Firefighter F.D. 18 is Konami's upcoming third-person action game that puts you in the role of a firefighter tasked with rescuing innocent bystanders who are trapped by fires. The last time we saw the game in action was at last year's Tokyo Game Show, where it was in playable form. We've since gotten hold of a previewable version of the US game and have put it through its paces to see how the unique action game is coming together.
You're cast in the role of Dean McGregor, a firefighter who winds up in perilous, fiery situations. While extinguishing fires and saving lives is all in a day's work for this firefighter, there appears to be a sinister pattern to the blazes Dean is being sent to deal with. You'll come to discover who's behind the blazes and you'll also uncover Dean's haunting, Batman-esque, motivation for fighting fires as you go through the game. The narrative runs its course through a mix of cutscenes before missions, in addition to cinemas that take place during the game.
The story translates into a fairly linear experience that unfolds over the course of a series of objective-based multipart stages. Your primary goal is always to rescue the survivors of the blazes, although you'll obviously have to deal with whatever fires stand between you and them. The game's interface keeps things pretty simple to help you stay focused on the task at hand. You have a health meter displayed in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and a map in the upper right. Your map (which can remain fixed or configured to rotate with Dean's movement) shows you the position and the health of the survivor nearest you. However, the health of each survivor drops if you take too long to rescue him or her.
While the map is pretty straightforward at first, you'll have to eventually start figuring out how to reach survivors, since direct routes are often impassable. In some cases you'll have to take indirect paths to them or even travel through air vents in first-person sequences to reach them before they "fry." The game adds another sense of urgency by including a timer next to the map that keeps track of how long you're taking, which factors into the rating you receive at the end of a mission. The lower part of the screen features two displays. The lower left corner has two icons--one that shows what tool you're using and another that shows how many backup calls for help you can make. Finally, the lower right corner of the screen displays the health meter of the specific fires that appear during the course of the game. These fires can actually best be thought of as "midbosses."
You'll start each level with a briefing that provides a certain amount of information on the situation. You'll receive additional intelligence, via your radio, as you work your way through a level. Of course, you'll also gain knowledge firsthand as you work through a level. Due to the volatile nature of fire, a level can change with alarming unpredictability. As a result, you'll have to stay on your toes and be ready for any hazard, like random explosions, collapsing ceilings, exposed electrical wiring, fiery debris that sprays or shoots out of blazes, vision-impairing smoke, and dreaded backdrafts, to name just a few.
While the odds may sound pretty daunting, Dean does alright, thanks to some nifty tools and a little help from his friends. As you'd expect, Dean's primary weapon is a water hose--which is probably the longest hose known to man. The versatile spout offers an endless supply of water that you can adjust as the situation demands. Moreover, you're also able to use an axe to take out obstacles that stand between you and those in need. The game also features pickups, like first aid kits that restore your health after you've taken damage. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that there are places where you have to take a bit of damage--specifically, by racing through fire--to rescue a survivor. This, obviously, keeps things challenging. Fortunately, any health leeched by fire slowly rebuilds once you're no longer running through it. However, this only holds true for fire damage, so if you take damage from any other means, like from an explosion or from debris, you'll have to use a kit to restore Dean's health.
Firefighter F.D. 18 features a simple control scheme that keeps the game accessible. You move Dean with the left analog stick, and you use the right analog stick to adjust the camera and to aim Dean's hose. R1 lets you use Dean's selected tool, and R2 resets the camera behind Dean. L1 lets you lock your view and allows you to strafe, while L2 lets you crouch, which helps to improve your field of vision when trying to pass through smoky areas. The only catch to crouching is that you aren't able to use your hose. The X button lets you quickly dash for a moment, which helps you to avoid danger when it comes toward you--if you time your button press properly. The square button calls for backup, which triggers a brief cinematic that shows another firefighter as he fires off an impressive water burst that extinguishes small fires and seriously tames more violent ones. However, given the smart bomb-like nature of this mechanic, you're limited to a set number of calls per stage. The circle button is a context-sensitive action button that lets you perform any number of activities, including opening doors and climbing into air vents. The triangle button lets you adjust the intensity of your hose between spray and converge settings. Of course, each is better-suited for dealing with different types of fires. The select button lets you call up the equipment menu. From here you can cycle between the items Dean has collected, like first aid kits, or you can switch whatever tool he currently has equipped. You can also use the D pad during the game to switch tools on the fly.
The graphics in the game are powered by an original engine that pumps out detailed, atmospheric visuals. The character models are well constructed and feature a good amount of detail and expressive faces, although their animation is somewhat stiff. The environments are modestly detailed but don't have to be too photo-realistic considering that they're usually burning. Obviously, the centerpiece of Firefighter's presentation is its fire, which is looking good. After you play for a bit, you'll start to appreciate the subtle nuances in color and the various behaviors of the different types of flames. Once you're able to distinguish the different kinds of fire you're up against, you'll start to suss out the best ways to deal with them. The fire effects are complemented by strong lighting, nicely handled explosions, and smoke effects that add to the game's feel. The weakest aspect of the visuals is probably the water, which has a somewhat bland, misty look to it. Overall, the visuals in Firefighter are looking good and move along at a steady frame rate.
The audio is a pleasantly off-kilter collection of over-the-top voice acting and sound effects that are wrapped in some really good music. The voice acting in Firefighter vacillates between straight line-readings and over-the-top emoting that's pretty amusing, on the whole. The sound effects follow the same sensibilities and are primarily used to cue you in on the state of nearby fires. Additionally, they include some exaggerated effects, like the dramatic death cries that the boss fires give off when extinguished. You'll also hear quite a bit of ambient sound, like the cries for help from survivors, the chatter from your fellow firemen on your radio, and the groans and creaks of the environment you're in. However, the strongest element of the audio is the game's soundtrack, which was composed by Klaus Badelt, who's written scores for such movies as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and K-19: The Widowmaker. Both films scores have recently garnered him some attention, and the soundtrack for Firefighter is no different, as it presents an engaging anthem that ties in well with the game's action.
Firefighter F.D. 18 is shaping up to be a solid and engaging original title from Konami. The game looks good and plays well. While essentially performing the same task over and over again runs the risk of getting old, Firefighter seems to throw enough variety into the mix to keep its gameplay from getting too stale. Furthermore, you'll find three difficulty levels to keep things interesting. Anyone looking for something a little different should keep an eye out for Firefighter F.D. 18 when it ships this March for the PlayStation 2.