As a kid I longed to be a fire truck when I grew up, not a fireman as many people tried to correct me – but a fire truck. The dream-shattering reality unfolded as I grew a little older and realised that this dream was going to be nothing more than that, with memories of my younger years when all I used to care about was what the next episode of Fireman Sam would bring.
They say that video games allow for us to live out our dreams – be it donning the colours of your favourite football team in FIFA, driving supercars to pole position in Gran Turismo or even exploring the world as an adventurer (with a fondness for genocide) in Uncharted. We can often unwind after a long day in school or at work and get lost in the worlds that games take us to that allow us to escape from reality.
It can be said though, that one profession that is absent from videogames that will have been the dream of many a child (including me and my absurd vision) is that of the Fire fighter. British indie studio Laughing Jackal are here to correct this oversight and have spent the last few years putting together a game that gives you all the hoses, axes, burning buildings and a real sense of heroism that the profession so rightly deserves.
Flame Over is best described as a 3D isometric roguelike (or Pyro-guelike as the devs like to call it) where you will battle through randomised levels tackling fires and rescuing those that are trapped inside the burning building. Playing as the aptly-named, moustachioed hero Blaze Carruthers you will single-handedly respond to an emergency at the towers of Inferal Industries where you will need to tackle the overwhelming conflagration that threatens to raze the sixteen-storeys to the ground!
Starting off in the buildings Office levels you will proceed to work your way through sixteen stages (including Executive offices, Laboratories and ) in an attempt to put out the wildfire that is engulfing the structure. Starting a New Game in Flame Over will see our hero given a five minute time limit to beat the blaze and escape from the building. With three hearts representing your life you are thrown into the midst with a hose, an extinguisher and water bombs at your disposal.
The one thing that you will notice when you first start playing Flame Over is that the game is difficult! There is no tutorial at the start of the game and you are left to your own devices to work out the best plan of action. For the first few hours of play I found myself not getting very far at all in the game, often dying before I made it to the second stage of the first area.
Death is all around you in this game. There are people trapped in each stage that you will have to try and rescue before the smoke and flame consumes them. Getting these civilians to safety will earn you an extra minute on the clock per person, so ensuring they all safely make it to the fire exit is beneficial to your progress. Leaving them too long will cause for them to perish, meaning that the extra time available will deplete – making your progress through the levels even more challenging. If the clock reaches zero the Grim Reaper will appear and will chase you around the stage. One touch here and you will die, so try not to let him catch you!
Each stage also has a cat that needs leading to safety. Helping the office’s feline friend will earn you an extra (much needed) heart to help you on your way to the latter stages. In every other stage there is also Miss Ion (mission, get it?) who will give you a quest that needs to be completed before she will follow you to the exit. Completing Miss Ion’s quest will not only earn an extra minute on the clock, she will also gift you with an upgrade token – which is ultimately the most important thing you can acquire!
Getting these civilians to safety is a walk in the park once you have doused the flames that get between you and them in the first place. At first the sight of the first few rooms full of flames can be a little overwhelming, especially when the fire you have just spent thirty seconds or so tackling reignites thanks to a ball of flame that has been flung from another, nearby object that is burning away wildly.
I learnt from many failed attempts that, even though the clock is ticking in Flame Over, it is best to take your time. If you run into the middle of the action all hoses Blazing (excuse the pun) then you will almost certainly meet your maker in a matter of seconds. Getting to close to the fire will cause a circular meter around our hero to fill. If this meter fills to make a complete circle you will lose a heart, lose all of your hearts and it is game (or Flame) over!
The other meters that you need to be wary of are the ones that show you how much water and powder your hose and extinguisher have left. The last thing that you want is to have a wall of flame separate you and a source of H2O when your hose is fresh out of water. Luckily, Flame Over is generous in the sense that there is always a source of water not too far away. You can use water coolers, sinks and even hot tubs to fill your tank – although it is worth noting that some take longer than others to replenish your equipment.
Firing these apparatus is as simple as using the PlayStation Vita’s Left and Right triggers. Squeezing the Left trigger will produce a shotgun-like burst of powder – especially effective on electrical fires, whilst the Right trigger will fire water from the hose. The hose is great from a distance and I found the best tactic to be to strafe and fire the hose, using the extinguisher to douse any area that seemed prone to reigniting.
One thing that I learnt after a short while was to utilise the game’s map as soon as a stage started. Pressing Select will bring up a larger version of the mini-map that is displayed in the corner and this will allow for you to spot areas of interest in any particular stage. I found myself making a beeline for the fuse box as soon as I figured out where it was located in each level as switching this off would cut all electricity in that particular stage – taking electrical fires out of the equation and leaving me with one less thing to worry about!
Dousing the flames that dance around you will earn you money which can be spent on upgrades. I mentioned earlier that Miss Ion will give you quests on every other stage you play. In the stages that Miss Ion does not appear in you will meet another character called the Caretaker who will offer you items to purchase (Tip- try firing your extinguisher at the items he has for sale) that can help you tremendously in your current playthrough.
Here lies what I believe to be Flame Over’s biggest dilemma. Spending your money at the caretakers store does give you access to items that may be beneficial in your current game but if you die, the items die with you. The upgrade tokens that you collect from Miss Ion will unlock permanent upgrades that you can purchase when you start a new game. The cash that you earn from putting out the fires can be used to improve these permanent perks but as soon as you re-enter the Infernal Industries towers any spare cash that you did have is immediately donated to charity. So the question is, do you spend the cash mid-game to boost your current run or do you save it and spend it on upgrading Blaze to improve the run-throughs that will follow?
With the levels procedurally generated (similar to Spelunky and Rogue Legacy) I found that I did not mind the difficulty of the game and replaying the same areas until I could successfully move onto the next area. The randomness of the stages and the beautiful animations within each one made for Flame Over to be extremely appealing and difficult to put down. The cartoon-style animations for the characters that fill the stages to the beautiful colours and behaviours of the flickering flames that engulf them only helped to draw me in to the game and encouraged me to push on through the levels even when I had encountered death more times than South Park’s Kenny.
The only fault that I can find with Flame Over is that the soundtrack for the game leaves a little to be desired. The sound effects are brilliant, with the roaring of the flames and the different environmental noises adding to the atmosphere. The music is pretty samey throughout, with a similar sounding jazz-style track playing throughout each of the stages that you tackle. I would have liked to hear a little differentiation and distinction between the tracks that accompanied each area.
Other than that, Flame Over is a great game that is sure to get Vita owners hooked with its simple to pick up, difficult to master style of play that will have you wanting to better your previous run every time you pick it up. Releasing for the PlayStation Vita in the same month as other indie titles such as HELLDIVERS, Hotline Miami 2 and OlliOlli 2, Flame Over certainly braves the elements and offers challenging fun to those that wish to tackle it. Laughing Jackal have done a stellar job with this release and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone that has the slightest interest in it! Trust me, pick this game up – you won’t get burnt!