Review by Nick Whitcroft
Welcome to the job interview of a lifetime: do you have what it takes to be an inferno-braving fire fighter? In a world where having a triumphant moustache qualifies you to do anything from selling ludicrously-priced water bombs to single-handedly tackling a seemingly never-ending firestorm, perhaps you do. The one hurdle? It’s damned hard.
Welcome to the world of Flame Over, the latest Roguelike (or Pyroguelike, as they hail themselves) twin-stick shooter from developers Laughing Jackal. The core premise is simple – and that’s perhaps part of the appeal. As fire-fighting hero Blaze Carruthers, you must navigate a randomly generated tower block office environment, quelling fires and rescuing the panicked inhabitants.
From this base, however, Laughing Jackal have done much to add depth to the core gameplay. As you explore each level, rescuing this mix of terrified clones and highly flammable cats (as well as the snooty Miss Ion..) is critical to your survival, as it regenerates your hearts (Flame Over’s Zelda-esque health system) and adds crucial seconds to the level timer. Putting out fires is no simple feat either, with limited fuel in each of your two core tools – the hose and foam extinguisher – you need to tackle conventional and electrical fires appropriately, shutting off mains power and keeping the environment damp to stem the spread of further flames. Off the back of all of this, you accumulate funds to upgrade the array of gadgets Blaze brings into the fray, from spiked boots to thermal goggles.
The core gameplay is definitely the key to Flame Over’s immediate appeal. The opening levels strike a perfect balance of challenge – with the pressure building as the temperature gauge around Blaze rises and your fuel reserves dwindle – with instantly-accessible fun and I found I was able to leap right into the action, trialling a range of approaches to tackling many of the larger rooms. As you go on, though, the learning curve takes a dramatic jump; and yet, for all my dislike of games that are just ‘hard for the sake of being hard’, Flame Over seemed to channel that precise level of addictiveness that meant I had serious trouble putting it down. What’s great about it is that the core mechanics are well honed enough that each death or failure feels attributed to the player and successes feel earned (with the one exception of Miss Ion and her soul-destroying challenges – “I’m sorry the building burnt to the ground, sir. I was just posting a few letters for the stern lady in red.”). That may sound simple, but it’s a difficult balance to strike.
Being a Roguelike, progress is largely contained to the level in play, but tokens (such as those earned for completing tasks for Miss Ion) allow for certain permanent upgrades, with which progression becomes easier and, with more rescues under your belt, you’ll find your missions expanding into longer, more adventurous playthroughs.
The level of polish on the environment is refreshing too. Whilst the graphical fidelity doesn’t disguise its indie heritage, and the randomly-generated nature of the levels means you’ll soon be conscious of the repetition of stock objects, the visuals are clean and crisp and the cartoony feel definitely has its own unique charm. The fire too, your primary adversary, steals the show – whilst a far cry from the photorealistic flames of triple-A titles, the inferno spreads in a wonderfully organic fashion, with simple visual cues, such as black smoke, betraying the varying types of fire throughout a room. As you progress, you’ll become increasingly familiar with the spitting embers that and fast-spreading carpet fires that make this beast quite so deadly. Add to that a well thought out user interface, that clearly and simply conveys everything from fuel levels to temperature, mini-map, equipment, money, objectives and more, and you have a game that’s refreshingly easy to pick up and play, in spite of its challenging nature.
I ran into a few snags here and there, such as Blaze not always shooting in the direction I intended, but these were few and far between. Overall, Flame Over represents a lovely addition to the genre. If you’re a fan of games like Spelunky and welcome a challenge, then jump onboard and let the Grim Reaper-eluding, moustachioed life-saver and his worryingly catchy piano-and-horn theme song take you on a ride that’s barrels of nerve-wracking fun.
Stay tuned to The Midnight Gamer for the latest and greatest from the gaming world! Flame Over is developed by Laughing Jackal and published by Ghostlight LTD. It’s available to buy now for PS Vita, for preorder on Steam, set for release on the 28th May 2015 , and will be coming to PS4 (though no release date has currently been set). Visit the official website for more details.