from this game’s own design, creates a story within itself. A good one at that.

Story rating: 7/10

GRAPHICS:

Mixed bag. Cut-scenes are impressive, sporting detailed characters with sometimes life like facial expressions and animations. Get within the actual game however and things become repetitive, blocky, and stiff. Dean’s in-game character model is quite bland… I couldn’t see one detailed texture on the guy… and his movements are limited and very rigid. Environments, heavily saturated with smog, have a dark dingy, equally lackluster look to match Dean. Of course that’s as it probably should be because, though much more could have been done with them, the graphics are serviceable for conveying the murky, trenches-like circumstances that real fire fighters would have to battle through. I mean you’re in the mists of fiery infernos emanating smoke-filled rooms stinking of burnt skin and death, so we can’t exactly expect the graphics to be a Care Bears We-Care happy fun time jamboree.

The real star of the show here is the fire. I would have said this game could be accomplished on a PSX if it wasn’t for the fire. The way it moves and takes on a life of its own. How the flames change in color as it grows in concentration. How it slowly crawls along surfaces until finding something good and flammable to explode upon boosting its intensity. It’s eerily real and convincing, truly making you feel like you’re in a burning building.

Overall the graphics are good enough to get the job done which is a feat in itself considering the atmosphere they had to convey. But there’s definitive room for improvement when it comes to detail.

Graphics rating (for a PlayStation 2 game): 6/10

SOUND: No screw you Chief. SCREW YOU.

Mixed bag again, only this bag has more goodies. The background music is awesome. Very grandiose adding even further to the tension, the orchestra-like compositions fit the game perfectly. Sounds of explosions, popping light bulbs, crackling electrical wires hanging from the ceiling, falling rubble, and survivors screaming for help contribute to drawing the player right into the chaotic atmosphere.

Gripes include some laughable voice acting, although much of that can be attributed to the cheesy script, and some sound byte glitches when survivors are rescued. Since the game is subtitled you can read what people rescued are trying to say, but verbally they rarely get to finish their thought being cutoff mid-sentence by the cut-scene ending prematurely. Again minor gripe that many might care less about, but it irked me.

Then there’s Richard Grace. The most annoying Fire Chief in the history of Fire Chiefs. This short, fat, Danny Devito looking retard barks useless and condescending orders to you via headset. You’re fighting your way through a literal maelstrom here people, and this little monkey gives you no love. I saved practically everyone in the game without one word of thanks, but I fail to reach one guy and it’s, “You disappoint me.” I disappoint YOU?! I don’t see YOU getting off your fat Doritos eatin’ behind to help these people! Other colorful comments from the Chief include, “Dean! Watch out for explosions!” This is usually said two seconds after something’s blown up in your face. Thanks a lot Chief! Doesn’t help matters that his voice sounds like he’s trapped in a static vacuum. To put it mildly, I wanted to kill the guy. Whether or not he was SUPPOSED to be this irritating is debatable. But either way… grrrrr

By and large aside from hiccups with voice acting, some audio glitches, and the ramblings of Chief Retard the sound is very well done helping to immerse you in the game.

Sound rating: 7/10

CONTROL:

And this is where it starts to go downhill.

None of the 3 Control Types FD18 throws at you are exactly intuitive. The main control scheme goes as follows: The left analog controls Dean’s movement. Shooting your hose nozzle is done with R1 while aiming with the right analog stick. In addition to your fire hose, you have a portable fire extinguisher for more tenacious blazes, and an axe for breaking down walls and smashing other obstacles. Buttons are assigned for kicking as well as calling for “Firefighter Support”… your partner Craig arrives with a super fire extinguishing blast available to use three times per level. The controls take some getting used to, especially the tricky hand play of operating your water hose while moving around (heh, I hear lots of men have that problem), but the learning curve’s not impossible to overcome.

Dean can take two forms of damage: fire and physical. Physical damage happens when say, an explosion hits you or the roof collapses on your head, and can only be healed by using med packs. Fire damage on the other hand is sustained when you’re in… well, FIRE, duh. Difference being you’ll heal automatically with passage of time if you can manage to stay out of the heat.

