Fire Commander Is A Firefighting Game That Doesn’t Suck

Fire Commander Is A Firefighting Game That Doesn't Suck

fire commander

Image: Fire Commander

There have been firefighting games for as long as there have been video games, but for some reason – and I’ll speculate on that in a moment – there has never been a great one. . Fire Commander is the latest game to try and break that duck, and even if it fails, I at least admire the way it tries.

Fire Commander was developed by Pixel Crow—do you remember Beat Cop?— and Atomic Wolf, and released last week on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation. It works like a real-time tactics game, only instead of shooting Nazis you put out fires, and between missions there’s a whole strategic side to the game that can best be summed up as “XCOM, but with gymnasiums for firefighters”.

I think the main reason why there has never been a great firefighting game is that as exciting as the subject matter may seem in the news or in the movies, in reality most fires are fought in an incredibly routine way. And fire itself, while certainly a danger, just doesn’t lend itself to being a great opponent in a game like a real enemy does. Sure, it’s dangerous, but it’s usually just as slow, and in most cases you defeat it by… pointing a pipe at it.

Fire Commander tries to circumvent this problem by abandoning any attempt at simulation. If you wanted a taste of how fires are actually fought and what a day in the life of a firefighter really looks like, this isn’t the game for you. At almost every point in this game, Fire Commander abandons reality in the name of making concessions towards fun and strategic gameplay, and while that is in some ways disappointing, I worked for NSW Fire & Rescue and would like seeing someone actually get a decent simulation – in most cases that’s understandable, and the game is all the better for it.

Fire Commander – Launch Trailer

As I said, Fire Commander is divided into two sections. The first, played between missions, lets you oversee your fire station and fire roster, and if you’ve played XCOM you already know what’s going on here. You can rest and train your existing firefighters, recruit new ones, and expand or upgrade your base. It’s fine, and everything works, but I never found the challenge as I thought it would, because my firefighters would gain XP so quickly that resting and replacing them was never as urgent as it needed to be. was clearly meant to be.

Most of your time in Fire Commander is spent out on a mission, though, and it’s here that things got a lot more enjoyable. Having abandoned any attempt at realism, the developers have instead built a real-time tactics game that is based around you picking the right person for the right job at the right time.

Image for article titled Fire Commander Is A Firefighting Game That Doesn't Suck

Image: Fire Commander

Every job you attend will have some kind of time limit on it, like a fire spreading to something explosive, or a number of civilians who are in danger and need to be rescued before it’s too late. Standing in your way is the fire itself, which needs to be put out, but also a number of environmental challenges like locked doors (which need to be chopped open with axes) and obstacles that can only be overcome by a certain class of firefighter.

This class division is frustrating in many ways—why can’t every firefighter use a circular saw or a computer!?!—but like I’ve said, it’s one of the design concessions that was made to create a game out of this, and once the initial gripe wore off and I started thinking of everyone as “techs” or “rogues”, it was fine.

The key to completing every single mission, then, is working out the quickest way to achieve each objective, because the longer you leave a fire to spread, or an office worker in a room filling with smoke, the harder your job is going to get. I rarely got through a job on the first attempt; instead it would take a few tries, as I had to optimise which firefighters I sent to each corner of the map, and make sure they were doing the right jobs when they got there.

Once again this was initially frustrating, as constantly having to restart missions in a game that superficially had so much in common with a real-time tactics game felt like bullshit. Surely a game that had so much in common with, say, Steel Division should be testing me throughout the mission, not just presenting me with a single puzzle at the start and leaving the rest up to my execution?

Start thinking of each mission as a run, though, and it starts to make more sense. Less Steel Division, more Neon White. Each mission will unfold the same from the start, so a successful job in Fire Commander is more about perfecting your plan—multiple actions can be queued up at any time, even before the mission starts—then executing that plan to perfection.

When you’ve mastered what Fire Commander is trying to do here—using firefighters as window dressing for a unique real-time tactics experience, rather than simulating the job of a firefighter—it can be a really fun. Moving around a map shooting bad guys has been done 1000 times before, but coordinating a team to contain a spreading fire, cleaning up chemical spills and dragging unconscious civilians out of a burning restaurant (sometimes all at once) was a fresh challenge.

Image for article titled Fire Commander Is A Firefighting Game That Doesn't Suck

Image: Fire Commander

It’s far from perfect, of course, and I don’t want to make it sound like this is a contender for strategy game of the year. Even taking its lack of realism into consideration, there are still some bizarre decisions here, like not letting firefighters break huge windows next to locked doors, or giving everyone a portable water tank instead of using hoses, which again is something clearly designed to provide a challenge (forcing you to juggle firefighters who have to race back to a truck to refuel), but which in implementation is a huge pain in the ass.

Most jarringly, and despite my overall love for this “genre” of European Disaster and Transport Management (if you can even call it that), it’s full of annoying little quirks like simple tasks that have to be clicked multiple times, and path finding that sends firefighters on weird trips around the map, and sometimes… directly into the fires. It’s a janky area, one more preoccupied with (or prioritizing) its nuts and bolts over its polish, and I knew it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

BUT. I’m a forgiving man when it comes to these kinds of games, because, as broken as they may be, and as unforgivable as it may be in so many other circumstances, When it comes to Euro management games, I’m willing to overlook a lot of things, because these games are so serious. This wide-ranging genre has limited budgets and caters to a limited audience, so it’s unfair to expect the world of its games. They do their damnedest best, and in this case, Fire Commander does enough new and interesting stuff for me to work past its rougher edges.


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