The fact that The Firemen exists is a weird thing. An action game about battling rampaging fires, it shows developer Human Entertainment’s love of the seemingly never-ending onslaught of B-grade action movies that Hollywood farted out in the 80’s. Think Die Hard minus all the cowboy stuff (so not really Die Hard at all, I guess). What’s tragic is that this super American gem never made it State-side. It’s a product that on paper shouldn’t be half as great as it is, and on your SNES shouldn’t have really even ever come out.
It opens with a courteously short introduction to New York on Christmas Eve, circa 2010. As spelled out in the opening sequence, the world hasn’t progressed much in the decade-and-a-half between games release and stories setting, a touch that feels uniquely bold compared to the future trend in 90′s gaming . What should be an evening drowned in alcohol is interrupted as fire engulfs an office building, trapping its employees inside and setting in motion what becomes the games events. It’s a simple premise that places emphasis on solid gameplay and doesn’t try to be more than it is. What it is, is engaging.
Mere seconds after the introduction, you taken control of Pete: our gruff, mustached hero unlucky enough to be first responder on the scene, armed solely with his water hose and a compact list of abilities. Alongside axe wielding, totally forgettable companion Danny, you begin making your way through room after scorching room, fighting fires and rescuing the people trapped inside.
Human really got creative with the variety of enemies coming at you, each with their own behaviors that keep the firefighting fresh. Combine this with the “futuristic” robots that run amuck within the building, and you get some seriously challenging levels and boss fights. As limited as your tools may be, the variety of ways in which they can be implemented, and the degree to which they can be mastered, keeps what could have been a standard top-down action game from becoming as stale as last weeks bar nuts still clinging to Petes’ massive cookie duster.
Despite the whole ‘being a firefighter’ thing, your primary objective quickly changes from putting out the fires, to getting to the next area before the whole building goes down, adding to the sense of “brace for impact” urgency the timer in the corner already drops on you However, the combination of quality enemies, well-planned environments and to-the-point dialogue between your fire-bros work to keep the gameplay frantic yet focued, pushing you ever forward in the right direction.
With The Firemen, the now-defunct Human Entertainment was able to leave its mark on the gaming industry outside of Fire Pro Wrestling or the cult following they garnered with the Clock Tower series. But what is there is entirely fun. And really, it couldn’t have been released at a better time. On the eve of the Playstation’s, release (where its only sequel would appear) when focus would shift from fun to progressive, and decades before todays burgeoning indie-sphere when a buddy firefighting game could easily find a home (or at least a few Kickstarter backers), had The Firemen not come out when it did, it probably never would have at all.
While the game never lets up and stays constantly nerve-inducing, it is insanely short. Difficulty and replay-ability don’t always make up for length, and The Firemen does ultimately suffer for it, especially with it’s lack of 2-player option. I mean, how could they not give you the option to let a buddy join up and control what’s-his-name doing God-knows-what next to you?
Even 20 years later, The Firemen is a strange game. It serves as a reminder, as a representation of the explosive action culture that grasped the world at the time of its release. Not necessarily impactful, but important nonetheless.
DEVELOPER: Human Entertainment