is one of those serious-looking games that bubbles with unbridled goofiness, but that goofiness is hidden in such a way that you don’t really notice it until you try to explain the game to someone else. My realization of this fact came about in a conversation like this: “Hey, just finished Firefighter F.D.18. It’s a third person firefighting game. Yeah, good graphics, some really neat fire effects. Oh, it’s mostly a third person shooter, only you have firefighter stuff, like this fire hose that seems able to go anywhere, like up stairs and through elevators and stuff. OK, I guess it’s a magic fire hose. And you also have fire extinguishers, and this Water-Zooka kind of gun thing, which really clears out fire. Yeah, big water gun. Huh. But the fire is realistic. It spreads if you don’t take care of it, burns hotter, and…um…turns evil. Yeah, the really big fires seem to thirst for your blood. They attack you. Oh, with balls of fire and stuff. And flaming, flying t-shirts. Um. And then there are the boss fires, which are even more evil. Some of them throw exploding barrels. Huh. Did I mention the killer robots?”
General wackiness aside, once the uniqueness of being a firefighter wears off, Firefighter F.D. 18 boils down to nothing more than a mediocre third-person shooter. Most of the levels consist of battling fires on the way to rescuing people trapped in various locations. Each of these “survivors” has a limited time they’ll remain alive—let even one die, and it’s time to start over. Thankfully, rescuing these survivors is simply a matter of touching them…somehow they’re then miraculously teleported to safety. The path to rescuing everyone is usually complicated, at times requiring finding the correct keys or switches to open certain doors, climbing through ventilation shafts (somehow followed by that trusty magical fire hose), and bashing down walls. During this time, there are explosions, collapsing ceilings, hot electrical wires, and even the aforementioned killer robots to make things more difficult. Since most of these dangers are triggered (somehow) by merely being in a certain place, I soon got the feeling that the entire structure and everything in it was out to get me. Ceilings would collapse only over my head, dangerous chemicals would reach their explosive point only when I walked by, flaming debris would come sailing only in my direction. It’s enough to make a guy paranoid.
Fighting the fires themselves is actually pretty easy, thanks to a decent control system. Each of the “weapons”, the fire hose, the fire extinguisher, the Impulse water cannon, and the axe can be quickly called up on the D-pad. The fire hose is likely to be the most-used of the arsenal—with a never-ending supply of water, just about any fire can be eventually put out with the hose alone. It comes complete with 2 settings: thin, powerful stream for those far-away areas and general fire battling, and a fine mist for putting out those fires that get a bit too close. In addition, the fine mist setting is great for protection against that pesky flaming, flying debris. Fire extinguishers are a bit more powerful than the fire hose, but they must be collected from the surroundings, and they run out quickly. The Impulse water cannon cuts a wide swath in any burning surface, but it takes a bit of time to fully power up and has a limited supply of ammunition. The axe isn’t very useful against fire, but it does make short work of boxes, jammed doors, and even those annoying robots. Movement and aiming of the weapons are mapped to separate analog sticks, so after a short while most anyone can be putting out fires with the best of ‘em. Everything can feel a little sluggish, but for the normal fires, this isn’t much of a problem. Camera control gets a little wonky, no more so than with most third-person games, but it still becomes a point of irritation. “Boss fires”, complete with health-bars, Evil Names, and even death screams, are trickier to deal with, since they tend to require quite a bit more good timing and quick response.
There is a plot somewhere in this game, something about a psychopathic arsonist bent on revenge, the courageous Firefighter, and some Intrepid and Attractive Reporter, but it’s not all that exciting. The levels themselves are laid out rather well, each with a slightly different trick to learn, which helps a little in stalling the monotony. They don’t look all that much different, though, but it’s difficult to make too many variations on “everything’s on fire”. The fire itself looks pretty darned good—it moves in a convincing manner, it spreads if left unattended, and eventually it becomes Evil Fire. These fires (which burn a reddish color) target the player specifically with burning debris, gouts of flame, or pulsing explosions. Sound effects are quite good, from the ambient fire sounds all the way to the surprisingly effective musical score. Even the voice acting is spot-on, though the script is, well, clunky at best. It really is a shame that, for all the great production values, the game just doesn’t have enough “fun factor” to remain interesting for very long.
Thankfully, the entire game can be easily played in under 10 hours or so. For me, that ended up being only about 3 hours longer than my interest lasted. With several different difficulty settings and the ability to replay individual missions to unlock bonus characters and awards, there is some extra longevity for those so inclined. For me, though, once was enough. Firefighter F.D. 18 was a mildly entertaining romp whose uniqueness just couldn’t overcome the problem of “four weapons, 1 enemy”. I’d say it’s worthy of a rental for those just wanting to check out something a bit different, but not much more than that.
The first few hours of battling fires are a great deal of fun, but then the uniqueness wears off and the game becomes nothing much more than a very-average third-person shooter.
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