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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: March 31, 2004
Most upcoming first-person shooters, such as Doom III and Half-Life 2, offer either technological breakthroughs or injections from other genres (story, adventure, puzzle and so on) to distinguish them from earlier offerings. What about the possibility of a retro release that largely returns us the pleasures of the past? GSC Game World, a Ukrainian developer, has answered that question with the release of Firestarter. Like Croteam’s Serious Sam series, this title rejects the notion that first-person shooters must be deep, thought provoking and complex to appeal to today’s audiences.
The story is offbeat but not central to the gameplay. In 2010, a deadly virus attacks a virtual reality machine named Firestarter. The computer malfunctions, and the player’s consciousness becomes trapped inside. You must escape, fighting untold enemy hordes, within 48 hours or face real-world death. This plot could’ve been the basis for introducing considerable innovation if the developers had carried it through in the gameplay; however, as you get involved in the action, you don’t encounter much that reminds you of the backdrop.
Firestarter contains 16 levels of frenzied action, with each broken down into multiple zones. The goal is to survive, kill monsters and collect powerful artifacts. After opening all of the zones and obliterating all of the monsters, other areas become available. You have to watch carefully where you’re going, as in the shadowy environments, you might step off into nothingness and die if you’re not careful. The levels get larger and more complex as you go along. Although there’s not a ton of diversity in the challenges you encounter, the clever map design – including the appropriate placement of adversaries and power-ups – will more than sustain your interest. Firestarter also provides an instant action mode permitting you to play any level you’ve unlocked during the campaign.
You get to choose one of six characters to role-play as during Firestarter. The marine has the best balance of skills; the female agent is strong in speed and acrobatics; the policeman comes with a mix of health, speed and armor; the gunslinger features superior shooting accuracy and quick reactions; the cyborg comes with thick armor; and the mutant possesses massive strength. If you perform well during a level, you’ll be able to acquire an upgrade in one of a variety of skills or in your basic armor, health or speed. These selections have a significant impact on your combat performance and add a small role-playing element to the gameplay.
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