Flame Over (PC) Review

By Nikola Suprak 30.05.2015

Review for Flame Over on PC

The roguelike genre has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, which is peculiar because it was almost entirely dead around a decade ago. Random generated levels and crushing difficulty for some reason did not find much of a receptive audience, particularly when brutal difficulty was used as a substitution for clever gameplay. Games like The Binding of Isaac then came along and showed everyone exactly how a good roguelike could be made, and within the past five years it has suddenly become a bit of a hot genre for indie developers. A recent roguelike, Flame Over, is perhaps the hottest in this group because in it the only foe to face off against is fire itself. Dubbing itself a "pyroguelike" and throwing gamers into the role of a fire-fighter, it is certainly one of the more unique (if dull sounding) concepts to introduce to the genre in quite some time. The Vita version has been out for a while now but the new Steam edition seems like a great time to jump in and see just how hot this pyroguelike can be.

The basic formula in Flame Over is relatively simple and one that most fans of the roguelike genre will already be familiar with. Randomly generated levels are filled with fire, and it falls to one humble fire-fighter to put them all out before moving on to the next floor. Each floor is populated with civilians and cats that need saving, and each civilian brought to the exit earns one extra minute of play time, while each cat replenishes one heart. The fire can be put out with either the extinguisher or a water hose, both of which have advantages and disadvantages. Water works best for putting out fires and keeping them out, but only the extinguisher is effective on electrical fires, which pop up all over the level. There are four different areas in total, each unlocking after completing the levels in the previous area. This is a slightly disappointing amount and most of them tend to be largely similar to the ones that preceded them. More diversity would have been appreciated, and for the most part levels are divided into large and small rooms with people and items spread throughout. The timer ticks down faster than expected, leading to a hectic race against time to move up to the next floor and start it all over again.

Screenshot for Flame Over on PC

This isn't the sort to do hand-holding along the way, and progress and growth is largely going to be experimental. Hints are available for first-timers, but once a real run is started, the game sort of sits back and just lets things happen. It helps to rush to turn the electricity off on a floor so all fires can be handled with the more effective hose, and it is better to clear civilians out of the room before fully extinguishing the fire, but these are things that are not really pointed out. Honing techniques over the first several runs leads to significantly improved results, and Flame Over at least does a nice job slowly ramping up the difficulty as the levels go on. Learning the best time to use a water bomb projectile that clears out large swaths of fire or the best way to avoid incoming fireballs headed towards the character gives a real sense of progression, and the character becomes better not primarily through stat boosts or better weapons, but by the organic growth of the skill level of the player. It is a satisfying feeling to finally clear the first level, then first area, and then the entire game. Even after finishing everything for the first time, it is fun to jump back in and try and improve upon previous runs and Flame Over will likely see repeated playthroughs even after the first time it is finished.

The basic mechanics here are fairly simple and it doesn't take long to start to get a good feel for the game. An individual run typically won't last much longer than an hour, and Flame Over is a good game to pick up and play for a little while. The penalty of having to start the whole run over, losing all progress, and getting kicked down to the very first floor makes the experience far more intense than it would be otherwise. Like other roguelikes, dying in Flame Over means something, and it gives way to a sort of manic, frantic kind of fun, especially when the intrepid fire-fighter is down to his last heart and a level is almost cleared. It can make it a bit frustrating when a random fireball drops the fire-fighter and clears all progress that was made, but at the same time it adds a real urgency. It helps that the game is relatively short, so even a loss is not too detrimental and the tightness of the controls and simple enjoyment factor offered makes it more likely people will jump into another run instead of quitting altogether.

Screenshot for Flame Over on PC

Flame Over also incorporates a clever upgrade system that makes repeated playthroughs less stressful, including a shop that sells a variety of one-use upgrades for that specific run, which is a fairly standard but highly appreciated mechanic that can save what seems like a doomed run. Faster movement, items that revive dead civilians, as well as a bunch of other useful stuff, is for sale, and a lucky item can turn the tide from defeat to victory. In addition to these, however, missions can be completed for the oh-so-cleverly (well, not so cleverly) named Miss Ion. Missions are simple, and involve bringing one item from the floor to her before she agrees to leave, because those third-degree burns she is about to suffer mean absolutely nothing if she can't find her missing umbrella. Completing missions and using the in-game coins that accumulate between runs can be used to unlock permanent upgrades. It gives an actual sense of progression that is missing in many other roguelikes. They are perhaps not as useful as they seem initially, though, because by the time they can be unlocked, players have probably come up with a new strategy for combating the flames that will be substantially more useful than the upgrades themselves. It is a nice idea but not implemented as well as it could have been, so it ends up being more of an afterthought than anything else.

There is a lot of that addictive, "one more try" style of gameplay that tends to define the great roguelikes, but unfortunately there is just something missing in Flame Over that causes the experience to drag before other, similar titles normally do. The biggest issue is one of predictability, which is something that seems almost impossible for a roguelike. Part of the whole appeal of the genre is the random, chaotic nature that comes from random levels filled with random enemies. However, in Flame Over there is really only one enemy and that is lots and lots of fire. There is no variability in the kinds of dangers to face because it remains the same from beginning to end. Furthermore, there is no real need to learn different techniques or approach levels in different ways, because once some common tricks are learned, they really apply to just about every level in the entire game. Randomly generated levels sound great, but somehow everything feels exactly the same. It doesn't matter what permutation the rooms are in because the same techniques can be utilised regardless of what assortment they come in.

Screenshot for Flame Over on PC

There are several other issues beyond this big, glaring problem, as well. The survivors seem fairly poorly programmed, making rescuing them more of a hassle than it needs to be. None of them seem that interested in leaving the fire, and if the player gets too far away or an object gets between them or a corner is turned too fast or a mouse half a world away sneezes to distract them, they will freeze in place and not move until they are poked for a second time. There were also a handful of glitches that pop up from time to time, the most frequent of which is throwing a water bomb freezing the character in that motion for several seconds before the game snaps out of its stroke and remembers what it was supposed to be doing. None of the glitches are anything major and are not nearly frequent enough to get in the way of the gameplay, but when they pop up they could wind up ruining a run entirely because of how difficult the game is and how exact it expects the player to be with their movements. A game that prides itself on its difficulty requires almost perfection from the gameplay to prevent frustration, and that is something that Flame Over cannot deliver.

Screenshot for Flame Over on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Flame Over is quite close to capturing the formula that has ushered in the great roguelike resurgence, and true fans of the genre will likely find something wildly addictive in this clever twist on the well established formula. Running around, putting out fires, and saving civilians under a time crunch in a randomly generated environment creates this hectic, frantic sort of fun that is hard to put down. Still, there is just something missing here, and even though each floor is randomly generated, the game as a whole feels largely predictable. The lack of true variety from floor to floor makes it suffer, and the true randomness found in all the best roguelikes feels a bit weakened as fire is the only foe to be tackled throughout. It is an enjoyable distraction, but is nowhere near as insanely addictive as The Binding of Isaac or Spelunky. Flame Over is a fairly enjoyable distraction, but fails to bring the necessary heat to make this a must play.

Developer

Laughing Jackal

Publisher

Ghostlight

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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