For me, the handheld world of the PlayStation Vita is the perfect platform for smaller developers to turn simple concepts into amazingly addictive games that you keep going back to for more. Laughing Jackals’s Flame Over does just that.
Firefighting, it’s a noble and rewarding profession and yet unlike other similar career paths, such as law enforcement, it’s never really been the go-to topic for a video game. It’s a hard sell given the fun-factor associated with playing a cop or military officer and that is why it’s only on very rare occasions that gamers get to chance to be a hero with a hose instead of a firearm.
Luckily Laughing Jackal have decided to right a few wrongs in that department and prove that firefighting can give you that same instant gratification that we as gamers desperately need.
Put in to the shoes of firefighting hero Blaze Carruthers, and his epic moustache, you single-handedly respond to an emergency at the towers of Inferal Industries where you will need to tackle the inferno, rescue all of the people trapped inside and save the many cats that the company seem to have.
Flame Over focuses on a simple concept, putting out fires and rescuing people and pets. Easy right? Wrong! This is by far one of the hardest games you may ever endure and it’s because of this that many have dubbed it something of a marmite game, you either love it or you hate it, there is no middle ground here.
I find myself in the former group, I love a challenge, a game that can equally frustrate me but keep me coming back for more is my idea of the perfect game and Flame Over finds a good balance I feel. But what makes this simple concept such a monumental struggle at times?
Firstly, there is no opportunity to really get to grips with this game, the difficulty isn’t progressive in the sense that the levels start off easy and become more of a challenge down the line. In Flame Over you are quite literally thrown into the oven and that can be a bit startling to first time players, it’s hard to get to grips with a game when it takes you a hundred tries to get through the first level. The trial and error approach isn’t going to help very much either given that the levels are randomly generated. The dynamic layout means that even with a good memory and a few practice goes this isn’t going to get much easier for you.
Flipping the coin for a second though, this level creation does provide the game with an enormous amount of replayability, if no two levels are the same then no two experiences are equal meaning that if like me you take a shine to this game then you’ll find it very difficult to bore of.
One of the key things that can make or break a game on Sony’s handheld is the controls, many games fail because they try too hard to integrate the touch screen functionality when it isn’t needed, others fail simply because of the button layout. Flame Over’s controls are great, once you’ve worked out what they are.
Adding to the level of difficulty is the fact that the game doesn’t really help out here, you do need to use your gray matter a little to fully comprehend the controls and eventually master them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it depends on the type of player you are. If you’re looking for a game to jump straight into and master in minutes then you’re probably going to need to look elsewhere.
The overall goal of Flame Over is to make it through sixteen stages, all dynamically created through multiple environment templates, including office areas, laboratories and even a factory. Through each level your main aim is to put out the fires engulfing the area, save the civilians and more than anything survive (sounds easier than it is). To add to your woes, you are given a time limit with extra time earned through following the simple goals and leading the endangered to safety. If the clock runs out, the Grim Reaper will appear and chase you around the stage. I’m sure you can easily guess what the outcome of Death catching you will be.
To make things a little easier along the way there is an upgrade system which allows you to improve your equipment and ultimately reach the doomed faster. Through power-ups, upgrade tokens and coins, this will make life a little easier through on the journey. This isn’t without it’s flaws though, the system is somewhat divided and overcomplicated in places. There are two types of upgrade, those for your current run which are lost the moment you die and those that are permanent in-game and so will be accessible in later playthroughs. The trick is to find a balance between what to focus on, the immediate advantages may be overruled by the long-term benefits of the permanent upgrades.
Visually Flame Over is very pleasing on the eye. The animation is smooth and colourful, helping to draw you into the game and cartoon-style graphics really add to the overall enjoyment. The attention to detail with regards to the fire, let’s face it the villain of the piece, is impressive in the way the flickering flames engulf the stunning environments.
Sadly the same cannot be said about the audio. Yes, the sound effects are impressive and suitably compliment the well-rendered levels but the musical soundtrack is a tad dull. Despite multiple unique settings, the music never really differs from level to level and we’re left with something repetitive and occasionally annoying. That said, this doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way and thanks to the stunning visuals you quickly ignore this minor fault.
Overall Flame Over is one of those games that is really going to divide opinion. If you love a challenge and enjoy a game that requires a little bit of brain work and patience then you need this game in your life. If however you like a game that you can jump straight into and master in minutes then you’re probably not going to get the same level of enjoyment out this firefighting roguelike.
If like me you are in the former group then you will really appreciate this game, it’s not without it’s flaws but these are easily forgiven when you take the time to master the game.
Laughing Jackal have done a fantastic job in delivering a concept that has so much potential to be dull. Overcoming this, they have created a fun, highly addictive game that will no doubt find you loving it and cursing it in equal measures.
Download now from the PlayStation Store, Flame Over is currently available on the Vita as a digital purchase for £7.99 / €9.99 / $9.99.