Emergency 1-5 Review
Anyone who knows me knows that I have this thing for playing really obscure games. I figure it's time to bring one of these (or rather, a series of these) under a review for all my watchers and random viewers to take a look at and learn. The series I am going to review today is called Emergency, created by German-based 16 Tons Entertainment, and I will be basing my review on five major points: gameplay, graphics, sound effects, music, and originality. But before I review each individual installment (five in total) I will give a brief overview of the premise behind the series as a whole.
The Emergency series is a Real-Time Strategy (or RTS) game series, but takes a different, if not completely fresh, perspective on the genre. When I think of RTS games, I think of Command & Conquer, Starcraft/Warcraft, and Stronghold, which are the kinds of games that follow the generic gather-resources/build-base/destroy-enemy formula. With Emergency, you instead take control of an entire squadron of disaster response vehicles and crew to (as the title suggests) address and diffuse many different disaster scenarios. These situations can be anything from a cookie-cutter road accident or medical emergency to a massive forest fire or a planes colliding on a runway. Each installment has a different way of dispatching these units, which can vastly affect the way each mission has to be played. Also, each installment is loosely based on some generic location in Europe (with the exception of the 5th game, which bases its missions on actual locations, usually popular landmarks, in various European countries) though some Western influences appear in the 3rd and 4th installments.
Emergency 1 (Fight For Life):
Released in 1998, Emergency 1 had much promise for straying away from the norm of its time (which was during Starcraft 1's heyday), but had several faults that kept it from truly redefining the RTS genre.
Let's start with the negatives here. One of the first things that people playing this particular game will notice is…no minimap. That's right, folks, no minimap. That means that in order to access different parts of each level, you have to manually scroll across the entire map, and that eats up much valuable time and often leaves you totally blind to what's going on elsewhere (this was done with the intent to provide an extra element of 'realism'). Scrolling can be a very slow process, though the rest of the game runs very smoothly and at an adequate speed. Another big thing that gives this game a low rating is the fact that you have to give each unit every single command, and by that I mean if you want to cut down a tree and then haul the log away with a single fireman, you have to select the fireman, left click on the proper vehicle (there's no single vehicle that carries all the basic tools in this game), left click on the proper item in the menu, then left click on the tree, then tell the fireman to drop the equipment, then pick up the log, and then walk (with log in hand) to some location, and then drop the log. This very tedious task of giving commands is streamlined away in later installments. Also, the pathing AI is very…lackluster. Often I'll find myself unable to complete a mission because there's a traffic jam of rescue vehicles at the exit point and the vehicles causing said jam are off-map (thus unable to be selected), and if that doesn't happen then it seems every unit has to take the longest route to each location they are commanded to travel to, and this brings me to my final complaint about the first game: the civilians. Each individual in this game seems to have a death wish, as they will continually walk into danger as often cause a mission failure. There are some good things though: responsiveness to each command and click is fairly instant (with the exception of finding a path to travel on longer trips). At the start of every mission, you get a look at a map of the entire region, and here you will see three major things: your available base(s), the mission location, and a yellow text that says Enter Scene up in the top left corner (this appears after you read the mission objectives, which can be accessed by clicking on the red dot that indicates the location of the mission). By the end of the game you will have access to 6 bases: three generic ground vehicle bases containing anything from fire trucks, ambulances, technical vehicles, and police units, a helicopter base, a firefighting plane, and a firefighting boat (only available on two missions). These bases are spread out across the region, which makes travel time from each base different for every mission. This can help or hinder you as the case may be (travel time for each unit varies, though it is typically rather slow. Another shot at 'realism' I suppose). Additionally, this game includes 30 missions, the longest installment by mission count, and includes a wide variety of both fictional and real disasters. For example, mission 22 is a depiction of the Rammstein airshow disaster (a real disaster), while mission 9 is an accident on a motorway involving a bus (a rather generic disaster that occurs again in various forms in the later installments). As far as bugs go, unless it is being played on a fairly recent OS, there typically aren't any bugs or issues to speak of (very rarely the game would randomly freeze. This, along with discoloration and other odd issues, occurs more often in newer computers). Due to the nature of this series, this game being no exception, there's very little margin of error (to the point where several missions automatically fail if someone dies), so most missions have to be played roughly the same way each time. That being said, there are some missions that have quite a degree of variability, meaning that they can be played many different ways and have different outcomes (missions 18 and 21 are built to be a two-part mission, but you can completely skip the second half if you play the first half correctly). The actual interface is also very basic, which I personally find to be both a blessing and a curse. In all, Emergency 1 could have used a few tune-ups of its own, but has several redeeming features that make playing it not a total loss.