What’s great is the sense of sheer hopelessness exuded. Not hopelessness like “you’re all going to die” hopelessness. But hopelessness like “you’re all going to potentially die” hopelessness. Never does it truly happen but it always seems at any moment the whole world will come crashing down engulfing everyone in a blaze of fury. Thus even though you get Points for it, there’s no way in Hades that ludicrous amount of fire will ever be extinguished completely. The best you can hope for is to clear a narrow path to those needing your help, hoping the fire doesn’t ride up on your behind to completely overwhelm you later on.

Of course to save lives you have to be quick, and unfortunately some gameplay-slowing control issues arise. Camera adjustment is frustrating. You can’t tweak it while moving, forcing the player to come to a complete stop before you can look around. A definitive time waster when people’s carcasses are literally burning up around you. Switching items is also slow and cumbersome. There had to be an easier way to cycle through your possessions than by pressing the Select button to bring up the menu, cycling through, choosing your item, then pressing Select again. It takes an annoyingly silly amount of time considering you’ll need to switch right back to your fire hose almost immediately after. Thankfully the game pauses when switching items.

The most troublesome thing overall? This game has a hard time finding its niche. It’s like Konami couldn’t make up their minds: Did they want to create an Arcade-style action game, or did they want to go for a full-fledged fire-fighting simulator? Victims rescued, up until then trapped by flames and paralyzed by fear, are suddenly whisked away into safety oblivion with a single touch. The fact that Dean can travel with his water hose literally anywhere: inside ventilator shafts, through closed doors, up elevators, around the twists and turns of a 5-Story high building… it all kind of breaks the suspension of disbelief. Which is fine if that’s what you’re going for to keep the game flowing. But then why does Dean move so blasted slow?? The guy lumbers around like he just took a huge dump in his pants after every move he makes… he’s even slothful when falling down… and when you add in that aiming is sluggish to boot, it all equates to severely decelerated gameplay. True, real life fire fighters are weighed down by tons of protective gear and equipment that restricts movement. But which is it Konami, magical disappearing and reappearing hoses or realistic fire fighting conditions? I believe they meant the former, but just didn’t pull the trigger on it completely.

Overall it’s not bad. Battling blazes to reach victims is a great adrenaline rush. But a big learning curve combined with sluggish control does not a smooth experience make.

Control Rating: 6/10

REPLAYABILITY:

You can “blaze” through this game in around 10 hours. Give or take. Then that’s about it. While FD18’s scripted nature is good for creating a tense experience, it’s not good for replayablility.

Yes. There are three difficulty settings. Easy, Normal, and Hard. But if you’ve beaten one, there’s little reason to try another. Fire damage and aggressiveness are the only differences between them.

Yes. If you find hidden lost items and earn “Medals of Honor”… for completing specific tasks like saving all people within a level… then you’re privy to some goodies. But the extras are trite, inconsequential, and certainly not worth playing again for. Garbage like a different outfit for Dean and level select abilities are what you have to look forward to if you do.

No. Some small attempts were made to add replay value, but this game was designed to be played through once and then tossed aside next to Wallace & Gromit Project Zoo never to be touched again.

Replayability rating: 5/10

BALANCE: Cheaper Than Laquisha The Toothless Hooker

Right. This game is cheap. Cheapady, cheap, cheap, cheap. The tactics FD18 employs to simulate “difficulty” are among the most annoying in all of videogamedom: Try-And-Die Gameplay. Again, the sense of tension given off is heavily dependent on scripted events, which can make the game’s difficult sequences unavoidable until you’ve played through them once. Open up a door and get sucker punched with a back draft you had no way to see coming. Walk towards a survivor and get slammed with falling rubble. Hear one of your squad mates scream, “Watch out!”, witness the floor around you burst into flames for no apparent reason, and then die confused and frustrated at what just happened. Playing this game a second time through is shamefully easier, because now you know where to stand and what doors not to open. It’s a game of memory and luck rather than actual skill.

I will give it credit for creating a naturally tough experience. Keeping fires this wild under control will test your metal even without the cheapness, especially as the game progresses on. And the “bosses” (yes there are actual fire bosses in this game; see below) will give you more than a run for your money. Shame many parts had to degenerate into a trial and error fest.

Balance rating: 6/10

ORIGINALITY:

No game is like this, at least on the surface. For all of its Arcade/Simulation wishy-washiness this game brings us closer than ever to what it probably really feels like to step into the boots of a firefighter. And for that, KCET should be praised.

