Games do well at simulating fantasies, whether that be a warrior fighting monsters or a pilot shooting down enemy ships, entire genres have formed around those desires. But when you were a small boy or girl and were asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, chances are that at one point you said “A Doctor” or “A Fireman”. Now while medical simulation games do exist, but fire-fighting simulators are few and far between. In fact, the only AAA fire-fighting simulator was Burning Rangers on the Sega Saturn. When the idea for Flame Over was initially pitched as a “fire-fighting rogue-like”, I was intrigued. Sadly though this appeal fizzles out as the game progresses.
A fire has broken out at Infernal Industries and for some reason you are the only fireman on patrol! Equipped a hose and an extinguisher, it’s your job to rescue the survivors and put out the blaze. Sounds great on paper, but the game is a bit of a mess. Visual style is not horrid by any means, but the camera is fiddly and the decor is oddly patriotic with tons of Union Jacks in one level layout. Character models are odd looking with rigid animations that feel basic. But the worst offender is the music, which all seems to be slight variations on one bebop jazz theme that gets tired very quickly. An entire soundtrack based on bebop jazz would have been wonderful, so to use the same general theme was a waste of potential.
Next thing that will most likely happen is that you’ll die very quickly. In fact, unless you’ve been paying attention to the loading screen tips, you’ll probably die a few times before you figure out how damage works. This is by far Flame Over‘s biggest problem. Most popular “rogue-lites” either are simple to grasp immediately or provide a tutorial level to explain some of the basic mechanics to get you up to speed. Flame Over does neither of these things, instead opting to throw you into the fire.
Damage is displayed in hearts, which deplete after a circular icon in the middle of the screen reaches full. This is, in fact, how long you can withstand the fire before you need to back off. But this is far from the only fact that the game doesn’t tell you about immediately. You may notice that electrical items smoke after the fire is put out. What the game neglects to tell you is that there are power generators that upon activation will prevent electrical appliances from sparking up, making the game far harder than it needed to be. When you die, money is only carried over until it is spent or the new game has started, but the game neglects to tell you that tokens are preserved. If you had no idea what any of these things did, Flame Over would be unplayable.
What it does opt to tell you, however, is how you need to refill your supplies and how to rescue those caught in the fire. You can either go back to the start point or use supplies on the way to replenish your kit, and survivors need leading back to the start point to be rescued. People give you more time on top of your five minute time limit. Cats, which I have no idea how they got stuck in a place of work that is definitely not safe for animals, grant more hearts. There are also water bombs and extra time hidden throughout the pseudo-randomly generated levels too.
For every even numbered floor, there will be a shop to buy supplies from cash generated when putting out fires. On odd numbered floors however an NPC called Miss Ion will require rescuing though she won’t leave until you complete a mission on that floor. This can be anything from posting all the secret files in an oddly present English red post box, to raiding a safe for a certain number of valuables before leaving. Surprisingly, this is the most varied the game ever gets and it’s a welcome diversion provided you have the time.
Running out of time doesn’t mean game over. It merely means that Death has come to claim you unless you rescue a survivor or find more time. However, the biggest problem you’ll face will be the fireballs that spit from fires. They’re far too frequent and I’m pretty convinced that normal fires don’t spread like that. As a result, larger rooms are hard work to control, requiring some frankly unnecessary wasted time putting the fire out. Gameplay rarely deviates from putting out fires and saving survivors, despite new “hazards” appearing in each of the four areas. With four floors to each area, the game is thankfully short, but having to figure out core mechanics is tedious.
Flame Over represents the result of an over-saturation of a sub-genre. Variety is nice and the Miss Ion tasks are a great change of pace, but the bulk of the game is a monotonous slug through fiery corridors and rooms putting out fires and rescuing survivors. It would certainly have made a better first impression if Flame Over didn’t have a maddening soundtrack or bothered to explain its mechanics properly, but in the end it’s an ember slowly but surely fading.