There aren’t a huge number of firefighting games out there. There’s Burning Rangers on the Sega Saturn, which will always have a warm place in our heart, but we couldn’t list off many others: Embr, perhaps, and a few of those German simulation games that always look a bit joyless. There really should be more, though. Hatcheting through a door, leaping through flames and vaulting back with survivors under your arm has an undeniable appeal.
Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX knows what we’re talking about. It feels like it’s spent some time in front of a whiteboard, listing off everything that’s cool about being a firefighter, and then delivered it in a condensed lump. It has all the hatcheting, rescuing and hosing that we’d want, and even throws in some jetpacking for good measure.
What might surprise you is that Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX is a firefighting roguelike. You begin your career as a firefighter within the local station, which has clearly seen better days. There are various empty but cavernous rooms, and the Mayor (confusingly, living on the top floor of the station) lays your future out in front of you. By saving people from towering infernos, you will generate more funding, as well as some volunteers to help your cause, and both can be used to create facilities within the station. Before long, you will have shops, doctors, marketing assistants and tailors for you to spend your hard-earned tax-dollars on.
The loop’s a simple and recognisable one. You are hopping into the fire engine, where you’re scooted to a fire in progress. In the first hour or so of play, this will be a randomly generated ‘building’ – a tenement that’s crumbling down, with a set number of civilians to rescue. Find the required number of civilians and the scenario will be considered complete, so you can make your way out of any of the doors with a flashing green arrow, denoting an exit. In future levels, you move onto forests, trains and the cunningly named Nekatomi Plaza. Once complete, you receive cash that can be spent on upgrades.
The tutorial was a bit of an info-dump and didn’t make a couple of important things clear, so consider this a public service announcement. There is a risk-reward mechanic at play here, and it won’t be particularly clear that there is. Imagine the building as a dungeon floor. All of the survivors you need are on that dungeon floor. If you reach the exit to the dungeon without all of the survivors then you should either go back (sometimes backdrafts make this impossible), or drop down to the next floor of the dungeon; ignoring the exit completely. Be wary, however: if you commit to another floor, it might be some time before you reach the next exit, and the difficulty (and reward) ratchets up as you go. If you have all the survivors, in the majority of cases, you should yeet out of there.
It’s also rather unclear that a mission is considered unsuccessful if you do get out of there without the requisite survivors. You get virtually the same amount of cash for dying versus failing to gather survivors, so it’s imperative that you get them. And a note to the wise – cats and dogs don’t count as survivors. Don’t ask us why.
While there’s an air of confusion over these first moments, thanks to the slightly scatty tutorial, there’s a satisfaction built into the firefighting itself. First of all, Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX looks astounding. It’s got that wonderful splicing of 2D characters with 3D environments that Octopath Traveller had, and the camera swoops and rotates through them with glee. Smashing through doors causes a new room to emerge from the fog-of-war and the camera swings in it to see what’s there. The music, too, has an action-movie dynamism to it, and it sticks in the head.
Controlling the axe and hose feels on-point too. There’s a slow but powerful arc to the axe, giving it some real heft as you cut through doors and piles of wood. Controlling the hose is intuitive as well, as you hold RT to start a stream, locking you into position, and then use the analogue sticks to direct it a little more carefully. Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX has the wisdom to liven up the fires by turning them into fire monsters that need to be washed away with the hose, and there’s a Ghostbuster-like joy to doing so.
We were less convinced by the jetpack, which is given to Firegirl right at the start of the game. In most levels, there are vertical sections of the level – the exterior of the building; mineshafts; vents – that preclude the need for this water-propelled backpack. But it’s a beast to master in the opening sections. If you ever let your arc dip or stop, it’s near impossible to correct. That’s a problem if you donk your head on a ladder or outcrop, and you’re suddenly falling to your death at the bottom of the screen. And it IS a death: unlike the rest of the level, where a fire will knock off health or armour on your character, a fall will mean instant death. When it’s the most common way to die, it becomes something of an irritant.
It becomes less of a problem, almost to the point of disappearing completely, once you upgrade the jetpack back home. Save up enough cash and you can correct your falls. But it highlights one of Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX’s biggest foibles, which is that it’s incredibly unfriendly at the very start. We’ve already mentioned that the tutorial could have done with a shake-up but, more importantly, vital upgrades come too late into Firegirl’s career. It can feel slow and unsatisfying in its opening moments, and death can be far too common. It’s not necessarily difficult, it’s just barbed: you know what you need to do, but the lack of upgrades on your character make Firegirl weak and prone to mistakes.
And it takes far too long for the ball to get rolling. Our first one or two hours with Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX were spent in the first building of the game. Now, they are procedurally generated, so the layout allowed for the occasional surprise, but it made us question whether things would ever make meaningful progress. Were we trapped in this building forever, destined to haunt it for the rest of our lives? We genuinely questioned it. And the randomness of the levels was never quite enough to offer a sense of progression or differentiation.
But get over this significant hump, and Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX has a lot in its tank. There’s a narrative spark in Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX, and occasionally it blazes to create something interesting. You are the daughter of a firefighting hero, killed in an accident that has a lot of questions surrounding it. And there’s a hint of the supernatural. We’d have taken more of it, but Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX has a habit of wheeling out some changes to the formula and some story moments that liven things up.
And there’s always the roguelike hook. Once you have begun to outfit the station, and the funding per job starts reaching sky-high proportions, then things get rather more-ish. There’s always an axe, funding level or water-tank boost to aim for, and the tug of ‘one-more-go’ starts yanking at your sleeve. Progression unlocks new levels to add to the rotation, and they are wholly transformative. Dipping into a forest level, as opposed to a train or building level, is a vastly different experience.
Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX is one of those games that we would recommend with a warning. This is a firefighting roguelike that is intensely unsatisfying in its first moments, as the lack of upgrades make things weak and sluggish, while it feels like forever before you unlock the second or third levels. But once the water gets flowing and there is a steady stream of unlocks as you douse building after building, Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX starts to catch fire.
You can buy Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX from the Xbox Store