Reviewed: May 4, 2006
Released: April 5, 2006
Strategy First (who also produced one of my favorite games of all time-WW2online), and Sixteen Ton Entertainment, bring us Emergency 3. This is the latest in a series of simulation games revolving around the men and women that keep us safe-firefighters, technicians and paramedics.
Many of us have always been fascinated by the glamour of being real heroes, often as children we would dress up as firemen, toting around fake axes and those cute plastic helmets. Of course, as you get older (and fatter as the case may be...) you start to realize those dreams may not work out. What’s the next best thing? Well the virtual experience of a videogame of course!
There are several gameplay modes for Emergency 3. First, there is a handy tutorial that goes over the basics of dealing with deploying your units, map use and so forth. I tried to jump right into gameplay, and didn’t realize you have to right click on the unit to get it’s action menu to appear-I could have saved myself 15 frustrating minutes of mouse bashing if I had just done the quick tutorial. Oh well…
Along with this mode, there are two others-free play and campaign. The latter takes you through various accidents and catastrophes, as you try and rescue people from burning buildings, put out fires, repair bridges etc. Even negotiate a few hostage situations. Each mission (20 in all) starts with a nice little CG intro that sets the tone for the level.
The first mission, for instance, starts off with a speedster burning rubber along a highway, and crashes into a road crew. You must evacuate the injured driver stuck in the car (using the jaws of life!) and then remove all injuries/deaths back to the hospital, as well as the damaged hotrod. In all, you have over 35 units at your disposal, ranging from armored cars (both police/fire) towing/hauling trucks, and even a twin-engine firefighting plane, used specifically for wild land fires (because if you dump it in a city, expect to call a lot more ambulances over).
Beyond the basic missions, is the pretty neat free-play mode, that allows you a chance to utilize all the gadgets and units right off the bat, in a 24/7 city that seems to fall apart every minute. It kind of reminds of the disaster effects in Simcity-you all know what I am talking about. A “Godzilla” monster would start chomping away on downtown, right when a billowing hurricane would knock out the trendy shopping mall. All washed down by a lovely tsunami off the coast.
It’s nearly as crazy in Emergency 3’s free play mode. Problem is, I think it’s almost too much to handle at times. One minute you have a gas explosion sending your armored fire truck and ambulance to one corner, and right after that, a pickpocket commits a crime, resulting in a difficult juggling act trying to resolve both issues. Which one is more important? Do you dare risk losing a whole city block over that measly thief who is slowly creeping towards the edge of the map?
On one occasion, I had a raging inferno in one section, that quickly spread (word of advice, nip it in the bud early) and caused even more casualties, while I had all these minor events going on elsewhere; a person fell in the river and required a helicopter evac; another had heart problems in an apartment building (that required a fireman to bust open), and then you have the purely unexciting engineer problems, like a light goes out at intersection- “Tech Team to the rescue!”
Is this fun you ask? Well…. yes and no. It’s kinda neat controlling something different than a tank or foot soldier, and we really do need more quality, mainstream games like this that are positive. Unfortunately, having to micromanage such things as first getting a line of hose off the equipment truck (one of the few engines that carries any items), attach the line to a hydrant, constantly shift your spray around to the critical spots, and then unattach the hose, put the hose back, and proceed to the next step.
After awhile, performing these mundane tasks grows old, and gets downright bothersome. There needs to be more automation, and streamlined protocols. Why not just start the firefighters with certain tools? Why the need to run to a truck 3 blocks away? Couple all this with the fact you aren’t the one blowing up enemies, or installations, and you lose that tension that helps pull strategy games along-especially RTS.
Oddly enough, there is a scenario editor listed on the box and website, so apparently you have to download that later, as nothing came with this particular build that looks like retail to me by all accounts. Also, since I don’t speak German, the website was a bit difficult to figure out where to get the patches etc.
The top down/isometric perspective allows for a few levels of zoom, rotation and comes off quite nice. While not the most advanced graphics by any standards, these are pretty nice for pixels. The 3D buildings and character models are pretty nice as well; with an attention to detail that shows some real love. It really reminds of me of the C&C Generals quality of graphics, actually.
Sixteen Tons Entertainment also throws in some pretty slick effects, like basic rag doll physics, high-res textures, dynamic lighting, day/night shifts and more. The rubble and debris effects are really quite excellent as well- I almost didn’t want to clean them up! Not too bad for a quasi-educational game, where no one is killed (well…by your hand at least….err…does negligence count?)
The music provides a pretty good backdrop to saving lives, it is energy charged, and ramps up when the action grows intense. Think E.R. meets Rescue Me and you have a good idea of the various tracks. The little sound effects like sirens blaring, the drone of water pumping through pipes and the cries of civilians as all hell breaks loose, really brings home the deadly environment these heroes work in every day. That, and it makes for some good auditory candy.
Little touches like voices for all your rescuers, and robust explosions (watch out where you park…those monorails can sure leave a mark) help round out a solid audio department.
This game is pretty rich in value if you consider the added replay experience of the scenario editor (if you can track it down), the decently sized 20-mission main campaign, and the unlimited free play mode. No multiplayer is available though. Emergency 3 should give you a few months of solid gameplay that is if you can stomach the less than enthralling gameplay.
Emergency 3 really has a lot going for it, and breathes new life into a stagnant market full of destructive gaming. Still, the nagging issues of a clunky interface, coupled with rather monotonous gameplay, may present some problems. But if you are a parent of a young teen, this may be just the thing to spark their interest in the rewarding field of emergency services, and hey, for $30, that ain’t too shabby.