Fire. What an absolute git. It burns everything, kills things, wrecks stuff and generally acts like a bit of an unruly prat. So, while it’s refreshing then that Flame Over has the belligerent blaze front and centre as its primary antagonist, it’s perhaps more commendable that developer Laughing Jackal has crafted an absolutely belting roguelike game around it too.
Like many of the best roguelike affairs, Flame Over invites players to embrace a simple concept before expanding those possibilities outward. Predictably with a brilliant name like Flame Over the objective is as you might guess, to put out all the fires in each room before scampering off to the exit and doing it all over again. Viewed from a slanted, top-down perspective with a rotating camera, Flame Over sticks players in the stocky boots of fireman Blaze Carruthers (of course he’d be called that), as they struggle to contain the fires which are wreaking havoc through the buildings belonging to the ironically named Infernal Industries.
Where those previously mentioned expanded possibilities come into play is in the extra stuff that you have to concern yourself with whilst you’re cutting about the place trying to do the whole heroic fireman shtick. The first thing that you have to mindful of is the fact that not all fires are created equal and as such must be dealt with differently. Normal fires can be doused normally with your trusty fire hose, while electrical fires (denoted by their thick clouds of bellowing smoke), can only be sorted out by spraying the area with extinguisher foam, resulting in the player switching between the two different fire-tackling methods in order to get the job done.
Of course it would all be far too easy if you had a bottomless supply of both, so it should come as little surprise then that the amount of water and foam that you have at your disposal at any given time is desperately finite, forcing you to be economical in their use. Luckily though, water coolers, sinks and other such utilities are dotted around the map and provide ample avenues for you to restock your flame-hammering ammunition. Elsewhere, going out of your way to switch off the electrical circuits on that floor will disable these fires entirely and should be made a priority, allowing players to focus on using their hose water and nothing else.
Additionally, water bombs are also available and allow Mr. Carruthers to coat an area in water, permitting him to proceed further into a room which might seem inaccessible due to the sheer amount of fire involved. Like the hose and extinguisher foam though, they have been rationed accordingly, forcing shrewd application as a result. Something else that players need to be weary of is that there is no way to close doors which have been previously opened. The upshot of this is that some fires spit flame about the place and if you’re not careful, a room which was previously cleansed of flame could be set alight again by an errant fireball from an adjacent room.
Like any fireman worth their salt though, Blaze does more than just putting out fires, he’s also required to rescue stranded folks (and cats), ensuring that he leads them to safety. In gameplay terms this forms the crux of the Flame Over experience since every playthrough is subject to a timer which can be extended by getting one of these innocents through the fire exit into the green-hue designated safe area, while conversely each rescued feline provides a degree of health replenishment. This is something that you’ll want to be doing too, since if the timer hits zero the grim reaper appears and homes in on your character, instantly killing him upon contact.
Further complexity comes in the form that while most workers and their feline counterparts can be escorted out of the room quickly, some lunatics actually require you to complete a task before they’ll follow you to safety, tempting the player by throwing a free power-up token into the bargain which can be used to purchase useful equipment upgrades. Again, it’s a neat little wrinkle to the gameplay which adds some extra variety to the proceedings while providing players with another consideration that they have to factor into the larger picture; do they complete the task or do they simply exit the level when all the fires have been put out?
If there’s one complaint about the NPC’s it would be that they aren’t an especially switched on bunch; often getting stuck and snagged on walls as they attempt to follow you to salvation. It’s not a big problem quite honestly, but it can prove frustrating with the clock ticking down and every second proving to be a valuable commodity.
Lest we forget too that our plucky fireman isn’t immune to immolation either, as a circle fills more quickly the longer he remains in close proximity to fire, snatching a valuable heart of health away when it becomes whole, Flame Over impresses on players early on the need to keep themselves safe as well as those who are trapped in the burning building.
Thankfully, a number of upgrades are available which can make life a little easier. From persistent upgrades such as a more powerful hose or faster running boots to incremental, finite use tools such as extra water bombs or defibrillator kits to revive those who have succumbed to the flames. In a similar fashion to how such upgrades are doled out in fellow roguelike effort Spelunky, Flame Over has salesman who occasionally crops up in the game’s procedural stages offering a wide range of these randomised wares for the player to purchase. Brilliantly tying into the game’s central mechanic, Flame Over dishes out currency for every fire that the player puts out, neatly adding an additional incentive in the process.
And that really, is what makes Flame Over seem to be much more than initially appears since underneath its almost disarmingly cheery, child-friendly appearance, lays the beating black heart of a mercilessly tactical twin stick shooter. Throughout its duration, Flame Over is continually forcing the player to prioritise and strategize about which room they’ll go into next, the order of fires to tackle and much more besides. As much as Laughing Jackal has crafted an experience that places a premium on your reflexes and twitch-based skill, so too have they fashioned a title that also demands a shrewd and tactical mind also.
Luckily a handy tutorial does a great job in teaching both the basic and more advanced aspects of Flame Over but even better still, is the fact that the tutorial itself is actually fairly difficult and aptly prepares players for the trials ahead by putting their newly gained knowledge into immediate practice.
So sure enough then, while Flame Over boasts the hallmarks of roguelike games, such as permanent death and procedurally generated levels, it also manages that rare thing that only the best examples of the genre are able to achieve – it makes you feel empowered, rather than punished, with every fresh attempt. Never do you feel daunted by taking another crack at the game but instead confident that you’re a little better and more capable to deal with the trials ahead. Whether it’s because you’ve just unlocked a new set of persistent upgrades or you’re merely just become a little more skilled at the game, each new attempt feels productive rather than reductive.
A deceptively tactical twin stick shooter with relentlessly entertaining gameplay, a few minor niggles are nowhere near enough to prevent Flame Over ranking up there with some of the best roguelike titles available right now.