Emergency 1's graphics are…basic, to say the least. Set on an isometric overhead view, everything is based on sprites or other pixel-based images. There is not much detail, to the point where many crucial objects end up either going completely overlooked or mistaken for something else (on several missions a certain post must be activated to slow traffic. This post takes up about 15 pixels and doesn't have anything that makes it stand out as 'important'). There are several animated objects (water, fires, live electrical wires, lights, even the people have specific animations based on if they are injured or not) which prevent each scene from looking completely bland. There's also a specific shade of blue that 'lights up' for the rescue vehicles' flashers, but this particular shade can also be found on certain firemen and other objects. Several missions also have cut scenes that help introduce the mission, though the quality of these shorts leaves something to be desired. In the end, Emergency 1's graphics are very basic, but that means that they aren't overwhelming which (considering the gameplay) can be a very good thing.
Sound Effects: 6/10
I'll be honest, there's not much in the way of sound effects in this game. Yes if something explodes there's a sound, and yes there's sounds for fires and units and live wires and injured people being taken care of, but that's about all there's sound for. There's no weather (despite several missions being based on weather conditions) so there's no sound for rain, no sound for running water or people talking, so unless there's something going on (like a fire, someone using a chainsaw or metal cutters, etc.) often the only noise you will hear will be the sound track, making each mission quiet, almost peaceful, in that aspect. The only redeeming factor behind this category is the fact that each sound is very accurate in what it's supposed to represent.
When I talk to people who have actually played this game (and for more than just the first few missions), often they'll tell me that their favorite things about Emergency 1 include the variety of missions, the challenge that the game inherently has, and most often the music. I personally have to agree. There's 10 different songs (or 'themes', depending on how you want to look at it) that are played throughout the game. What I find disappointing is that each song is used someone disproportionally. Several songs get used up to 4 times, while one song is only used once (mission 26, if anyone is wondering). The reason I used the word 'theme' above is because certain songs seem to be used in certain missions, thus helping to set some kind of mood that fits the scene. Missions 3, 21, and 27 share the same song. What do they have in common? For starters they are all primarily rescue missions (mission 3 is a lost hiker in the mountains, mission 21 is a burst hydroelectric dam, and 27 is an earthquake). Also, missions 22 and 28 (plane accident at an airshow and a crashed jet, respectively) also share the same song (while there are other missions based on plane accidents, these two are particularly difficult and require much greater time-resource management). My last example is for missions 23 (explosion in a chemical plant) and mission 30 (a forest fire). We've had explosions before, and we've dealt with a forest fire before (one that was much larger, I might add), so what makes these two special? I like to think that it's because both of these missions help bring together everything this game can throw at you into a single mission, but on a massive scale (fun fact: the song for these two missions is often regarded as a fan favorite based on what I've read, and I am no exception to this). That said, Emergency 1's musical score is definitely a very good quality that helps make roughing it through this tough game worth it.
For all its faults, Emergency 1 really did pioneer this kind of RTS game (games anything like it didn't start hitting stores until the new millennium, mostly afterwards). As far as the missions go, there were the standard roadside accidents and building fires and there were some pretty wild missions as well to keep the player on their toes and from getting bored with doing the exact same thing over and over again.
