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Graphics: Bright, colorful, and cheery, the SVGA graphics of Emergency: Fighters for Life bring the game world to life rather vividly. On the the surface, they resemble those of Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital in their cutesy, comical nature. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a remarkable level of detail: The doors of the fire truck open and close when the firemen enter and exit the vehicle; cars zooms down busy city streets; flames aggressively consume houses and other buildings; and each mission just seems full of life.
On the downside, the graphics sometimes appear too cutesy, and almost contradictory to the game’s serious nature. Some poor guy could be burning to death in a raging inferno, and you couldn’t help but smile as the cute little ambulance pulls up, the little doctor gets out, and shuffles innocently over to the patient to stabilize his condition. Most unnerving is the fact that this colorful little “Matchbox” world is home to some truly grisly accidents. Injured people lay bleeding and dying on the sidewalk; cars careen out of control and explode with fiery fury; and everybody seems vulnerable to the ravages of nature, arsonists, or cold-blooded terrorists. Hey, I’m a big boy, and I’m one of those people who likes more realism in his games; it’s just that the game world of Emergency: Fighters for Life seems a bit inconsistent with all the gore and trauma.
On a gameplay level, I often found that as much as I appreciated all the detail, there was just too much going on all at once. On the later missions, where the player has to keep track of several units and potential situations, the screen is just crowded with people, vehicles, buildings, and everything else. This lends itself to a couple of annoyances. The first is a case of lag that seems to creep in at the worst possible moments — when you’re scrambling to get your units in place and need to be both quick and precise. The second is the size of people in the game; everyone is just tiny, and in the thick of things it becomes nearly impossible to locate key personnel, or tell two units apart.
Overall, the graphics do a nice job of bringing the game’s dangerous world to life, and grow on you after awhile.
Interface: Emergency: Fighters for Life installed without any problems, and it’s simple enough to access the game’s options and menus.
Within each mission, the game uses your standard real-time strategy interface: You click on a unit to select it, click again to its destination, and away it goes. Multiple units can be group selected using the familiar “drag box” feature, and the “Tab” key can be used to cycle through all the vehicles on-screen.
Most of the time the interface is functional, but I’d hesitate to call it good, as there are some inherent problems. Because of the overcrowding problem, mentioned above, it’s very difficult to select certain units when they’re in the middle of a thick crowd. And forget trying to use the policeman to corral a certain group of onlookers: No matter how precise you think you are with the drag box, chances are you’ll also grab other units, even vehicles, and have to try a couple of times before you get it right. This can become a real pain in the neck, particularly if you need to clear a crowd away in a hurry…maybe to lay down that crash victim who’s clinging to life by a thread. I’ve also become spoiled by Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and the ability to zoom in the map…something not available in Emergency: Fighters for Life.
My biggest gripe with the game’s interface is the lack of any kind of mini-map, which can be used to jump to specific parts of the mission area. True, some missions do include a unique piece of equipment, like the radar for the mountain rescue, but that doesn’t completely eleviate the problem. On just about every mission, you’ll find yourself manually panning the screen to get from one part of the map to the other. For example, on the race track mission, it becomes necessary to pan around the map looking for objects that need to be cleared from the road. Sure, you’re under a time limit, and the search is supposed to be time-consuming, but that doesn’t make it fun.
Gameplay: Emergency: Fighters for Life’s greatest strength is its amazing variety of missions. Just as the game offers a vast array of life-saving units, it also includes every imaginable opportunity to use them. From that simple first mission of attending to a car crash, you never quite know what’s going to happen next, and this sense of surprise really adds to the gameplay. As you progress through the game, your life-saving forces will be called upon to find an arsonist and arrest him before he sets fire to an entire city; quell civil unrest when a peaceful protest escalates into a full-scale riot; and even deal with a devastating Chernobyl-like explosion at a nuclear power plant. Every mission is unique, and forces the player to think strategically. Could you have saved some money by using just one fire truck instead of two? Should you stabilize that fire before trying to rescue the building’s occupants? I particularly liked the game’s focus not only on dealing with emergencies after they happen, but in preventing them as well; on the race track mission, the player must clear the track of any obstacles and pedestrians before the race even starts, to prevent any accidents.
The one complaint I have with Emergency: Fighters for Life’s gameplay is the lack of any kind of multiplayer ability. The later missions, when the player must coordinate massive rescue efforts, could really benefit from a cooperative component.
Sound FX: The sound effects are definitely the best part of the game, as expressed by this little anecdote. I was sitting here playing Emergency: Fighters for Life, and my wife was sitting behind me, talking on the phone. Every so often, she sort of poked her head up and looked around. Finally, she put the phone down and asked, “What is that? What’s going on?” She thought the sirens of my on-screen vehicles — the sirens in the game — were coming from outside.
Beyond those really convincing sirens, the game offers a full range of other sound effects. There’s digitized speech for all of your units, radio chatter that gives you such useful messages as “Unit on the scene!”, and moans and screams for all of the injured. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of ambient sounds in the different environments, but this omission doesn’t really take anything away from the game.
Musical Score: There is no music in Emergency: Fighters for Life, so this criteria is not open for evaluation.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The difficulty level of Emergency: Fighters for Life isn’t configurable, but really does vary from mission to mission. Most of the time, the player will be successful if he or she acts quickly, chooses the correct units, and thinks strategically. If you get really stuck, mission-specific hints can be accessed from the options mention, and really help lead you in the right direction. Overall, I thought the game provided a good challenge without being so difficult that I had to play missions several times in order to get them right.
Unfortunately, I found the intelligence of computer-controlled units to be pretty weak. The pathfinding is particularly bad, and vehicles will often take roundabout routes to get somewhere — even just a few feet away — instead of taking the direct approach. And when I accidentally landed my rescue chopper on the middle of a four-lane highway, I thought the computer should have known better than to let me do it.
Overall: Although I really hate to makes such simple classifications, Emergency: Fighters for Life really is a book you can judge by its cover. It looks like a cute little strategy game, and that’s exactly what it is. While hardcore real-time strategy gamers might dismiss this game and go back to Total Annihilation or Dark Reign, I think they’d be making a mistake. I’ve found myself really getting into Emergency: Fighters for Life for one simple, basic reason — it’s fun. And it’s nice to be able to save lives for a chance, instead of killing everything in sight. Quite a concept, huh?
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