On the somber side of things, Firefighters will never be looked
at the same way again after Sept. 11th, and for good reason: they never got the
credit that they deserved in the first place. Across this country thousands of
men and women volunteer their services or willfully choose a career as a firefighting
professional. In a metropolitan area, this is an especially dangerous line of
work and one that most of the populace used to take for granted. No longer is
this the case. If you need an even further appreciation of this occupation, Emergency
Fire Response might be a good place for you to start.
Emergency Fire Response is an RTS that's right up my proverbial
alley. You are given the background of a particular event and some of the circumstances
behind it and are usually issued specific multiple goals before you can proceed
further in the scenario or move on to the next event. Goals are very specific
in nature - you'll be asked to save victims, prevent computer data from being
lost, find evidence that will conclusively prove arson, and a host of other objectives
as you progress throughout the game. You'll be given the command of a certain
group of firefighters which can be controlled individually or as a group. There
are specially trained individuals (such as Paramedic, Technical Officer, Extrication
Specialist, & more) that must be used for specific tasks that cannot be accomplished
by others in your team. For example, the Extrication Specialist can use a circular
saw to remove debris and the Technical Officer is the only one who can drive the
forklift that you might need to open the garage door that's stuck. The High Risk
Environment Specialist would be used to rescue trapped victims on an unreachable
second floor, for example, and the loss of that particular firefighter might render
the mission a failure.
The individuals can
be selected individually or collectively to accomplish a particular task, such
as putting out fires in particular locations within each building, for example.
You can split your team into groups to accomplish different tasks. While the it's
fairly straightforward, the game suffers from the same glaring weakness that plagues
most RTS titles - namely that despite your best efforts to do otherwise, someone
either gets lost in the shuffle or stops fighting the fire because you haven't
ordered him to while trying to control 15 other aspects of the game. Even on the
worst day, a firefighter armed with an extinguishing device would have the wherewithal
to put out a fire that's closing in on him (or at least move SOMEWHERE) without
being issued an order to so. In a realistic simulation such as this, that shouldn't
happen. This isn't a plea for the game to play for you, rather have a pause option
(similar to Europa Universalis II, that really got it right) where you can "catch
up" and issue orders to units that have otherwise gone astray. If the game
were truly a test of ones skills at issuing orders with lightning efficiency then
why bother to make it realistic at all?
issue aside, EFR addresses many many realistic events that firefighters have to
face when combating this explosive element. Explosions, backdrafts, flashover
(an accumulation of heat that can bake a whole room instantly), corrosive smoke,
metallic fires and more. The systematic approach that you need to take fighting
fires in buildings,banks, forest, and many more is fascinating and the game accomplishes
a certain level of genuineness that is needed to make this "feel" right.
You can also control fire trucks (Pumpers, Rescue & Water Ladders, Ambulances)
which can be positioned around the blaze that you're fighting and it's left to
you to figure what is the best way to utilize them. Steering of these is a bit
strange, as it requires you to press and hold the mouse button and move along
a green (or red, if you can't go that way do to an obstruction) arrow path to
where you want to go. It's not the most intuitive system, but it's functional,
and the vehicles are less of a focus for the title than are the actual individuals
fighting the fire.
There is a rating
system in place for each set of objectives that you will be rated on at the end
of the scenario. You'll be graded on a scale of 1-5 for each aspect of the mission
that you were supposed to accomplish. Obviously, lower scores might inspire you
to retry the mission and score higher. Saving potential victims is always the
most important part of each scenario, so keep that in mind while playing.
Fire Response really excels in this department, with realistic fires and behaviors.
The level of detail within each environment is astounding (my wife looked over
my shoulder and asked "What movie is that?" - that tell you anything?)
and fire's movement, whether it be slowly all-consuming or explosive, is spot
on. Interactive elements, such as ladders, clues, switches, and more are all cleverly
highlighted when you're close and easy to distinguish. The game offers three levels
of texture detail depending on the horsepower of your rig and you can change this
setting at any time.
The music that accompanies this is both heroic and frantic, certainly suitable
for this title. The in-game sounds are impressive, with the firefighters communicating
with you to let you know if a firefighter or victim are in trouble and what kind
of condition they're in. There were a few instances where sentences were cut off
or inaudible, but the sound elements of this title are very strong and the level
of urgency conveyed by the units on the ground is impressive.
Monte Cristo got it right, for the most part, by keeping
the interface and commands very simple. There aren't menus and sub menus, ad nauseum,
from which to choose. Simply select with your left mouse button and click with
your right to determine who you're controlling and where they are going. The camera
can be rotated via a selection in the bottom left corner of the screen (your firefighters
can also be accessed from the bottom of the screen by name/title - making it easier
to figure out where your specialists are if you happen to lose them) and the scroll
wheel allows you to zoom in and zoom out. The aforementioned vehicle movement
is a bit clunky, but workable. If the title had a pause/issue Omanis feature,
I'd bump this score up to a 9.
Emergency Fire Response is a uniquely energetic RTS that captures
the daunting realism of being an actual firefighter with deft precision without
compromising the fun factor. If you can overlook the considerably small detractions
that I've mentioned, this is well worth the cost of admission.