But. Underneath the surface this isn’t much more than a third-person shooter. This is evidenced by silly things the developers had to add in to pad out the experience. Let’s just say the game takes some liberties with what firefighters actually have to deal with. That is, unless I’m out of the loop and our men in red have to worry about firefighter-seek-and-destroy pod robots when they step into burning office buildings. Zanier still, each ending stage has you take on supernatural looking fire bosses with their own names, battle cries, and life bars to wither down. One even floats burning laundry in the air waiting for the right opportunity to smack you in the head with a t-shirt. No. I haven’t been smoking Crack, although I thought I might of when I first saw it.

Liberties aside, this is quite the unique experience. The concept, the ambiance, even the controls. They come together to form something so different that it’s nearly worth checking out for the novelty alone.

Originality rating: 8/10

ADDICTIVENESS: Hold on! I’m about to have a heart attack here.

One word. INTENSE.

I was a nervous wreck playing this game. Remember the tension you first felt in Resident Evil after those dogs jumped through the window to scare the bejeebas out of you before those kinds of tactics became predictable and clichE? It’s like that but worse. Because eventually you became numb to the idea of killer Zombies lumbering down hallways trying to eat your brains. You knew it wasn’t real. Well FD18 doesn’t give you the luxury of fantasy-like plots. It’s just real enough to send the player into a worse frenzy with each increasingly critical crisis you encounter. All the explosions, and falling rubble, and tense music, and people screaming for my help… I mean, woo. I’ll tell you right now, there’s only so much of that you can take before you need to turn this game off to wipe your forehead, take some sedatives, and drink a cup of herbal tea. Like I said, this game makes you care and it’s exhausting to have that sort of soul draining mindset for too long. More than I care to admit, I avoided playing this game making up any and all excuses to not turn it back on. Not because I didn’t like it. Oh no. I just didn’t want to have a hernia that day.

Even if you can get over the emotionally draining aspects of the game, it’s not the only thing pushing you away. Levels are succinct, but very repetitive. Every mission starts and ends exactly the same. You go in, you find the predetermined number of people, and then you’re moved onto the next stage. The same thing over and over and over… It’s monotonous and tiring.

As much as I tried to get into this, I was either too shaken up or too weary of the game’s repetitive nature. FD18 is fun in short bursts after long stretches of time.

Addictiveness rating: 3/10

APPEAL FACTOR:

Ya know, I have no idea who Konami was targeting with this. It’s an Action game, but not. It’s a simulation game, but not. Sluggish gameplay too slow for the action fans and physics logic holes too unrealistic for sim fanatics. The game itself is having an identity crisis, so how’s the gamer supposed to respond? Not favorably.

It will appeal to those looking for something different outside the norm. Ultimately the game ends up to be a third person shooter, but that fact is buried under a sea of originality. The concept of getting under the helmet of one of the most respected professions one could make a videogame after, should serve to peak a nation’s interest that suddenly came to appreciate the fire fighter as the true stable of heroes they really are.

However hype surrounding FD18 has been near nonexistent. Odds are you’ve never heard of the game. Konami’s not exactly known for pushing their lower profile titles when it comes to marketing. You’ll see that Silent Hill 4 or Metal Gear Solid 3 print ad and TV spot coming a mile away, but there’s little fanfare for non-heavy hitters that don’t have the words “Dance” or “Revolution” somewhere in the title. And this is definitely not a heavy hitter.

Appeal Factor rating: 6/10

MISCELLANEOUS: It all averages out to Above Average.

Everything goes back and forth… Blah controls. Great ambiance. Great originality. But a little tedious. In the end though thankfully, the good outnumbers the not-so-good. Konami succeeds at adding a worthwhile addition to the “genre”. But Burning Rangers isn’t exactly worrying about its position on the throne.

Miscellaneous rating: 6/10


Short Attention Span Summary
Look! Another game in the 5.0 to 6.0 range! Getting the idea yet kids? I liked this game. You’ll undoubtedly be drawn into the crisis-oriented gameplay, and end up caring much more than you probably should for low-polygon count digital life forms. But should you buy it? Sorry Konami, no. The lethargic controls are cumbersome to adjust to. And it’s much too repetitive and draining of an experience to derive prolonged enjoyment from. As a rental, though? Perfect. Worth playing through at least once just to see what emotions it evokes in you.