If you go to Monte Cristo Multimedia’s web site, you won’t find mention of a game called Emergency Fire Response. That’s because, as far as I can tell, in countries other than the United States, the game was released as Fire Department or Fire Chief. Now, I can fully understand why DreamCatcher Interactive would want to change the name for the U.S. release (could a game name be any more boring than Fire Department?), but it’s interesting that they chose the name they did, because the only other competition in this very small genre of managing rescue workers also has the word “emergency” in its title: Emergency 2: The Ultimate Fight for Life. Perhaps this will start a new craze of games having “emergency” in the title, like there are games with “sim” in the title. Maybe soon we’ll see Emergency Pest Control, or Emergency Clothes Shopping, or Emergency Sim Coaster Repair. Ok, maybe not.
Anyway, Emergency 2 and Emergency Fire Response have certain things in common. They’re both real-time strategy games, and they both task you with guiding emergency personnel around and restoring order when disasters strike. But, oddly, the games are almost nothing alike. Emergency 2 runs in 2D, allows for just about any kind of disaster, takes place almost entirely outdoors, and relies heavily on vehicles. Emergency Fire Response is a 3D game, only deals with fires, takes place mostly indoors, and relies more heavily on people than vehicles. But here’s the kicker. Emergency Fire Response has a much nicer interface than Emergency 2, and so it is more friendly to play, and, as a result, even though its engine isn’t nearly as complex as the Emergency 2 engine, it ends up being the superior game.
And perhaps the complexity is the key. In hindsight, perhaps Emergency 2 tried to do too much, and Emergency Fire Response works better because it focuses only on fires, and only on a single fire station. So the logistics are more straightforward since you only have to deal with a handful of firefighters and vehicles, and the gameplay is simpler because you generally only have to worry about putting out fires and rescuing civilians. Things like crowd control and first aid are handled for you.
Of course, your job in the game isn’t too easy. Since Emergency Fire Response is a 3D game, it allows for complex multi-story buildings, and so seeing all the places where there are fires, and getting your firefighters to them, can be a challenge. Plus, you have to watch for possible explosions, gas leaks, backdrafts, and flash fires, and so you can’t just point your firefighters at fires and let them work on their own. You have to scan the area carefully (nicely, you can pause the game to do this), and you have to organize your forces carefully to make sure fires spread as little as possible.
To help you in your tasks, you get a nice selection of units and vehicles. Besides basic firefighters, you get technical officers (who can operate complex machinery), extraction specialists (who can break down even the strongest of doors), and high risk specialists (who can use a grapple to reach otherwise inaccessible locations). Plus there are rescue ladder trucks, pumper trucks, ambulances and more. There are just enough units to keep things interesting, but I think Monte Cristo made a slight mistake by allowing too many units to do too many things. For example, all of your personnel can carry injured civilians to ambulances (which is the extent you have to deal with the wounded) and so there isn’t any real point to the paramedic unit. It just turns out to be a weak firefighter.
Also helping you in your job is a very friendly interface. Mission objectives are clearly stated, and it’s easy to check your progress in them. Plus, units can be aliased to hotkeys (using the same system found in most real-time strategy games), and the camera can be rotated and moved in a variety of ways. But the best part of the interface is that each unit receives an icon at the bottom of the screen, and the icon works just like the unit itself. So if a firefighter runs out of oxygen in his air tank, you can just click on his icon and then right click on the icon of a tanker truck to order him to get a refill. The icons make dealing with your units a breeze. The only thing missing from the interface is some sort of minimap, but most of the missions take place in small enough areas that a minimap isn’t too necessary.
Speaking of the missions, they’re both well designed and interesting. You’ll find yourself dealing with such things as a car accident at a gas station, a train wreck in a tunnel, and even a potential meltdown at a nuclear power plant. Plus, the missions all have multiple stages, where each stage opens up a new part of the mission map or gives you new objectives, and the stages work nicely because they allow you to solve problems a little at a time. The only downside to the missions is that there are so few of them. The back of the game box says there are “34 amazing missions set in ten different environments,” but really there are only ten missions with 34 stages, and that includes the training mission. Even so it sounds like there is a lot of playing time to the game, but each mission only takes about an hour to complete, and so you can blow through Emergency Fire Response in a single weekend, and still have time to spare.
And so, overall, Emergency Fire Response is a nice game that just doesn’t last long enough (in comparison, Emergency 2 has 25 missions). Still, it’s fun to play and it only costs $20, and I think the interface makes it friendly enough that even people who don’t play computer games much could sit down and enjoy it.