Composite Score: 7/10
Emergency 2 (The Ultimate Fight For Life):
Emergency 2 upped the gameplay in a lot of ways. For starters there is now a minimap (though you have to send a very specific vehicle to the mission scene first) that shows you where your units are, the view is now a 45 degree angle that gives better viewing coverage. There is now a vehicle that contains pretty much every piece of equipment for your firemen to use. You also now only have one base, and each division (fire, medical, police, and technical) has their own section of the base. The pathing AI seems to have been improved somewhat, but still occasionally sends units into the wrong direction. There's also weather effects (rain, fog, day/night cycles) that completely affect the way each mission has to be addressed. By right-clicking on a unit, a drop-down menu appears that lists various commands each unit can perform, but it is a very basic and still tedious process of giving multiple commands at a time. Emergency 2 is shorter than its predecessor with only 25 missions, though to be fair these missions are definitely more unique (if not somewhat unusual…contaminated monkeys, volcanic eruptions, nuclear submarine fire, and alien arrival anyone?) than Emergency 1s missions. This game tends to be a tad buggier than Emergency 1 however, and seems to throw random tantrums no matter what the OS it's being played on. The interface is also much more organized and a lot neater and has much more than the one in Emergency 1 and on a few missions you can hear an advisor yelling at you to remind you of something going on in the mission. In short, Emergency 2 improved a lot of things that Emergency 1 lacked or could have done better on, but there's still plenty to improve upon.
The graphics in this installment are definitely more detailed and overall, simply better in almost every way, than with the previous installment. Things actually look like what they are meant to be. Objects are still sprite-based for the most part, so they still appear as a flat grouping of tiny pixels.
Sound Effects: 7/10
Now that there's weather, there are new sound effects that correspond to that. Sound effects in general still represent what they are supposed to accurately, though injured people no longer seem to be able to make any noise (aside from when they are actually entering an incapacitated state or being freed from rubble or a wrecked vehicle). In general, everything is of better quality but each mission still seems to be a quiet scene instead of the chaos-filled scenario they are meant to be.
I am simply going to say that I can't give this one a grade. Emergency 2 was notorious among the fan-base for lacking any kind of music (mainly on international versions) and no real way to obtain it through a patch or similar bug fix. I only recently found the soundtrack uploaded on YouTube and I will say that I was impressed with how drastically different it sounded (more 'rock' based than before), but without knowing which mission each song corresponds to (no 'mood-setter', so to speak) I am simply going to leave this section without a grade.
Well as I mentioned before Emergency 2 easily has some of the most unique missions of any installment in this series (in addition to what I mentioned there's also a meteor crashing into a city, a blimp that catches fire (aptly named the 'Hindenburg 2' in-game), and the deluxe edition has a space shuttle that crash lands in the middle of a city). On top of that, Emergency 2 keeps the same style of gameplay that the first installment created without straying too far, so for those two elements I will give this category a higher score.
Composite Score: 8/10 (Side note: most people often consider Emergency 2 the worst game in the series, with the 3rd one not far behind, so go read other reviews or actually try and play the game for yourself to see if my score seems fair.)
Emergency 3 (Fighters For Life):
Emergency 3 changes a lot of things, but in the process leaves quite a few more things that could have easily been solved (most get addressed to some extent in Emergency 4). Emergency 3 is also the first in the series to be truly '3D', with a fully rotating camera, poly-objects, terrain that isn't flat and only uses visual cues to indicate varying height, and fully-rendered water and shadows. Emergency 3 is also the first to introduce a map editor (though a far cry from being 'user-friendly') and a 'Free Play' mode. The Free Play mode has two modes: Endless and Challenge. Both are actually 'endless' in the sense that there is no end unless you manually exit out of the Free Play mode. Both types of play have the exact same map, exact same missions (most of which are very small/cookie-cutter variety missions), the exact same weather patterns, etc. The only difference is that Endless mode throws all types of missions at you at the same time (though the intervals between each mission are large; I've gone entire 'days' in Endless without having to do a single thing), whereas Challenge steadily increases the difficulty of the missions as time goes on and tends to have less waiting time in between each mission. There's also a minimap in all modes of play (including the campaign) and it there is no requirement to having one. Objects also now can behave in accordance with the weather (mission 15 is a big example of this). The interface received a huge overhaul as well: now you can send units directly to the mission area (there is no base you have to visit first), you can check all of your active/completed mission objectives, and many more things, all from the interface. Giving commands is much better now as you can tell a unit to equip itself with an item by simply right-clicking on the correct vehicle an selecting the proper item in the drop-down menu. You can also do this now with multiple units simultaneously (can't remember if this was possible in Emergency 2, but I know for sure it's possible here). On that note, one of the big downers to this system is how unresponsive the interface is. In Emergency 3, when you want to select something you actually have to click (and then hold) the mouse button over it for roughly a second or so before you can actually select a unit or vehicle, and this severely affects the actual gameplay. AI pathing also leaves something to be desired, and this seems to be a trend in this series. The mission count also continues to shrink (only 20 missions here) though the Free Play mode and editor help make up for that. These two big issues (along with a very difficult map editor) cut a huge hole into what could have otherwise been a fantastic category for this game. (Fun fact: mission 17 is often considered to be the most difficult mission in any Emergency game. If you can complete this mission, regardless of your rating, then I definitely envy you.)
