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
The early-to-mid 90’s set the stage for one of the most beautiful production company and development studio relationships to exist in video games with the pairing of Japanese companies Quintet and Enix. While their first game, ActRaiser, a mesh between classic platforming and Sim City style urban planning, was an insanely fresh, original idea that would lead to their eventual ‘Quintology’ it wasn’t until the release of their next title that the duo would really show their true genius.
This review is for the XBLA version of Spelunky. There is an extremely similar free version online, but this critique pertains to the specific changes made for the console release.
Embrace Death and Rise Above It
Most great things are difficult to qualify in words. You can tell somebody that the Mona Lisa is a great painting of an ugly lady, or that Blade Runner is a great movie about robots, but that does nothing compared to watching Rutger Hauer deliver his final soliloquy while slowly deactivating in the rain. It’s not solely what something is objectively that’s important, its the lasting effects of experiencing something that make it impactful. With that said, Derek Yu’s long-worked-on Spelunky (there’s a free version online showing just how long it’s been tweaked) is not simply an indie platformer hell-bent on crushing your spirit, even if sometimes it’s hard to see past that.
A Much-Needed Validation of iOS/Android Gaming
I often feel anger towards people whom I know to be smart describing something as ‘stupid’. Partially because most of my favorite things are stupid, but mostly because it’s a cheap and lazy way to communicate one’s opinion on something without having to spend a second thinking about why they don’t like whatever it is they don’t like. And that’s sad because when it comes to judging something’s worth, it’s not only important to look at what that something is, but also precisely what it aims at being. Without doing so, nothing could rationally be considered a success. Being successful is everything.
When I try to make a concrete decision as to what my favorite game of all time is, the answer tends to change from day to day. More often than not, however, Bioshock is the first thing that comes to mind. My initial arrival in Rapture was a swift kick to the face, forever opening my eyes to how it feels to be in an atmosphere so thick I could taste it. Not since that precious moment so many years ago had I experienced a world so fully realized and enticing as presented in victorian Dunwall.
Why All We Needed Was More Dark Souls
If there even is a proper word for the confusing mixture of emotions I felt in the first 30 minutes of booting up the long-awaited add-on to last year’s utterly exhilarating Dark Souls, it’s not in my repertoire. What I do know, is I was immediately struck with a very profound childlike excitement that had me giddy, all due to the fact I was simply doing something new. Having spent well over 200 hours exploring the dense, beautiful and wholly unique world FromSoftware had granted me last year, I pretty much knew everything you could about Dark Souls proper. Every pressure-plate triggered trap, every well-hidden enemy, every nonsense attack a boss could throw at me. Every single obstacle the game could lay on me I had painfully experienced, triumphantly overcome, and gloriously mastered.
Radical Entertainment’s 2009 release of Prototype was welcomed with open arms, even though it dropped a month after the fundamentally similar Infamous. Over 400 thousand people were happy enough to aid in its journey to reaching Platinum status (which it did fairly quickly) for obvious reasons. Being an open world game centered on a biologically enhanced anti-hero capable of scaling buildings and slaughtering entire military units in a fashion that brought to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing, none of this came as much of a surprise.