Real Heroes: Firefighter HD is a game that should not be good. It is a first-person shooter based around fighting fires instead of gunning down hordes of communists, it has a title that makes it sound like a German simulator game, and my 7-year-old nephew didn’t like it when I made him have a go.
So why is it that I almost completed the game in one marathon session the first time I played it and haven’t stopped raving about it since? Can Real Heroes: Firefighter HD live up to the good name of the real-life heroes it portrays, spit in the face of danger and turn out to be an actually decent game? Or will it be relegated to the dingy back room of the Xbox Store, where you’ll have to avoid suspicious looking men in long coats browsing copies of Road Maintenance Simulator to find it second-hand for 99p in a bargain bin? Do bargain bins even exist anymore? Read on for answers to most of these questions.
If you weren’t already aware, the HD part of Real Heroes: Firefighter HD’s title may have clued you in that this is a remaster of an older game. Launching on the Wii in 2012 as one of the console’s few first-person shooters, Real Heroes: Firefighter bears a few hallmarks of its original console; the shovelware-y sounding name, the family-friendly approach to first-person shooting, and the fact that it becomes apparent early in the tutorial that the game was intended for motion controls.
Absolutely none of this gets in the way of the fun, though, as from minute one you are sent into a fire training building with an axe and an extinguisher and shown the ropes. You’ll be doing everything you’d expect a firefighter to do, from chopping down doors and carrying unconscious people to safety, to prying car doors off with a hydraulic-spreader and, of course, putting out numerous fires.
Every single facet of the firefighting experience is fully interactive; using the hydraulic spreader for example requires the player to position the tool, open the jaws to pry the door open a bit, close them, reposition the tool and repeat until the job is done. Far from being tedious or annoying, every unique gameplay element is intuitive and well-done, turning manual labour into joy, rather than a chore. The fact that your character’s actions are accompanied by some deeply satisfying sound effects helps the process along, and thanks to a decent level of realism, by the time the training mission is complete you’ll probably be feeling pretty confident that you’ll fly your workplace’s mandatory fire safety training next time it needs renewing.
Real Heroes: Firefighter HD feels a little bit like watching that part in Friday the 13th Part 3 where the guy is yo-yoing at the camera to show off the 3D effects, to the amazement of cinemagoers everywhere. You can tell the game was intended to be played with motion controls – everything about it feels like it was designed that way – but despite losing a bit of interactivity from being played with a normal controller, it controls just fine and is still a blast to play.
The game plays like any other FPS, really, you aim with the right stick and fire with the right trigger, your pistol is a fire extinguisher and your assault rifle a hose, there are even on-rails turret sections (am I the only person that loves these?); the difference here is that the enemies are fires and pieces of fallen timber, rather than demons or North Koreans. It is quite refreshing to play something this wholesome; with all of the doom and gloom around lately, there’s a charm to playing a video game that involves doing good deeds instead of stealing cars and committing casual genocide.
The fire physics will undoubtedly not amaze anybody who has played Far Cry 2 or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the last ten years, but it’s still nice to have a dynamic enemy that can spread quickly around the level, blocking off escape routes and potentially killing you if you take your eye off it for too long. It keeps you on your toes and can provide a real challenge when the game takes your hose away and leaves you with a piddly extinguisher.
There is absolutely no shame in being compared to simulator games – they have become something of an art form, as anybody who has spent a few hours playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 can tell you. There’s great pleasure to be found in coming home from work and pretending to do someone else’s job for a few hours. I can’t explain it, but the various Farming Simulator games I’ve managed to complete the entire, rather grindy achievement lists for, speak for themselves.
That said, Real Heroes: Firefighter HD really should not be compared to them. The title and the box art don’t do nearly enough to sell this game, as once you’re out of the tutorial mission and into the game proper, what begins as a fairly standard Fireman Sim (clever pun count: 1) quickly shows itself to be a product of its time. This is a game from when it wasn’t unusual to have dragons in a semi-realistic firefighting game, or to be expected to stop what you’re doing mid-emergency to rescue a cage full of chinchillas, or a bunch of film reels. The game provides some serious firefighting action, but with a dose of levity that it might have died without.
It has just the right amount of variety, too; every time you feel like you’re getting a little bit bored with spraying fires with your hose, the developers throw a new tool or a new challenge at you, there’s collectibles to be found that reveal the cause of each fire, and for better or worse, Real Heroes: Firefighter HD is quite short. It is definitely a game that could have outstayed its welcome, so I would class this as a plus, however there’s not a lot to revisit the game for once it’s done, besides finishing up the collectibles or completing it again on a harder difficulty.
Real Heroes: Firefighter HD is certainly a product of its time. The cel-shaded graphics, combined with the resolution bump of this HD remaster, certainly help to keep it looking more timeless than other games of its era, and a cast of voice actors from TV shows like The Shield and Buffy the Vampire Slayer do a great job of keeping things entertaining. However, the fire and water effects (arguably two of the more important aspects of the game’s visuals) look unimpressive by today’s standards, highlighting the fact that beyond a resolution and framerate increase, not a lot has been done to make this remaster feel like a game released in 2022.
Real Heroes: Firefighter HD will not appeal to everyone, but it’s unique and actually quite bold in its vision, managing to make a highly engaging and enjoyable game out of a concept that could have been a complete dud.
If you want to simplify this whole review down into one sentence I’d say it’s not quite as good as Burning Rangers but better than Rosco McQueen.
Dance into the fire!
Real Heroes: Firefighter HD is downloadable from the Xbox Store