As I mentioned before Emergency 3 is fully '3D', this means that there are no more sprites. Everything is now a model with a skin applied to it. The only exception is the actual terrain itself which is created and then painted onto the ground, so there's no 'tile set' like there would be for older games (such as Warcraft). Along with animated water, there's also no shortage of flashing lights and other such 'animated' objects, and all the while they don't have any real effect on the overall speed of the game. Also, every mission (except mission 14) has a detailed, high definition cut scene that introduces the mission very well. There's really not much to say against the graphics in Emergency 3 aside from just a few small things I would consider to be nitpicky.
Sound Effects: 8/10
There's plenty of ambient sounds that have been added to make each scene seem more realistic and less 'quiet' like the previous two games have been, though not enough to really make each mission come to life (there's a pun in there somewhere…). Injured people actually make noise now regardless of what's happening to them (and often this can be used to find people buried under rubble), and many objects now continually make noise (electric generators are prominent examples of this).
Emergency 3 really takes a different turn when it comes to the sound track. In addition to the standard tracks, there's also a 'low' version of each one (which are typically quieter/more ambient arrangements) and then 'action' tracks, which typically are played when some kind of event is triggered. All the tracks (except for the action tracks) are more ambient than those of the previous two games, but with that they really help set the mood for each mission flawlessly. Also, now tracks can change entirely during the mission (but mostly on multi-part missions).
I can't rate this one as high as I have for the others, simply because this is the third installment in the series and while it adds quite a few new features that are still fairly unique to this genre of games, the missions within the campaign are either all based on some kind of cookie-cutter emergency (though some with additional factors that add varying degrees of challenge) or are based on something we've already seen before in the previous two but don't really add anything new that would help them stand out.
Composite Score: 8/10
Emergency 4 (911 First Responders):
Emergency 4 builds on (and fixes) a lot of what Emergency 3 brought to the series, only now there's also a multiplayer mode. I haven't been able to test this feature yet, so I'm not factoring that in my review. The map editor is still less than user-friendly, though I've had the chance to play several user-created mods and I can clearly see that it has much potential to be a very powerful engine. The interface has received another major overhaul, now giving you a separate panel for giving commands to units instead of a drop-down menu. Doctors will now attend to any casualty that is not being cared for. The minimap now also displays fires, wrecks, injured persons, and criminals, among other things, in addition to your units and allows for you to filter between what is being displayed. There is also another panel that displays you money, the time spent in the current mission, a count-down timer if one is needed, as well as the number of injured people in the mission area (a very useful feature). Dispatching units is the same as in Emergency 3 but with two new bonuses: the ability to send multiple units to the scene at the same time (i.e. 4 ambulances each fully equipped with units) and the ability to either simply send them to the scene or to have them travel to a specific location within the mission area. Responsiveness in Emergency 4 is much better than before, so less time is wasted simply trying to select a unit. The campaign is the same length as Emergency 3 (20 missions) though these are much tougher than in Emergency 3 and often cover a much greater area (two missions require you to assemble your team before the mission starts and that's all you have for the duration of that mission). You also have a permanent advisor that reads the mission objectives before each mission, every time something happens he'll read the scrolling text at the top of the screen, gives you a verbal representation of your final score at the end of each mission, and is pretty much there to guide you through each mission. In addition there is also an optional tutorial level when starting a new campaign and one must 'earn' new units by playing a mandatory interim free-play-styled level between missions and earning enough money to buy them. There's also the Free Play mode if the campaign gets boring with the standard Endless/Challenge modes, though the waiting time between missions here is much, much less (I've rarely had to wait more than a few minutes for a new mission to pop up in either mode). In all, Emergency 4 is definitely the best game in the series when it comes to overall gameplay.
