When you have this hobby, you set a whole lot of (virtual) fires. You don't fight them very often.|
Firefighters F.D.18 is kind of a strange beast, perched halfway between simulation and arcade action. You play as Dean McGregor, a young fireman with what's kind of a tortured past, and whose job puts him in the sights of an insane arsonist.
Wherever and whenever that arsonist attacks, from crowded traffic tunnels to the cramped buildings throughout the city (I believe it's meant to be a mid-twenty-first-century Los Angeles, but I also don't believe it's ever said), McGregor goes into a building that's merrily burning, armed with an axe and a very, very long hose, and rescues anyone trapped inside.
In Firefighters, fire is depicted as a near-sentient, malevolent force, surrounding you at all times and constantly growing. More than once, I've wondered if the game was going to wind up being a supernatural thriller after all, as larger fires are given a health bar, a name, and a weird sense of humor. One blaze, in a coatroom, will bombard you with flying, burning shirts, while another runs back and forth across the lobby of an expensive hotel, gleefully re-igniting fires you just put out.
Take out that central fire, and the rest of the building's flames will usually expire. Until that point, though, you and your hose will have to figure out some way to avoid, extinguish, evade, or occasionally outfight the inherent dangers present within a burning, slightly futuristic building.
In a given location, you'll have to contend with the obvious: persistent, rapidly growing walls of fire, which are everywhere and cannot always be put out with water. That, in turn, can give rise to explosions, as the flames find gas tanks or hazardous chemicals, as well as loose wiring, damaged cleaning robots, ground hazards such as slippery pools of motor oil, and choking clouds of smoke. The ever-popular backdraft is also here; open a door without thinking, and you'll take the flaming hammer of God square in the face.
The basic idea here is that you'll be coping with a constantly changing, intensely hostile environment. Just about anything you see can and will turn into a trap at the worst possible moment: cars explode and roll over towards you, the ceiling collapses, that inoffensive cart at the edge of the room is actually containing a number of explosively flammable chemicals, cleaning robots malfunction and charge you, live wires fall from the ceiling, and unlocked doors have vicious pillars of flame waiting inside, like some kind of ballistic surprise party.
If you were an average video game character, with a capacity for fast reactions and the agility of an Olympic gymnast, Firefighters would be the easiest game on the planet, but McGregor's a fireman. He's wearing heavy protective gear and toting around about six miles of firehose. He will not be evading explosions by doing a quintuple backflip.
McGregor's hose can alternate between a short-ranged spray, perfect for extinguishing flames in a wide arc but which inflicts considerably less "damage," and a focused stream of water, with more force but a smaller point of impact. If you run into a weak wall, inconvenient stack of crates, or glass window that you need to get rid of, a couple of swings from his axe will usually get the job done. While it slows him down, McGregor can also crouch, to get underneath the rising clouds of smoke and improve his visibility.
McGregor's covered, head to toe, in protective gear, and it actually works. Simple fire damage will slowly regenerate, so if you have to run through an occasional blaze to save a survivor, do it. You're covered. The only damage that'll actually linger is that which you take from something else, like an explosion or something falling on you. That, you'll have to heal, using first aid kits or a refreshing beverage.
If he's in a tight spot, McGregor has a buddy waiting in the wings with a powerful fire extinguisher, who kind of works like a smart bomb, putting out all the fires within a certain range of McGregor and providing a limited window of invincibility. You can only call your buddy three times in a given level, and if there's an item lying around somewhere that'll give you another charge, I haven't found it.
In addition to simply saving people and attempting to avoid burning to death, you'll have to occasionally figure out a way around otherwise impassable obstacles, such as fires you can't put out or ceilings that have caved in. Sometimes, that'll mean crashing through a wall, or squirming through heating ducts. You can get bonus points by finding hidden items, mostly stuff dropped by the escapees in their rush to safety, and if you have the time, exploring side passages will often lead to more medical supplies.
You'll need every edge you can get, because, if the above paragraphs have not yet driven the point home, this is not an easy game. It's rare to not be taking damage, anything at all could explode at any time, just about everything you see has an element of hidden lethality, and you don't get to keep your medical supplies from level to level. Firefighters F.D.18 isn't a twitch game, so much as a sort of cousin to old adventure games, the ones that'd kill you as a way of telling you not to do something. Pattern memorization, quick problem solving, and keeping a cool head are much more important than reflexes or timing. If you panic, you die; if you make the wrong decision, you die; if you get smacked by that can of what's apparently jet fuel that just dropped out of the ceiling, odds are that you're gonna die. Not dying takes a lot of work.
Firefighters F.D.18 is sort of a genre all by itself; call it simulated action, where a realistically equipped protagonist operates in a mission-based, arcade-influenced format. I wouldn't call it a game for everyone, but it is, if nothing else, something new, and that's worth supporting all by itself.
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