I’ve always had a bit of a thing for games involving firefighting. I used to play the hell out of The Ignition Factor and The Firemen on the SNES. More recently, I quite enjoyed Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue DX too. From developer Chronos Unterhaltungssoftware and publisher astragon Entertainment comes a new firefighting title. Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is, as the title suggests, a little less arcadey than the other games I have mentioned and is more ‘sim-like’. But how does it play?
“Firefighting Simulator lets you experience what it means to fight fires up close as an active part of a major US city’s firefighting team. Discover over 30 diverse deployment locations and complete exciting missions that span a 15k acres large townscape inspired by the North American Westcoast. Operate faithfully reproduced Rosenbauer America fire trucks, extinguish fires, and rescue civilians in need.”
Originally released back in 2020 on PC, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad has now seen a release on consoles and I’ve been playing the Xbox version for this review. Right, I’m just going to get stuck into this one. Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is as good as it is flawed and I’m going to start this review with the negatives before I move on to the positives.
Perhaps my biggest bugbear with this game is that the AI is atrocious. See, you lead and command a crew of three firefighters, four including you. However, the three in your crew that you do not directly control have the IQ of your average TikTok ‘influencer’. As an example. I did a mission with a house on fire. I instructed my crew to arm themselves with a hose as I broke the door open. Now with my crew hosed up, I then instructed them to go and fight the fire, while I ran back to the firetruck to grab a hose myself. Only, they didn’t fight the fire, they followed me back to the firetruck as the house slowly burnt. I quickly made my way back to the open door and walked inside and again, I instructed my crew to tackle the fire. I got busy doing the same and started to douse the fire with water. After a while, I noticed that I was the only one fighting the fire, my crew were just standing there doing nothing with their hoses in their hands.
Just viewing this issue from the point of view that this is supposed to be a simulation… why do I need to tell firefighters to fight a fire? That’s their job. Surely, they would (realistically) just start putting the fire out because they are firefighters. Now, this was an issue that would only happen now and again. I do have to say that, for the most part, they would work on putting out the fires as and when I instructed. But, every now and then, they would just stand around doing nothing as the place burnt down around their ears. So yeah, the AI is terrible at times but there is a saving grace, which I will cover later.
Another issue I had was that you can’t zoom in or out on the map. It’s a fairly big map too and you use it to select your missions. As there is a fair bit of ground to cover and there is no way to know exactly where the next available mission is, you have to randomly scroll around until you do find a mission, which takes time and becomes increasingly annoying. Just being able to zoom out and say ‘okay, there’s a mission over there’ and then moving the cursor to the mission would be so much more user-friendly. Or even an option to just scroll through available missions would cut down that annoying factor.
Speaking of cursors. You have an aiming reticle so you can more arcuately tackle fires. In fact, when you do fight a fire, little icons pop up to let you know the sweet spot of where to aim, to put the fire out more quickly. Here’s the issue, you can’t see the aiming reticle to pinpoint your aim anyway. Look, here’s a screen grab I took with me fighting a fire and you tell me exactly where the aiming reticle is in relation to the fire.
Can’t see it, can you? How are you supposed to pinpoint aim at the sweet spots to put the fire out when you can’t see where you are aiming? The game even calls it a crosshair but it’s not. Okay, so now here’s a screenshot of me not trying to put a fire out and me pointing the ‘crosshair’ where you should, be able to see it for comparison.
Still can’t see it, can you? Nope, I haven’t turned the ‘crosshair’ off and it is still there. The issue is that it is less a ‘crosshair’ and more a tiny white dot, about a pixel or two in size. It’s almost invisible when you are not fighting fires and it is completely invisible when you are. There’s no option to adjust the size, colour or style of the ‘crosshair’ either. You are stuck with this impossible-to-see, tiny white dot for the whole game. Seeing as being accurate with your aim plays a big part in putting out fires and that you can’t see where you are aiming to be accurate. It kind of makes it all rather redundant.
There’s an experience/levelling system, but it does nothing. Okay, so you unlock new missions and a handful of firetrucks as you level up. But other than that, the inclusion of an experience mechanic is pointless. You don’t have skills to improve, no stats to increase, nothing. Having such an experience system that was used to increase your character’s stats would add a bit more depth to the game, a progression and a goal to reach. You just have the missions and a few firetrucks to unlock and that really doesn’t need an experience system to work. Just have them be unlocked when you complete X number of missions.
No first-person view, you can only play the game in third-person. Now, there are two different viewpoints a ‘normal’ and a close-up one, both are third-person. However, there is a first-person view when driving the firetruck and when using the ladder/cradle. But for the main gameplay, nope. I just feel that a first-person view would work so much better.
