There’s an iconic scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden severely burns The Narrator’s hand with caustic soda. You can see the agony in his eyes as he flails around whilst Durden holds him down, giving a pep talk all the while. After several moments The Narrator slowly becomes accustomed to the pain, eventually accepting it as a form of enlightenment. Playing Flame Over, by Laughing Jackal, is a similar experience. Taking control of the moustachioed Blaze Carruthers, you’ll encounter an intense wave of hot, excruciating pain as you die over and over. Come to terms with the game’s quirks, however, and you’ll discover a tightly designed, Aardman-esque firefighting roguelike that’s an absolute blast to play.
As the genre goes, Flame Over is a bit of an oddity; you don’t see many twin-stick firefighting roguelikes, do you? It all makes sense after a short time playing the game, though. The towering inferno at Infernal Industries is, surprisingly, the perfect setting for some procedurally generated mayhem. You’ll tackle the flames over 4 themed floors and 16 different levels. each of which feels like it was deviously generated by Satan himself.
Starting the game up for the first time is a bit like trial by fire. It throws you straight in at the deep end with nothing in the way of a tutorial, meaning you’ll have to think on your feet if you want to survive. And survive you will – for all of 30 seconds. Flame Over comes packing a brutal learning curve that’ll repeatedly leave poor Blaze as a pile of charred remains on the Infernal Industries floor. Fortunately, the game’s firefighting mechanics are top-notch and will keep you playing until you’ve cracked its difficulty.
Blaze comes equipped with a varied arsenal of items to fight the flames, from the bog standard water hose and extinguisher, to more unorthodox items such as the water bomb. Holding down the left trigger shoots out a blast of extinguishing foam, whilst the right trigger releases a jet of the wet stuff. There’s a real skill in how you use these items, though, and liberally dousing a room in water isn’t going to cut it.
The office section, for example, features lots of wooden furniture which can rapidly spread flames back throughout the room, even after you have extinguished them. Electrical items like computers are even trickier, smouldering and re-spreading if you don’t give them a good soak in foam. Accidentally missing out a small nook can totally undo several minutes of work , so make absolutely certain that each room is fully extinguished. You can make your life a hell of a lot easier by using your map to find the location of the electrical switchboard on each floor and turning it off, doing so tips the balance ever so slightly in your favour and pays off when you are trying to rescue people trapped inside the building.
As if the game wasn’t already difficult enough, it pits you against the clock. The start of each run allocates you 5 minutes to extinguish every fire, but you’ll need more time to make it through to the end. Rescuing people from the building tops up your remaining time with an extra 60 seconds for every person you manage to save, but they are just as prone to the flames as you are. Collateral damage can seriously hamper your ability to progress, so it’s best to quickly escort them from the room and leave them somewhere safe whilst you go back to put the flames out.
Finding the stubborn Miss Ion (get it?) triggers the start of a new quest, where you’ll typically have to find certain hidden items or flip a number of switches before she agrees to follow you to the exit. Completing her task tops up your time and rewards you with upgrade tokens which can be used to unlock new abilities for Blaze. I highly recommend splashing out on higher resistance to the flames and the ability to hold more water bombs, as early as you possibly can.
Blaze can only stand the heat for so long before he begins to lose health, but you can increase his productivity by yoyo-ing in and out of the room, or to a safe spot, when it becomes too hot too handle. You can also top up his health by rescuing the kitty on each floor – see, it pays to be nice to animals!
There’s a surprising amount of diversity to Flame Over, with each floor unveiling another devious obstacle. The challenge comes thick and fast, and you’ll suddenly be blocking off fire spewing airvents, cleaning up chemical spills and destroying signs of alien life in a hectic, but rewarding, dash against the clock.
Mechanically, the game cannot be faulted. Controlling Blaze feels fluid, and his firefighting equipment is very satisfying to play around with. There’s nothing about the game’s design that feels redundant, because everything feels well thought out and has a purpose. Some of the little touches Laughing Jackal has included even border on genius- the green edge glow which guides you back to the exit, for example. It’s such a clever game that continually delights with its tight gameplay and cheesy Aardman Animations exterior.
Make no mistake about it, Laughing Jackal’s latest is hot stuff. Its packs a ferocious difficulty level and a protagonist that makes Fireman Sam look like a weakling – which, in retrospect, he actually was. There’s nothing else like it on Playstation Vita, or on any other platform for that matter. Not only is it one of the best games of 2015 (so far), it’s one of the best games on Playstation Vita. Period.