This is the scripted story of six strangers that are picked to become firefighters, work together and have their lives played by a total stranger with a controller. Find out what happens when they stop being polite... and realize their lives aren't real.
There was a time in gaming history - actually, just in the history of the universe - when anyone could create anything with any theme and no one would raise an eyebrow; this was way before hipsters ruined beards and flannelled shirts, and MTV was still relevant. Shows, food and even gaming were experimenting with different concepts - you want an RPG game that revolves around the idea of evolution? You got it. You want a game that explores how a baby finds its way back home with the help of a group of generous dinosaurs? And yes, even firefighters got a chance to shine inside the warming glow of a CRT TV.
The Ignition Factor is a typical product of the '90s, and also a top-down strategy/action game about firefighters. Yes, you read that right, a strategy game with action elements presented in the same perspective as The Legend of Zelda - yet instead of fighting monsters you have to fight fires in real time. It is an interesting concept, but unfortunately one that is plagued with an array of oversights and questionable choices, leaving a game that looks like a charred piece of meat that was left on the grill for way too long.
Games are usually measured by the lasting impact they can leave on player, whether it is through compelling stories or engaging gameplay mechanics. To be frank, The Ignition Factor lacks both of these characteristics, but it isn't the absence of either that affects the overall enjoyment to be found.
Rather than bad gameplay or terrible story, one of the biggest flaws of the game comes in how every aspect of the game is presented to the player. Don't mind the adequate graphics or the non-existent music. It is the overall presentation and the amount of noise present in the communication channels between the player and the game itself.
The Ignition Factor may have one of the most cumbersome set of menus since Super Smash Bros. for Wii U hopped on a DeLorean and travelled to the past. The navigation system used in the menus implements a pointer that behaves pretty much like a mouse cursor. It takes less than one minute to realize that the navigation in the menus could have been so much easier had the game used a traditional way to access the buttons and icons on the screen.
However, the questionable design choices do not stop there. Navigation in the main portion is just as bad, and this time it isn't the SNES controller's fault. While the button configuration is a bit cumbersome, it is intuitive enough to get the basics right. But when it comes to moving around the debris and hazards, it appears that the developers stuck too close to the real world in that aspect.
Your character feels like a tank and moves like a tank (rotates and strafes like a tank thanks to the L and R button respectively); this probably was a tank game way before the developer switched the theme completely. The D-Pad controls the basic navigation - movement is slow, slower than any human should ever be; then again, firefighters do carry up to 45lbs in basic equipment, it is completely understandable for them to be slow. What is incomprehensible is that whenever you run by double tapping the same direction on the D-Pad your character can run in only one of the four directions (no diagonal movement as opposed to the walking movement), leading to endless moments of frustration as you run into a pit of fire over and over again.
Luckily the game works like a charm when it comes to performing actions other than running. The A and Y buttons handle the equipped items, but there's a caveat. There will be instances that you have to switch between items, so you need to access the item equip menu and use the terrible menu navigation configuration to do so. It wouldn't be a hindrance if you need to switch the items once or twice during a mission, but just like the water temple in the original Ocarina of Time the item menu is your worst enemy.
And yet, not everything bad in the Ignition Factor is about the presentation and controls. One of the worst crimes happens right in the first level of the game.
As a rule of thumb, the introductory level of a game should always help the player understand the mechanics with clever design. Not in this title. The first level throws everything and the kitchen sink in an attempt to make it look appealing: exploding barrels, falling platforms, molten iron, skateboards and a talking dog. There's so much noise in the first 10 minutes that not even the most experienced of players can necessarily grasp what they need to do in order to beat the level.
It's all a convoluted mess and yet, not everything is lost. If for some reason you manage to overcome the first chapter you'll find that the challenges in subsequent levels are engaging and actually fun enough to keep the player interested. It may sound ridiculous, but once the clouds of smoke and dust begin to settle, The Ignition Factor takes the form of a coherent video game.
As was said in a recent article published on The Guardian - "There's a cliche that narrative games are about power fantasies. But maybe the satisfaction comes from having a sense of control that real life doesn't afford us". The Ignition Factor tries too hard to be the cool game you always wanted, and fails in that goal. It is a game that could have been remembered as an icon of the '90s next to Pepsiman and Toejam & Earl amongst many others, but alas it lacks the exuberance of the former and charm of the later.
The concept may be interesting but everything else about it is disappointing. The complicated navigation both in the menus and in-game, poor presentation, odd design choices, unbalanced difficulty and downright nonsensical story make The Ignition Factor a difficult title to recommend. This is one burning building that cannot be saved from its unavoidable doom.
There's a meta moment right when the credits roll that summarizes this review. In it the protagonist starts rambling about the gameplay and, for some reason, criticizes the development team for everything that happened in the story - people stopped being polite and started getting real, it was the 'Real World' moment of the game.