Looking across the vast amount of genres and ideas spread throughout the gaming industry -- in both retail and indie downloadable games -- it is strange to see how under-represented the concept of firefighting is. There have been a few titles of note, such as SEGA's Burning Rangers on the Saturn that admittedly took a more surreal futuristic twist with fighting blazes, and Konami's Firefighter FD: 18 on PlayStation 2 that stuck to a more grounded presentation of the concept yet introduced boss battles of sorts. Then there is Super Mario Sunshine, which minus the fact that there was next-to-no actual firefighting itself, showed an example of how one could implement a water pack device to a satisfying degree. Now publisher Reef Entertainment and developer Zordix (1950s Lawn Mower Kids and Valet Parking, 1989)have brought the profession to the 3DS with Real Heroes: Firefighter 3D. Is this more akin to an almighty blaze of glory or merely just a few sparks?
If there is one thing that Firefighter 3D nails completely, it is the genuine sense of being in the Fire Brigade, right from the first optional training mission that teaches all the basic controls. Which piece of putting-out equipment is best to use when, and what tools needed to rescue civilians in danger, including rotary saws and axes, right through to being out in the field tackling warehouse blazes and evacuating shopping centre complexes, the game scarcely lets up for a second. As the new guy to the force the aim is to interact with co-workers, often teaming up with them to tackle more widespread fires and rescuing them from tight corners at times, and when not on a mission they all hang out at the station, which acts as the game's central hub where times and hidden collectables found on missions can be checked, replay missions already completed, or fiddle around with the options.
The story backdrop is that it is the hottest season on record in Los Angeles, and naturally that gives fire a suitable time to kick into gear, hence the main character's quick introduction and busy schedule. Small cut-scenes before each mission and the team-mate interaction within each one help drive the plot along at a steady pace.
The game takes a more linear approach to missions, with voices over the radio and mission objectives appearing along the top of the screen whenever there's somewhere that needs to be visited or someone in need of rescue. This more straightforward approach alleviates the lack of a map or location identifier on the touch screen as most commonly seen with games of this design. Firefighter 3D takes the more modern approach to a health bar, with corners of the top screen gradually filling in red the more damage inflicted by the blazes or the more time spent in a layer of smoke; the amount of damage afflicted can be changed with the game's difficulty level, making for a less stressful experience on later levels.
As one of the very few first-person perspective games on the 3DS, Firefighter's view of its world is greatly enhanced by the 3D aspect, and is an essential aid in judging distances when firing the hose at flames. The touch screen is used in conjunction with the Circle Pad for looking around and aiming, although the way this is done is quite perplexing. Instead of a trackpad-like method -- like Metroid Prime: Hunters, for example -- touching the left side of the screen looks left and vice versa for the right, with the height of either side also determining the up and down view vantage points. This method might have been chosen to let the player reach over with thumbs instead of relying on the stylus, as the face buttons activate the same tool switches and run/walk functions as the corner icons on the touch screen, though you would need to stop moving completely for the left thumb to work in this manner.
This unorthodox method can be adapted to, but only with a little patience -- especially in regards to the small bleep heard whenever touching the screen that has to be done repeatedly at any one time to reset the aiming direction. This annoying noise can be turned off, but doing so also takes away all other sound effects, including the flames themselves that are vital when needing to find that last little pocket to put out, and any sound the equipment makes when used, which damages the authenticity feel.
What might ignite more flames where they are not needed are the loading times and frame-rate stutters, as there are a lot of both. Loading pauses, in particular, are numerous and far too long for a portable game, even if the small interesting firefighting-esque factoids that pop up help to alleviate the wait somewhat. The frame-rate, though, is quite damaging, being at a steady pace when the screen is clear of heat but dragging to a crawl whenever there is more than a wall of the hot stuff. Whether this is meant to somehow replicate the effect of the smoke would have in terms of interfering with your senses in such a situation is unclear, but for gameplay purposes it is a massive hindrance.
The visual level of the game might also be taxing to the eyes, as while it might be tolerable with the 3D enabled, the animations and general look of the game is subpar at best, with fires and hazards barely registering as such. The level design and location variation is fairly decent with enough difference to keep level progression going at a good pace, and the voice work used between the characters and the public is passable, if not too memorable.
Real Heroes: Firefighter 3D is strictly a solo effort without online or multiplayer aspects, mimicking a firefighter's more intensive moments quite well in that regard. There are a good number of missions to complete for the curious, and a much higher number of secret collectables hidden within them for the enthusiast, so for the budget price that most sellers are asking for and for something authentic but different you could do a lot worse in many respects. Adjusting to the speed of the frame-rate and the radical demands of the control scheme will be the true initiation challenge, however.
All-too-frequent loading times aside, FireFighter 3D does an admirable job in balancing authenticity with fun gameplay elements. Just be ready to wrestle with the controls for a little bit.
Visuals alone are basic, although efficient, but the schizophrenic frame-rate can make what could have been a pick-up-and-play game into a stop-motion one.
Functional-but-forgettable background melodies, together with decent voice acting and some highly bothersome beeps.
One game card for one player here; a lengthy campaign with tonnes of secrets to find in level replays and the incentive of discovering the cause of each level's fire being the motivation. There isn't much to tempt you back after that, though.
Real Heroes: Firefighter 3D helps to fill a void in the games market by successfully emulating the perils of being in the emergency services, and yet somehow does so a little too well if the dodgy input methods and stuttering graphical levels are anything to go by. One of the more unique first-person 'shooters' on the 3DS market, but also a book of matches you need to be cautious with when striking.