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PlayStation2 Fire Blade Developer: Kuju Entertainment | Publisher: Midway
Rating: C-TeenYoshi
Type: Action Players: 1
Difficulty: Intermediate Released: 6-17-02

Since the days of Chopper Command on the Atari 2600, helicopter-based action games have been an interesting, yet all-too-rare sub-genre. It seems as though each generation received but one or two memorable entries, such as Tiger Heli, War Hawk, and the Zero Gunner games. In an attempt to give the next generation consoles their first taste of copter gunning, Midway published Kuju Entertainment's Fire Blade on the PlayStation 2.

The major differences between Fire Blade and many of its predecessors are two-fold. First, FB is a 3D game. Don't plan on reliving any shmup memories via this disc. Second, the game provides the player freedom of movement throughout each level in much the same way as many of today's mech games. There are no rails and no predetermined path to victory. It is up to the player to determine the best route and strategy to use throughout Fire Blade's 20 missions. The biggest plus to FB's fully realized 3D environments is their variety. Levels take place everywhere from tree-covered hills to the unforgiving, snow-ridden Arctic. These locales each represent one of the game's four campaigns.

Based on the gamer's achievements during each mission, medals and badges can be earned. For instance, some levels will leave the option to rescue civilians up to the player. Choosing to play the part of the hero may earn a better ranking and, thus, a medal. Other factors include kills and proficiency in flying the chopper.

The game's graphics are adequate but not overly flashy. It is unlikely that one's PlayStation 2 will begin to drip sweat while it renders the game's visuals. However, subtle details abound, adding a great deal to the realism of the game. For instance, the wind generated by the ship's propeller will cause nearby trees to sway. Giving up spice for detail is a welcome trade-off, as the look of FB never detracts from the overall experience, which is truly the bottom line.

The aural experience available in Fire Blade is really just average. The whir of the copters that one would expect to hear is present, but it is neither outstanding nor truly flawed. Projectiles whiz by, but in a similar unspectacular fashion. The music is cut from the mold. If you have experienced any of the other dozens of recent military games, you will swear you have heard these tunes before. They are straight from the Ninety-Eigth Airborne Symphony, so to speak. Unfortunately, as a whole, the sounds of Fire Blade add even less to the overall excitement level than the graphics.

Taking into account its aesthetic qualities, the game teeters right on the line between good and mediocre. Thanks to one fatal flaw in game design, it is pushed toward the latter. The game's difficulty is very unbalanced. When the beginner fires up FB for the first time, he will likely struggle to get the hang of the controls early on. Once this obstacle is passed, the middle part of the game becomes almost too simplistic, leaving only the medals as a challenge. However, when the player reaches the later levels, the difficulty facing him quickly ramps back up to a frustrating level. This potentially could cause many gamers to never see the end of Fire Blade, even though they breezed through the meat of the game. Flaws with gameplay or balance are what really hurts a game's lasting impression. Such is the case with Fire Blade. It may bring back memories of Tiger Heli early on, but in the end, only those memories will remain.

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Rating: CYoshi
Graphics: 7 Sound: 6
Gameplay: 6 Replay: 8
  2002 The Next Level