Everything that Emergency 3 had, Emergency 4 had done it better. The graphics in this installment (from the interfaces to the various units and fires and…well pretty much everything) were far more refined than in the previous three games. The only thing I knocked the score down for was for the photos of each personnel, which look very bland and just not very well put together.
Sound Effects: 8/10
Pretty much the same as Emergency 3, just a few added things here and there. Also, everyone now seems to have an Australian/British accent. Not sure why, but they do.
Also roughly the same as how Emergency 3's music was, though definitely more ambient than before. Definitely one of my favorite OSTs for this series as a whole.
Emergency 4 definitely improves on a lot of things that have been less-than-perfect in previous installments and even adds on quite a few more things to keep the series fresh. Like I mentioned before, two of the campaign missions are outside of your usual region of play so you have to take a very limited number of units with you and if you need anything else/more…well you're kind of S.O.L., and the mandatory interim free play to earn more units was definitely a fresh and nicely added touch.
Composite Score: 9/10
Emergency 5 (Emergency 2012):
I'm not sure why, it could be because a new company took over this series, or maybe because my laptop really isn't capable of running the newest installment to this series optimally, but I find the gameplay to be…very disappointing. Part of this is tied into the graphics (which I will explain later), but one of my biggest issues is that the actual gameplay itself is very slow and choppy and the responsiveness to selecting is so bad it makes Emergency 3 look efficient. The interface is now more organized however, but this doesn't help me get over my largest beef with this game: the campaign. Woefully short (12 missions), this campaign is run unlike any before in the series. Each mission involves some cataclysmic event (usually tied to some weather pattern) in a major European city (these missions are based on actual, famous landmarks, for instance the third mission showcases a demolished Eiffel Tower). What makes this campaign really different, however, is that each mission starts with the camera panning from one point of interest on the map to where your units will arrive from, and the fact that there is no longer any way to dispatch units to the scene. Instead these units are provided for you at the start of each mission. While it is nice to be able to really see what you need in order to complete the mission before even starting the mission, should something happen and you need more there is no way to get what you need, and often you are left short of what you need to efficiently manage the scene. Like Emergency 4, there is a multiplayer mode and a free play mode, but the free play mode can be in one of three different maps. Other than that it is like the free play mode of the previous two games. There's also the issue of poor translation (this series was originally programmed in German). Anyone who can speak English with any degree of fluency can tell what's going on and can understand the text and the advisor's yammering, but there's no shortage of errors that give away the fact that this game wasn't written in English. With that, Emergency 5's gameplay changes things up, and in no small way, but hearkens back to the days of Emergency 1 and 2: lots of good ideas poorly executed.
No game in this day and age should have graphics as terrible as this game does. Now before anyone questions me on this, I will say that I just got done watching videos and looking at in-game screenshots. The graphics in those clips and images were amazing. However, with my laptop (which has more than even the recommended hardware to run it) everything is slightly pixelated, which heavily detracts from detail and (combined with the very bad responsiveness) can actually affect the gameplay so much that it can cost you to fail a mission. The interface, all the cut scenes, and everything else look great, but the issue here is with the map itself, and I can't yet tell if it's a hardware issue or if there's something else going on (if I figure it out, I'll change my review accordingly). Regardless, it's affecting my gameplay experience for the worse and I have to go with what I can see for myself.
Sound Effects: 9/10
One of the few truly redeeming factors behind this game is the plethora of sound effects that try to make every scene as realistic as possible.
This is easily the first game in the series (except the second one for obvious reasons) where I've actually forgotten that there's music playing! The songs are very ambient and collectively lack anything that really make them stand out, plus most of them consist of the same few bars played over and over again (not unlike many tracks from Emergency 1). However they are still very well composed and very fitting for this particular kind of game.
I have to give props for changing the campaign in the way that they did. I have yet to come across any other major title (or even small titles for that matter) that have a campaign run like this one. Other than that, everything is still status-quo with just a few tweaks here and there.
Composite Score: 6/10