What's going on with Konami? Their wavy-line symbol logo on a box used to mean that you could buy that game with complete confidence, knowing that no matter what it was, it would be a top-quality product good for hours and hours of playtime. These days, that peace of mind is long gone. Rather than guaranteed hits, we've been getting shabby things like the awful Cy Girls, the symphony of errors that was LifeLine, and the unbelievably bad Air Force Delta: Strike. Now comes Firefighter F.D. 18, and it's no better than its addled brethren. Originally spotted at last year's E3 Expo, I had hopes that Firefighter's unusual premise and dramatic cutscenes were the start of something good. I was wrong.
Starring the stalwart Dean McGregor, Firefighter F.D. 18 tasks you with saving civilian lives by braving a series of blistering infernos. Equipped with a fire hose, an axe, and the guts to get the job done, everything starts off on the right foot and then quickly falls apart into a mishmash of poor design choices and bad ideas.
Though there isn't much positive I can say, the fire effects are actually pretty neat. Other than that, the storyline isn't half bad compared to some of the silliness I've sat through recently. However, fire effects are just window-dressing, and the disc's straight face during the drama is at complete odds with the shallow, utterly unconvincing gameplay.
Although they look nothing alike, Firefighter is actually very similar in many ways to the 1998 Dreamcast Saturn release, Burning Rangers. In both games, the object is to dash through flame-filled environments and save lives as quickly as possible. However, rather than going for a fanciful sci-fi theme like Sega, we're given a project that presents itself quite seriously. This is a great idea in my book. A large part of real-life firefighting is trying to help others in a race against time, so the mechanism for creating tense action is already there. The major problem, and why this game doesn't work at all, is that the game (aside from the plot) is completely out of touch with reality. By abandoning realism, it relegates itself to being an odd, idiosyncratic experience with no correlation to the real thing, a hard contradiction to overlook when coupled with the tone of its plot. It's like watching a circus clown read Macbeth-the two things don't go together.
The first thing anyone will notice is that the most essential part of such a game, the hose, is totally absurd. Dean can trek around corners, in circles, go through ventilation shafts, and perform all sorts of maneuvering with absolutely no concern for tangling or knotting his watery lifeline. Strangely, the hose seems to end at the bottom edge of the screen without any connection to a stationary water source. By itself, that was a little hard to swallow, but I was prepared to ignore it for play's sake and suspend my disbelief. However, this was only the first out of a long string of things which were simply too artificial to overlook.
The next thing to strike me was that McGregor can instantly "summon" a fellow firefighter to unleash an intense blast of fire retardant. After doing so, this teammate vanishes into thin air. The same disappearing act goes for the people you rescue. Once you reach them, they all magically vanish whether the escape path is on fire or not, even the injured or unconscious ones.
I see both of these shortcuts as missed opportunities to incorporate things that would have more closely tied Firefighter F.D. 18 to reality, and by extension, created a more compelling experience. Nowhere is the idea of teamwork used, or even the illusion of it. Firefighting is not a one-man operation. Similarly, calling on help or even being charged with carrying out survivors yourself would have been better than such transparent and illogical shortcuts. Things like this might not even be an issue in a game that was portrayed as fantastical from the beginning (like Burning Rangers), but they don't fly when the game and its characters are set in something like the "real" world.
The things that really took the cake (and crushed any chance of plausibility) were the keycards and robots. I doubt you'd find a single firefighter who would ever consider trying to find some missing keycard while surrounded by an incinerator on all sides. Even more nonsensical than trying to find keycards was coming under attack from lab robots that shoot electricity. Not only were they functioning (or malfunctioning) effectively in the middle of an inferno, they didn't short out when blasted by water. Fighting fire, yes. Fighting robots, no.
I couldn't get past those issues and get into the game, but even if by some miracle I was able to rationalize all of those things, the core play itself is extremely repetitive, losing its charm almost immediately. There's nothing to do besides trudge through the mazelike non-interactive environments over and over again. You can't do tasks back at the station, there isn't a truck to drive, and not even a Dalmatian to feed. There's no depth to the game, and very little to bring you back after just one session. In fact, it was so light and fluffy, I almost felt like I should be putting quarters into it. Perhaps it would be more fun running on some kind of arcade cabinet mounted with a hose peripheral, though I doubt it.
The fire effects may be well done and the idea of firefighting is one I'd like to see explored again in a different game, but I'd have a very hard time recommending Firefighter F.D. 18 to anyone. Rather from the bold, unique effort I hoped it would be, it's a weak, contrived bore that never gets off the ground. A four alarm blaze? More like a soggy day-old campfire.