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Fire Department 3 Review

Fire Department 3 pack shot
Publisher:Monte Cristo
Official Site:http://www.firedepartment3.de/
Release Date:May 19, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:James Barlow (Malis)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

In an industry so obsessed with taking any past-time, any activity and slapping it out in the shops as a game of some sorts; it's somewhat of a surprise that the only fire fighting game I can think of off the top of my head is Sega's Burning Rangers, an original and inventive futuristic fire fighting romp for the much maligned Sega Saturn.

Fire Department 3 is a very different breed of game. Whilst some would argue the heroic and intense nature of such a subject would lend itself to a 3rd or 1st person adventure, Monte Cristo have instead offered the player a 3D real time strategy. Does it work? I'd like to answer yes, but in truth the answer is "almost."

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The game is intense without a doubt. As soon as you're dropped in the first mission (stop a fire at an aircraft hanger), the game becomes a relentless roller coaster ride as you react to new threats and dangers. What initially seems to be a simple assignment can soon spiral out of control as fires spread and endanger more lives. Control-wise, the UI is a bog standard RTS clone, and the control as familiar as any other of the genre. Truthfully though, you won't have time to notice any cosmetics in the game, as you'll increasingly find yourself having to multi-task to get the job done, all the while reacting to any new dangers popping up. The non-static nature of fires ensures that you can't just sit back and plan in detail what you want to do.

Monte Cristo have clearly gone to a lot of effort to produce natural and realistic fire dynamics. The system was apparently developed in conjunction with actual fire fighters, and the game uses a very sophisticated fire model to faithfully recreate the behaviour of fire. Once an object has ignited, the spread and intensity of the flames are determined by many factors - wind can change the direction of a fire, increasing its intensity and spread, while landscape can increase or hamper a fire. Smoke is also an enemy. Moving much quicker than the fire, it often is the first indication of a much greater threat. Noxious fumes can suppress the oxygen levels, incapacitating people without breathing apparatus. In certain circumstances, fire can be almost totally extinguished within a room which has no smoke outlet, yet a substantial intake of air into the room will re-ignite the fire, literally exploding it outwards - "back draft." Since most of us aren't fire fighters we'll never know how accurate all this is, but it certainly plays well and offers some chaotic moments.

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Yet the chaotic nature of such a game is incredibly frustrating. Levels look good, often well detailed environments with character to them - one level even takes place in a fireworks factory, with fireworks going off as the fire spreads. And while the graphics won't win any awards, but they're certainly good enough for this type of game. As with the UI though, there simply isn't time to appreciate anything. From the moment you start a mission, you're constantly guided from objective to objective and asked to perform a multitude of tasks. Click on a fan to suck out smoke, rescue a civilian, smash a window, the list goes on. Only when the mission is over do you have time to breathe, before being thrown out of the frying pan and into the literal fire of the next level.

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And then the nightmare of mission failures. It's at this point I'll mention a nasty little bug that hindered my game-play: the game would only install to French language. My French is passable and an English voiceover made the game playable, but I still couldn't understand the fine-print of my mission objectives. From what I could gather however, every time one civilian died, the mission would fail. In such a hectic game, mistakes are going to be made. If those mistakes lead to someone dieing, the mission immediately ends and you have to start over. This is a real pain. Completing a mission started to feel more like an exam than a game. Bear in mind these levels are relatively linear in nature. Though you have the freedom to move your units around the map, there is generally only one way to do a mission successfully. Thus once you've found out where your men should be, and at what time, a mission failure means an often boring replay to the point you failed at last time. In truth the game plays more like a puzzler than a RTS.

The missions are linked by a story, but as I mentioned before, the French-only install hindered much understanding of the plot. The missions however are varied, and there is a extensive (and realistic) list of unit types available, when you do get to use them. Your units are assigned to you by a mission basis, predetermined - there's no base building or planning which units you want.

The game ships with a multiplayer, and all the campaign missions can be played co-operatively. This relieves some of the tension and stress of the single-player, but truth be told, you'd have to be two seriously dedicated fire fighting fans to play through this way. Once a mission is known and completed, repeated attempts just feel like you're going through the motions, all the intensity is lost.


I really wanted to like this game. I even overlooked the horrendous French-only install in my score, as the game was just about playable without English text. Fire fighting has so many opportunities for amazing gaming, but sadly this game just falls short. Whilst it is genuinely satisfying when you're on top of a fire, multi-tasking teams and smashing windows to avoid back-drafts, the game ends up being all too frustrating. The puzzle-like nature of the game doesn't lend well to repeat plays of the game, and numerous little annoyances like a poorly voiced (and often synced) voice-overs serve to push the gamer away rather than draw them in. It must be noted however, that this is a budget priced game; so if you can live with the game mechanics, and are interested by an intense fire fighting sim, Fire Department 3 might be worth a look.

The bottom line
5.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Chaotic and intense missions
  • Realistic smoke and fire dynamics
  • Non-violent for those who like their games that way
  • Budget price

Not so good stuff

  • Frustrating game mechanics
  • Little replay value
  • Numerous little bugs