This classic GameCola article was originally posted in February, 2008.
It seems that most boys want to be policeman when they grew up. Maybe even astronaut. Me? I wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I was a highly imaginative child. However, there are those out there who wanted to fight fire with fire, or in the case of Human Entertainment’s The Firemen, with water.
The Firemen is a game that follows the exploits of Pete, who you control, and your AI-controlled partner Danny, who are tackling a blazing skyscraper on Christmas Eve. You go plodding away through four stages that represent different floors of the building, tackling fire after fire while trying to save injured party revelers who’ve been caught in the inferno.
For me, when I first played this game, I was in my early teens and, at the time, it seemed like nothing I’d ever played before. An arcade-style shooter that uses a fireman instead of your usual spaceship/commando? It was new, that was for sure, and the viewpoint reminded me a lot of Zombies Ate My Neighbors, which can never be a bad thing.
The Firemen is a game for the shoot-’em-up fans out there who are hankering for something a little different. The control scheme is very simple: B provides you with a messy burst of water just in front of you that’s great for dealing with the low-lying fires. The Y button gives you the good ol’ fashioned hard burst of water, which shoots right across the screen to deal with stronger fires. The X button throws out a water grenade, which extinguishes a huge area of fire, while A allows you to crouch. L and R act as strafing buttons, which allow you to keep facing the same direction no matter what way you move your character.
It sounds very ancient, but it’s in its simplicity that The Firemen really shines through. You forget about how easy it is to play because there always seems to be so much happening. Windows smash through, trees topple over, you’ll get backdraft from doors you open—the game is constantly tense, and the feeling never leaves you until after you’ve defeated a boss and get a breather.
Yes, I did mention a boss. Each stage in the game has its own end-of-level boss, whether it be a machine that’s gone out of control, or a fire that seems to have a mind of its own, right down to the very end area where…well, that’d be giving it away. But the last “boss” is very original and keeps things fresh when you least expect it.
The graphics are very detailed and colorful, and the only fault I have is that when climbing stairs or going on elevators, you don’t get a proper feeling of ascending or descending. Everything feels like it’s constantly on the same level because of the game’s perspective. But that’s a minor fault. The characters are very individual, the fire becomes a character of its own, and you never feel like you’re seeing the same thing twice in this game. I especially loved the smoky effect you find in every room, which gives the whole situation a more authentic feel.
The game’s sound has its positives and negatives. If you want really repetitive synthesized tracks in a game, this has it. The music only just does the job of helping the feeling of tenseness the game strives for. Otherwise, it is quite poor and forgettable. The sound effects, on the other hand, are outstanding—especially in the later levels, where everything that could go wrong does. The fire sounds fierce, glass smashes and you feel like you’re right there with Pete and Danny, and the water makes a gushing sound that’ll have you thankful for its presence in your battle against the scorching blaze. Everywhere you’ll hear something happening, and you’ll often have an idea of what’s just round the corner.
Of course, it wouldn’t be such a fun game without a story hiding away in there, and it’s a fantastic one at that. You get to really enjoy listening to Pete and Danny’s conversations together, as well as hearing from your teammates on the outside of the building. When you find the injured survivors, it gives you a sense of triumph when you hear how thankful they are for your saving them. It is rare for such an arcadey game to really do a story as well and in-depth as this one does, and as a result, it’s a blast to sit through on your first playthrough. One thing that did confuse me is why, with a skyscraper properly blazing away, are there only four men inside trying to put out the mess? It would have been nice to see other firefighters running around doing random tasks; maybe you could have helped them with whatever they were trying to accomplish for bonus points. Oh yeah, there are no points. Or bonuses to unlock.
Which is why your first play will likely be your last, at least for another five or ten years. The game is so short that you could likely complete it in just under two hours if you know what you’re doing, three if you don’t. Nothing changes after you complete it the first time, and, as there’s only two difficulty levels to beat; there’s not much in the way of an added challenge, either.
But don’t let that deter you. Your first play through this game will be one you won’t forget, and you’ll be wondering why such a classic example of a genre being turned on its head wasn’t recognized more on its release. Yes, it might only be four stages long, and yes, you will likely complete it the EXACT same way if you do play it through a second time; but playing this game is like losing your virginity—you’ll never forget your first time, and boy does it feel good doing it. At least, if you’re doing it right. And, it could get kinda messy. Now would be the time to insert a water-hose related joke in here. Gah.