City Crisis Preview

We take an exclusive look at the upcoming rescue game.

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Agoraphobic gamers won't be any closer to leaving the house judging from the state of the world in City Crisis for the PlayStation 2 from Take Two and developer Syscom Entertainment. Best known for Action Bass on the PlayStation, Syscom changes gears and shifts its gaming focus from sea to land in its first PS2 game. You take the role of a helicopter pilot sent out to extinguish spontaneous fires, which are breaking out across the city, and rescue hapless victims caught in the blazes. One part "Rescue 911" and "Brave Firefighters," the game is shaping up to be a quirky blend of gaming.

The game offers solid visuals and a steady frame rate, although there's a fair amount of PS2 shimmer on display as well. The levels are large and showcase a good amount of detail. The camera's overhead view is the sole camera angle and provides you with a wide view of the city. In levels set in the day, it's possible to make out everything from billboards to differences in sidewalk and street texture. Pedestrians and cars calmly go about their businesses--until buildings explode in flames, anyway. Levels set at night offer a nice variety of lighting and subtle detail, which works well in the game. In addition, the game manages to spice up what could be boring environments with a liberal use of color in places to break the monotony of flat city grays.

The game offers a standard assortment of modes. A training mode offers three tutorials, which cover the basics of flight, rescue, and fire fighting. A time-attack mode offers the challenge of racing through levels (in either day or night) while trying to go through rings, which appear in front of them. Skillful players will eventually unlock a "disaster" level to play through as well. The main game can be found in mission mode, wherein you are charged with playing the Good Samaritan. The levels are broken up into two types, rescue and chase. Rescue missions find you fighting fires and saving everything from the elderly to house pets. Chase missions put you hot on the heels of shady folk who've run afoul of the law and are trying to escape. You must follow a car and keep your spotlight on it until the police arrive. Successive levels will be unlocked after you have performed well in each mission. If you manage to score high enough on your missions, you will eventually unlock the "Final Rescue" level, which ups the challenge significantly.

The mission mode's structure is as straightforward as it gets. You select a mission type and a helicopter, then you head out. There are initially three selectable choppers, but it appears more can be unlocked. To help you select the helicopter that's right for you, the game rates the various choppers by top speed, rotation, body, and capacity. Capacity translates into the maximum number of rescued victims a copter can carry at one time, ranging from four to eight.

Control of the craft takes a bit of getting used to, but the learning curve is manageable even without the tutorial mode. The L1 trigger is used to coax an extra bit of speed from your craft in the form of a dash. L2 lets you hover over an area if you choose not to enable autohovering in options--it's a necessary move to perform when scooping up victims. The R1 trigger controls water missiles, which help you put out larger fires more quickly; your limited supply is tracked onscreen, but more can be earned during a rescue. R2 is a water jet that is less powerful than water missiles and can be used to douse flames--an onscreen meter shows you how much water is available to spray. The dual analog sticks control the helicopter's movement. The left stick handles movement back and forth, and the right adjusts height and rotation of a copter, which can be crucial when trying to perform rescues. Finally, the "O" button releases a small rope ladder, which must be aligned with a victim in order for them to be pulled up to safety.

Onscreen clutter is kept to a minimum during missions--a radar/compass and voice cues direct you to the latest fire or fleeing car. A helicopter's carrying capacity is shown in the lower left-hand side of the screen. Depending on the maximum capacity, you will have to visit various hospitals throughout the city, which are marked on the radar and are easily recognizable to the naked eye thanks to the large "H" on their roofs, where you unload. An onscreen timer lets you know how much time is remaining for you to complete a rescue. Word bubbles above those in need of rescue cycle through a green, yellow, and red color scheme allowing you to prioritize your rescuing. As you rescue one group of people, a pop-up window appears, alerting to some new calamity in the city, which needs your attention. Along the way to new disaster sites, it's possible to find random people who also need help. Rescuing them applies bonus points toward your overall rating at the end of the mission. The game's grading system tallies up the number of people rescued both at the scene of a fire and during random encounters; damage to the helicopter and damage to the city caused by fires not put out quickly enough; unused water missiles and time remaining at the end of the mission. The grading system definitely keeps things challenging and will send you back to replay levels to unlock more of the game.

Our preview build veered from fun to frustrating as, much like high school and college, some of our best efforts resulted in mediocre grades. So far, the game looks to offer a unique experience on the PS2, although it could use a bit of gameplay tweaking to keep play on the fun side. Anyone with the urge to put out fires and rescue people can look for City Crisis this July.

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