Well, those are my main issues with Firefighting Simulator: The Squad and a few minor niggles aside, the game is actually pretty damn good. First, I do just want to cover that saving grace to the terrible AI that I previously mentioned. Yes, the AI is awful in single-player but the great thing about Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is that you can team up with up to three friends and play co-op. Let me tell you when you have actual humans playing with you, the game is infinitely better. As long as you keep the communication up and everyone knows what they are doing. Playing the game and not having to rely on the AI is just a far better experience. The only downside is that there isn’t a great many people playing this right now, so finding a suitable online session is very rare. I only managed two games in my playtime for this review.
There’s a very handy and easy-to-follow set of tutorials that walks you through the many things that you have to do in the game. There is a lot to take in too. It’s not just about pointing a hose at a fire and putting it out. Before you can even do that, you have to learn how to prep yourself and the fire engine so that you can fight fires. Connect a supply hose from a nearby fire hydrant to the fire engine itself, so that you have a steady supply of water. Attaching the attack hose to the correct place on the vehicle and sticking a nozzle on the end of it, so it can then be used to put fires out.
Still, you also need to learn how to get into a building too. Some doors will be locked, so you’ll have to break them open. Then there is dealing with smoke-filled areas, how to recognise and try to avoid backdrafts. Rescuing injured people, the controlling of the ladder/cradle and so much more. The tutorial is really well implemented and despite a lot to take in, it’s all broken down into smaller, easy-to-digest parts that you can always go back to for a quick refresher if needed.
Anyway, once you are fully trained and confident in your firefighting prowess, you can set out to take on a real mission. Here, the game is a bit hit-an- miss. See, there is no story or narrative to keep driving you forwards. What you have is a map screen with various missions, you just choose one of them and away you go. The missions vary in location, but the basic idea of putting out fires and rescuing people remains the same. Maybe you’ll need to break into a house and save the residents from the burning budling. Maybe you’ll be called to a tree on fire in a park. There is a decent variety of scenarios, even if the basics of what to do are the same.
You can drive to the missions yourself in one of the (if you’ve unlocked them) several fire engines. This felt a bit too ‘light’ for me. The driving physics are slightly questionable. At first, I was driving sensibly, putting the sirens on and even using my indicators at turns. However, I soon learned that it really doesn’t matter. Just give your horn a toot and cars will move out of the way. using indicators is pointless, it;s not as if you get scored on your driving. Well, you kind of do as you get more (pointless) experience points if you get to a call as fast as possible. So, just go screaming around the streets and drive like an escaped convict. You can crash into other cars and not really face any kind of punishment. You can even go around 90° turns at 60mph and the fire engine handles like an F1 car. As I said, the driving physics are questionable and far from ‘simulation’. Or, if you don’t feel like driving, you can choose to just spawn at the mission. I do like that the devs have included that as an option.
Still, I always preferred to drive because you get the radio chatter between you and the dispatcher, filling you in on the details of the mission as you drive. This works as a nice little mission briefing and helps to ready you for what you’ll be dealing with.
The controls are simple and easy to get to grips with. It’ll only take a few minutes and you’ll understand what to do and how to do it. Even issuing commands to your AI team, when playing in single-player, is easy once you get used to it. You have a ‘weapon wheel’ where you can order each of your team to go and grab a crowbar to open a locked door, arm themselves with a fire extinguisher or hose, get them to follow you, order them to attack a fire and more. There’s also a quick order and context-sensitive option using the d-pad. As an example, just aim at a locked door and press one of the d-pad directions (down, left and right are assigned to your three squad members) and the AI will grab the required tool and come back and open the door for you. Considering that there is a lot to do here, the controls are simple.
£25 on both Xbox and PlayStation, or £21 via Steam. Despite some issues, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is still very playable and even with several rough edges, this is one of the better games out there with that simulator affix on the end. I would’ve liked to have seen more variety with the missions. Like being called out to road traffic accidents, hazmat issues and so on. Hey, even a bit of light-heartedness with saving cats out of trees. Pretty much every mission is putting out fires/saving people and they can get a bit tedious after a while. Plus, I think using that experience/levelling system for something other than just unlocking fire engines and missions could’ve really lifted Firefighting Simulator: The Squad no end. The addition of a story-driven narrative for single-player would’ve been marvellous too. Maybe even having an interactive firehouse where you can actually slide down the pole to get to a mission?
Overall, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad is a playable title. Yeah, it has its issues (what game doesn’t?) but I really enjoyed my time with it. Definitely better when playing with humans over the AI though. I also found this was more fun to play in shorter, quick gameplay bursts. Just do 4-5 missions and play something else for a while before coming back, over sitting there and playing for hours at a time. If you are looking for your next simulation fix, Firefighting Simulator: The Squad could very well quench that fire.