A review of a game involving putting out fires wouldn’t be a review of a game involving putting out fires without some sort of nod to Sega’s classic Saturn extinguish-‘em-up Burning Rangers. So here it is: Burning Rangers was ace. Real Heroes Firefighter 3D on the other hand, is not.
Maybe that’s an unfair comparison, given that Reef Entertainment’s title is more of a simulation (and isn't set in space), but given the lack of firefighting games on the market, it’s the best we can do. In fact, the only recent game that we could feasibly compare this 3DS outing with would be the half-decent Wii version of the same game, which was released back in 2009. If we were to do that though, we’d have to say that while time heals many things, it turns out that a three year gap isn't enough to turn a passable game into an instant classic. In fact, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse during that time.
Real Heroes Firefighter 3D puts you in the shoes of a new member of a fire department, and teaches you the ropes via a tutorial mission which is dressed up as your character’s final firefighter exam. Once you’ve learnt how each piece of equipment works (which is generally a case of tapping the touch screen to equip it, and then pressing or holding the left shoulder button), you’re thrown into your first emergency call.
By this point, the main problems with the game have already presented themselves and you’ll probably be having doubts about whether or not you want to continue. The first noticeable issue is with the control system. You turn with the stylus, while other movements are bound to the Circle Pad. This is a little unwieldy at first for what is purportedly an action game, but even when you get used to the basic idea, turning is so unbelievably slow that you never really feel at home. Instead, you feel as if you’re fighting with the control system when you should be focusing on the raging fires, collapsing ceilings, and unbelievably poor AI of non-playable characters.
If you have to save someone during a mission, you can clear a street-sized gap in the fire for them to walk through, but they’ll decide that it’s too dangerous because a chair a few feet behind them has started to burn, or because a wall that’s a good distance in front of them (yet nowhere near their intended path) is ablaze. What they won’t do – ever – is choose the shortest possible path to an exit door, or tell you why they won't proceed. This means that any tactics you have for saving them generally come undone quite quickly, as you have to go back and play a bit of a guessing game to make them feel safe enough to continue.
At times you really feel like you’re doing some heroic work. Prising open a door with your Halligan bar, before breaking your way through a pile of debris with your axe, picking up a downed colleague and dragging them to the nearest exit is almost a rewarding experience, but the real challenge comes when you’re one-on-one with the profession’s biggest enemy – fire itself. The game more or less represents fire in terms of square blocks. If a block isn’t burning but a block next to it is, it’ll eventually burst into flames. When you’re trying to put out a fire that has taken over an entire room, this presents a really tough challenge that’s almost akin to plate-spinning. You douse the flames in one corner of the space, take a minute or two to start extinguishing the sofa that’s ablaze, and turn back to find that the previously fire-free corner has started to burn again. Managing to keep a fire from spreading is challenging and – at times – engaging, although it starts to feel like a chore when you realise that when a room is on fire, the frame rate often drops down into the single digits. That’s surprising given how dated and blocky the game looks in general.
But nothing – and we mean nothing – puts a downer on Real Heroes Firefighter 3D as much as the constant failures that you suffer as a result of the game engine. In one early mission, you're told to find an alternative exit as the whole room has gone up and you’ve only a fire extinguisher for company. An arrow points towards a door, so you open it. By the time you find that there’s nothing behind that door other than a tiny office that doesn’t contain anything of use, the fire has spread around the doorway, and you can’t get back out without clearing a path. When you return on your next go-round – as your imminent failure is on the cards by now, just seconds after your extinguisher runs out of puff – you’ll see that there’s a set of stairs that could have been your saviour, were you not pointed in the exact opposite direction.
Of all the things that could take a potentially exciting battle with one of nature’s most destructive elements and turn it into nothing but a massive bag of sighs, a dodgy compass wasn’t one that we would have thought of. To be honest, many players will fail that level three or four times and end up giving up altogether. We kind of wish that we had.
Real Heroes Firefighter 3D suffers from below-par visuals and a game engine that feels nothing short of cheap. It isn't a patch on the Wii version - which wasn't outstanding to begin with - and any fun that the game provides disappears quickly in a puff of smoke thanks to annoyance after annoyance. With so many other titles out there, it really can’t be recommended.