Making a good firefighting game seems to be exceptionally tricky. So many have tried, very few have made it. I had such high hopes for Firegirl: Hack N Splash Rescue and whilst it might get there in time, its launch was quite painful to watch. It is a game that needed some wider play testing to smooth out some quirks with the game. Whilst Firegirl has improved quite a bit in the few weeks since launch, it is a game that could have saved face with an early access period or just a slight delay.
Firegirl has you playing as the titular character moving through procedurally generated levels fighting fire and rescuing the public and their pets. There are a few different environments but you’ll mostly spend your time in burning buildings, especially in the first few hours. A fire demon has been awakened and you need to collect tomes to trap the demon again and these will pop up at certain points in the story as you play.
Firegirl starts off with a very weak jump, a weak firehose, barely any health and is the worst she’ll ever be as a rookie as this game is a roguelike. You will die a lot but dying, or surviving (and rescuing the public) gives you money that you can spend on fire house upgrades. This improves your hose reach, water supply, health points, hospital bills and power ups. All this means you can do further into fires to search for more people with potentially more chance of surviving. All of this is based around if you can keep enough water to make it through the levels as water is in short supply. You can’t often jump the fire and you don’t want to put it all out – it’s about forging a path forward being as lean with your water as possible. It takes getting used to – especially as each level has a clock countdown to the building, train or forest collapse. Putting out fires adds time back on again but not always as much as a takes to put it out which feels oddly imbalanced and highly pressurising.
Firegirl’s movements take a bit of getting used to. Her jump is awful but is tied to using the water hose (right analogue stick) so that when you jump and use the hose, the water blasts you up like a boost. Sounds great in theory but the mechanics behind it feel very imprecise as its heavily momentum and water pressure based. This means you have to stop, allow pressure to build, jump and hit the hose at the right time. Often level design doesn’t allow for this to happen and if you took all that time, you’d lose valuable seconds on the clock. This doesn’t get much better or more consistent with upgrades either and is a large portion of my frustration with the game. Levels are designed around this mechanic and when it works, it feels great. It just works about half the time. Then of course, you run out of water trying it over and over and then you can’t blast high at all – often meaning game over. It’s a weird vicious circle of punishment for game design that doesn’t feel like your fault.
Levels often place these jumps into pits of fire you can’t see or walls of flame bursting through doors that surge forward before you can get out the way too. Sometimes exits are offered before you get to rescue anyone and the the exits are all blocked by the time you do rescue someone – leaving you stuck. The generation of levels has improved in the first two weeks of launch though which has seen the amount of unwinnable levels reduce. One other improvement is the reduction of flashy death animations of fire, taking way longer than the second you gain from putting it out, thus rendering firefighting actually pointless. The animations for hacking open doors are still long though.
Seeing your firehouse upgrade and update as you recruit new volunteers and get new equipment is nice though. The water and hose upgrades do make the game much more enjoyable when you’ve spent a few upgrades on them and then Firegirl starts to hang together much better. It is just the first few hours are a real slog. The amount of game breaking bugs, broken levels, imprecise controls you wrestle with alongside a punishing gameplay loop make you wonder if its worth it. Thankfully, the developers seem to be open and listening. In the first few weeks, the game has noticeably taken a few steps forward – addressing bugs and making it more balanced. Time will tell if this game can be rescued itself but in the meantime, I’ll keep returning back periodically to see if the experience is less frustrating over time. Firegirl Hack N Splash Rescue has the potential to be amazing – it just isn’t there yet.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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