Firefighting Simulator: The Squad PS4 Review Firefighting is a noble profession. In-between the long periods of crushing tedium sat around playing tiddlywinks and soggy biscuit, there are high octane missions to extinguish perilous fires and rescue cats from trees. The firefighters are up against burning houses filled with toxic smoke, industrial units where explosive materials may be bubbling ready to go off, and forests ablaze after a careless smoker has failed to extinguish his Embassy No.1 in the dry brush. Danger lurks around every corner for the firefighter and this new console release from German simulator specialist Astragon Entertainment aims to give the great unwashed a taste of charred plasterboard splashed with scorching testosterone.
Firefighting Simulator: The Squad Review (PS4)
While there have been quite a few firefighting games in the past or varying quality, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad has multiplayer teamwork as its USP. Up to four players can team up online to work together on each mission, and any rogue players can be booted off by the team leader who chooses each mission. Otherwise, solo players can use the relatively simple shortcuts to assign roles on the fly to the AI team members who then get to work on your behalf. More on both of these mechanics later.
On loading the game, it’s straight into the hot furnace with an instant mission to put out a fire in a bungalow after rescuing the occupants who must be carried to the ambulance waiting outside. It’s a nice low-stakes start to the game and it quickly shows off most of the key features and controls which you’ll need to perfect as you progress in the main game. Once you’ve finished the mission, you’re presented with a map of the city and a smattering of possible missions to take on. It’s advisable to work through all of the training levels before attempting to start your firefighting career, as there are a few niggly controls which you’ll need to be familiar with. The training levels can be slightly tedious and long-winded but at least you’ll know how to use the fire engines with the extendable ladders and baskets when you need to extinguish roof fires.
Hot In The City
So with the training out of the way, you’re free to start choosing jobs from the map. There’s no story or cutscenes and one can assume that the fires don’t start until you click on them which tends to remove one of the key elements of firefighting – urgency. It would have been nice to see fires appear at the same time which then need prioritising, but perhaps we’ll have to wait for Fire Control Centre Simulator for that. Anyway, hovering on a fire symbol shows you some basic details of the type of fire and how many points you are awarded for completing the mission. These points go towards levelling up your firefighter and unlocking new mission types and fire engines which can be deployed to make the best of their special features.
The AI firefighters are lined up and ready to go prior to the start of a mission, but despite being given names, they’re blank slates which aren’t given any key skills or features which is a missed opportunity to add a bit of character and depth to the team element in single player. They don’t level up either so utilising them for particular jobs makes no difference and any potential for progression is absent.
Once the mission loads up, you have to drive your engine to the scene of the blaze, often with another fire engine leading the way. The driving response is pretty good and the engines feel pretty weighty, with negligible acceleration but a genuine sense of speed even at 55mph. Crashing just instantly resets your engine and you have to crawl back up to speed so you’re not likely to score well on the response time at the end of the mission, so it’s best to turn on your lights, sirens and horn in order to arrive as quickly as possible.
Burning Down The House
Once you get to the fire scene, one of the other firefighters will have done a ‘360’ or recce in order for you to know of any dangerous materials, types of fire which require a CO2 extinguisher instead of water and of course any people who need rescuing from the scene. Your team will generally hook the fire engine up to the hydrant outside, but they often fail to connect the ‘attack’ hose so you’ll need to sort that out and give it to them in order for them to get stuck in with the hose. You’ll also need to direct them to unlock any doors / break down walls / smash windows to save you running back and forth to the fire engine looking for tools. You’ll also need to direct them to pick up any occupants of the building who are lying prostate on the ground unless you want to try and do everything yourself.
If you haven’t already guessed, your three AI companions are gormless idiots who happily stand around in the road looking towards the burning building unless you specifically tell them to do something. Even when you give them a hose and direct them to the fire, they seem unable to extinguish anything and you’ll end up grabbing the hose off them and doing it yourself once you’ve turned off the fuse box, evacuated any people and used the fire extinguisher (which they are unable to use). This total lack on gumption from your ‘squad’ is ironic considering the title’s USP but perhaps that’s just the price you pay for not playing online as is intended.
Having said that, the apparent lack of urgency on each mission means you’re free to potter around and complete all the objectives in your own time regardless of whether your buddies can be arsed to join in. Utilising them to open doors, carry survivors out and perform any other menial tasks means you’re free to put out the fires yourself which is actually quite satisfying in the same way as clearing a huge pile of washing up, providing it doesn’t drag on for over twenty minutes which it often can when a CO2 extinguisher is needed or you can’t find the fuse box.
We Didn’t Start The Fire
Aiming the hose at the fire displays small flame icons which direct you to the right spot and these disappear once you’ve focused the water there for long enough. The fires tend to be clustered in chunks so you’ll need to put out a selection of blazes methodically from the bottom up in order to move on, otherwise the area reignites and you’ll be stuck pouring water in the same area for a long time. There’s a distinct lack of realism in the fact that the fires don’t tend to get appreciably worse is they’re left unattended and the whole shebang never completely burns down if you join your mates outside to ogle the blaze. Likewise, anyone left inside will happily lie there inhaling carbon monoxide until you find them and drag them out. It’s probably a good job in single player, as you’ll fail every mission without the teamwork needed in real life.
Your firefighter is susceptible to burns though, and will yell out when you’re too close to the fire and the mission is over should you lose all of your health. The same doesn’t go for your team, who are programmed to keep out of harms way, although the few times I saw them standing in the midst of an inferno hosing down a different part of the room clearly demonstrated their flame-retardant Teflon powers.
Once your mission is over, you’re awarded bonus points for speed and then you’re whisked back to the map to choose the next fire to tackle. There are a nice variety of missions of increasing complexity, ranging from burning hot dogs stands, trees ablaze, sheds on fire, bungalows going bang and as you progress, highly flammable industrial units, building with multiple floors and a cat stuck up a particularly tall shrub. The map looks pretty small but once you’re out on the road, you sometimes have to drive for quite a while before you see the smoke in the sky up ahead. Fortunately you don’t have to repeat each driving section if you need to restart the mission should your firefighter get barbecued while fumbling around in the dark.
The graphics aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re perfectly adequate and never detract from the experience. The sound effects excel in immersing you while you’re driving or inside the building and the voice acting from the AI squad is good enough to give them an element of character, even if you’re thinking how comically useless they are at the same time.
Despite the palpably useless AI and the ludicrous lack of urgency, the single player game is addictive and satisfying and most missions enable you to complete the objectives in a reasonable time before tedium can set it in. The key to the game’s enjoyment is the ability to inhabit a firefighter’s persona, get busy with the toy box of gadgets and the satisfaction of putting out fires resulting in the sense of a job well done. No doubt until the AI is sufficiently patched, the real joy is collaborating with three other real people to complete the missions, with each of you taking on a role which suits your own skills and communicating to each other as you divvy up the tasks which need prioritising.
Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is available now on PS4 / PS5
Review copy kindly supplied by Astragon Entertainment