It's easy to see why many kids fantasize about being firefighters when they grow up, since firefighters must bravely battle danger and rescue civilians. Emergency Fire Response is a fairly simple fire-fighting simulation that manages to capture much of the thrill, energy, and suspense often associated with the profession.
In Emergency Fire Response, you control the firefighters of Station 615 as they are called to various fires. In effect, the game plays much like a 3D squad-based real-time strategy game. The game has no multiplayer options, but it does have a single-player mode that consists of 10 levels, each with three to four missions. Thanks to some imaginative and interesting design, the missions are interesting, challenging, and strategic. For example, one early mission is a simple case of a fire at a warehouse, but since the authorities suspect arson, you need to try to preserve the evidence by saving computers and surveillance tape.
Monte Cristo paced the game extremely well, layering different objectives into the missions as they progress. For example, in a mission at an embassy, you need to balance rescuing high-ranking diplomats with saving culturally invaluable artwork. Unexpected obstacles, like collapsed hallways or flashbacks--a phenomenon where gases in a room suddenly ignite--will also commonly arise. These obstacles require quick thinking and precise strategy, and they add to the suspense and tension of the situation. Between the multiple objectives, the immediate obstacles, and the necessity of keeping your firefighters safe, the game is surprisingly fast-paced, engrossing, and tense.
You won't need to save every person or rescue every piece of artwork to complete a mission, but at the end, you'll receive grades based on each component of the mission and one overall grade. You may even find yourself going back to play a mission over to attempt to beat your score, though outside of that, the game offers no real incentive to do so. You control the same team of firefighters throughout the game, but unfortunately, they don't gain experience from mission to mission, and you can't improve them. Emergency Fire Response might also have benefited from a premission planning phase, like in the Rainbow Six tactical action games, but simply fighting fires is often enjoyable enough in its own right.
In each mission, you'll be granted a variety of firefighters and vehicles. A typical team, which usually includes four to 10 members, will consist largely of regular firefighters, who are best at fighting regular flames. However, you'll also get a few specialists like a paramedic, who can help wounded fire victims and other firefighters, or a technical officer, who is adept at using machinery and driving vehicles. Vehicles are another important aspect of the gameplay. Basic vehicles include an ambulance, to which injured civilians and firefighters must be taken to recuperate; rescue ladders, which can be used to reach higher floors; and tankers, which supply water to other vehicles and firefighters.
The game is controlled from an isometric overhead perspective, which makes for some interesting interface challenges that the game doesn't always handle well. To move vehicles, you left-click on them and then hold down the right mouse button while pointing either ahead or behind the vehicle. The vehicle will then either move forward or backward, turning as you indicate. This can be problematic, since the camera stays in a fixed position until you change your view, and it can't be zoomed out very far. Once you are moving a vehicle, if you round a bend or change direction, your view will often be obstructed by trees or other obstacles. You must then stop to change your view. The same is true when commanding firefighters in burning buildings, and since time is of the essence in most of the missions, the interface can seriously hamper your ability to respond to the situation you find yourself in. Because the interface can't keep up with the speed of the game, it's always an annoyance right when the game is at its best.
Other than the view problems, the game's interface works well. Each section of a fire is represented with a red circle of varying intensity that is accompanied by a status bar that decreases as you douse the flames. It's generally easy to strategically fight fires. There's also a convenient unit bar at the bottom of the screen that shows the status of all your firefighters and vehicles. The sounds of flames, explosions, and burning objects are important to heighten the immersion in such a game, and Emergency Fire Response comes through on this count as well. There's no music in the missions--only sound effects. However, the game's explosions are deep and full of bass, and flames crackle loudly. The music featured between missions is generally stirring and very fitting, and it's a shame that it couldn't have been included in the actual levels.
Graphically, Emergency Fire Response is pretty solid. The game's environments and buildings are designed realistically, and the lighting associated with the fires is suitably dramatic and menacing. The fires themselves look good, too. The game's units and objects are generally detailed and well animated, and the units look different enough that you can identify them easily. However, the game's vehicles are a bit blocky, and they don't ever look as though they're truly moving--in fact, they look almost as if they're being dragged along the ground. At least you can change your units' appearances to those of firefighters from different countries, such as Germany, France, and Britain.
Emergency Fire Response is a simple but engaging game. It doesn't have many units or vehicles, but it's short enough that this lack of variety doesn't become bothersome. And each mission is so different from the last that unit variety is even less of an issue. If Emergency Fire Response had featured a bit more depth to allow for unit customization and advancement and unit selection between missions--and if it didn't have some occasionally irritating interface problems--it might have been an exceptional game. As it is, it's a game that has some problems but is still surprisingly enjoyable. The game's concept itself is unusual, and it's one of the few computer games out there that manages to be enjoyable without any kind of graphic violence. And considering the game's suggested retail price of $20, it's a great value--Emergency Fire Response may be short, but it's sweet while it lasts, and it doesn't overstay its welcome.