Ever since Ignition Factor on the SNES many years ago, I’ve enjoyed whatever firefighter games I’ve been able to get ahold of - including an FMV-based Sega CD game called Fahrenheit and an excellent one in Firefighter FD 18 for the PS2. As a result, when I first saw Real Heroes: Firefighter, I was optimistic because it seemed to offer up the same kind of excitement that I can count on in a firefighting game, but with a first-person view and of course, Wii motion and remote controls that, when used well, can greatly enhance an experience.
Just like those games, there’s something about RHF that helps it stand out from the rest. With IF, it was the sharp controls and overhead viewpoint, with Fahrenheit it was the FMV gameplay, and with FD 18, it was the massive “boss” fires, sharp controls, and impressive graphics. RHF stands out due to the first-person viewpoint, the motion controls, and the introduction of tools that I haven’t seen before in a firefighting game - like the jaws of life and pry bar.
The motion controls are a bit of a double-edged sword. While they do add a level of realism to the gameplay, allow you to easily move with the nunchuk and do a decent job of replicating acts like operating a rotary saw or aiming a hose, but they’re a oversensitive at times and can easily become frustrating since you have to be so dead-on with your movements. If you want the rotary saw to operate exactly as you want, you have to move the remote perfectly to have its angle fall in line with the on-screen guide, then have your own arm movements match that pattern perfectly - failure to do so will result in having to once again line everything up perfectly, wasting time, and causing some wrist strain over time.
Beyond its movements allowing you to operate the tools of the trade, the Wii remote is also used to look around in all directions, which, like tool operation, can be too sensitive, resulting in your view going all over the place with seemingly minor movements. This can easily cause confusion as to where to go next, and possibly steer you right into flames if you’re moving the nunchuk at the same time.
There’s certainly a learning curve with the controls - more of one than I can ever remember having in a firefighting game. This is definitely a game where you’ll have to take breaks every now and then due to the strain the motion controls put on your hands and wrists, and that alone is pretty disappointing. In spite of its control problems, the game is a lot of fun to play in short bursts of about 20 or so minutes. One reason this is so is because the levels are long, which can result in the gameplay becoming very repetitive very quickly, even with the developers trying to mix things up by adding in little puzzles to solve to progress. The other main reason is that the controls are physically draining and long sessions will definitely result in some wrist cramping.
Aside from the new tools and first-person viewpont, the core gameplay also isn’t much different from other firefighting games - in some major ways, it’s inferior. Here, you’ll do the same basic things as Firefighter FD 18, but do so in a fairly lifeless world that doesn’t really convey the sense of urgency you would expect from a firefighting game. In FD 18, areas would have a wide range of smoke levels - adding to the intensity, and the in-game world was pretty gritty at times. In RHF, the world is bright and nothing but the objects that need to be damaged by the flames ever actually seem to be, whereas in FD 18, everything would have a darkened look to it due to smoke or fire damage - it made the world seem more real than the one here.
Visually, this is an average-looking game most of the time. Pretty much everything about the graphics are middle-of-the-road. The character models are quite poor - they look more like first-gen PS2 ones than something you‘d see in a new 2009 release, and, the animation is bare-bones as well. The environments at least resemble what they’re supposed to, whether it be an industrial complex or amusement park, but lack detail and feature quite a bit of jagginess. This really hurts the flame and smoke effects - which look too poor to be realistic. On the whole, I came away thinking that FD 18, despite being a much older game, actually looks a lot better thanks to having more-detailed smoke and fire effects, and better-looking environments and character models.
It’s not all bad from a visual standpoint though. The first-person setting greatly enhances the experience in some ways - it’s certainly more satisfying to move your hand around and see the in-game hose match your movements and slowly put a fire out than it is to just press a button and see the fire go out over time. However, it also calls more attention to just how jaggy the graphics can be at times. The added level of immersion with the viewpoint certainly offsets the harm caused by that to some degree, but it does still shine a light on the glaring graphical deficiencies of the game.
RHF’s atmospheric audio is impressive. The flames have a popping sound to them that adds some tension to the game, and the effects for the axe, hose, and other items are realistic and add to the experience. The voice acting is quite a bit better than I expected, especially for a budget release. While the plot of “rookie firefighter out to prove himself” isn’t all that riveting, the acting is pretty believable - even if characters are never fleshed out much beyond stereotypical roles. You’ve got the obligatory blowhard who is hard on the rookie (you), the sympathetic younger firefighters who have shared your plight, and so on. The plot is basically there to get you from one location to another, and in that respect, it at least works and makes logical sense.
I came away from RHF with mixed feelings. I commend the developers for trying something new with the first-person viewpoint and for giving Wii owners a decent firefighting game. Unfortunately, it’s not an exceptional one, and while this is a well-made game in a lot of ways, it is hurt by its very sterile look, poor graphics, and control issues. It’s better than a lot of Wii games I’ve played, but not as good as the other firefighting ones I’ve experienced. If all you’ve got is a Wii and have never played a firefighting game before, then give this a shot. Genre vets really aren’t missing much by not playing it, but it’s at least worth a rental to see how much the first-person view can add to the genre.