reviews\ Jul 7, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Fireblade - PS2 - Review

I’ve a confession to make: ever since I was a wee lad, I had always dreamed of piloting a copter for the British Royal Navy.  There is nothing quite like a military helicopter with its nearly silent propellers and intimidating number of arsenal as it flies off to battle or goes off to pick up or drop troops.  FireBlade attempts to capture this same fascination and adds plenty of action to boot.


FireBlade’s story revolves around a dangerous terrorist organization known as the United Eastern States (or the UES) establishing training camps for their rising army and huge facilities for the production of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. Their intentions are to wage a massive war against the Western nations.  Thus FireBlade--an anti-terrorist military force conceived by the West--is called into action to stop the UES threat once and for all.


Gamers start by selecting the first campaign that takes them through a brief tutorial on how to control your fully equipped chopper via a training instructor in her own chopper.  Immediately gamers will get to see how slightly awkward the controls are.  Movement is carried out by moving the analog sticks to move up and down or forward (although you can change the setting to fit your style and comfort).  Since there is more emphasis on arcade action than flight, however, it’s the weapons and missiles--which can be replenished by collecting power-ups seen as crates--that play the biggest role in the game.


Each mission (there are eighteen missions in total) is composed of various tasks to be performed but the primary objectives are always the ones that take precedence over the smaller tasks on the Mission Map list.  Missions vary from destroying a bridge to cut off troops from advancing or picking up troops in the drop-off area before the enemy cuts them down.  Depending on the tasks, you either fly the AV-76 Vendetta (fast, sleek and deadly) or the UV108 Talon (bulky but extremely deadly).  Both of these also use stealth technology--that makes the copter appear invisible to radars--and many missions require gamers to slide into enemy territory unnoticed.


And the action does pull you in nicely--and what combat obsessed gamer wouldn’t be thrilled with all those missiles and a sniper mode?   The game can place many enemies on the screen at once--from ground troops and tanks to UES enemy helicopters--without even slowing the action down one bit. However, there are many instances where the enemy AI hardly misses when they fire at your copter.  Stealth mode hardly does its job because somehow the tanks know you’re around.  And the foot soldiers are just too hard to hit with the Minigun (doesn’t this thing hit anything?)--you have to waste missiles on them to wipe them all out.


Visually the game is disappointing and that’s most unfortunate since there is much to look at in the game.  While the environments are detailed to its fullest, the textures are so bland that gamers will feel that this is really an okay looking PSOne game.  However, the special effects such as the fiery explosions or the launching of surface-to-air missiles as it shoots past your copter are truly quite spectacular. The cut scenes are also decent but they’re nothing to write home about.


The soundtrack isn’t bad at all, although much of it is basically just dramatic filler.  The real sound quality can be found in its effects, which surround the player especially during intense battles.  Rockets whiz past your chopper as the blades thump endlessly.  When you knock down towers or shoot at ground troops you can hear their screams.


Despite its small number of faults, FireBlade is still an addictive game with plenty of missions to play through and many battles to test your mettle. While not a chopper simulator, the chopper action is more arcade oriented and should appeal to those gamers that are looking for a title with more bang than just simple flying around.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 7.9
The awkward controls aren’t frustratingly difficult to master, however gamers will surely find themselves pushing the wrong buttons in times when the action becomes so intense that it becomes disorienting.  Still, gamers will grow comfortable with them the longer they play and thankfully there is no difference in the handling of either of the two copters you get to pilot.


Missions send you through a number of objectives and many of them take place in various locations throughout the world like the Artic Circle or the South American desert.  Many missions have you destroying weapon manufacturing factories or keeping the UES troops from advancing to a certain location.  And combat gets thick and turbulent when you are required to seek and destroy.  Luckily there are enough missile and health power-ups.


Graphics: 7.3
The low point of the game can be found in its visuals and sadly FireBlade isn’t a very good-looking game . . . although it’s not a horrible looking one either.  Made up of plain textures, many of the landscapes are dull to look at and this is a shame considering that gamers get to travel to exotic locations throughout the game.


And while the copter you pilot is okay to look at, it’s the special effects that rise above the plainness.  Missiles launch with smoke trailing after it and explode in a beautiful fiery ball of flame.  The electromagnetic pulse rifle is also quite a sight to see, as are the swarmer missiles that striker a number of targets at once.


Sound: 7.8
The game is filled with a mediocre dramatic soundtrack that picks up when the action does, but most of the time it’s unnoticeable since the sounds a gamer will be hearing more of is the wonderful sound effects of explosions and missile fire.  And the voice acting is pretty decent and is present during mission briefings and during the action when mission command wants you to turn your attention to something else that’s going on.  


Difficulty: Medium
While keeping the arcade styled action of most Midway games, FireBlade’s battles are intense and challenging to survive through.  At times five or six different enemies will be shooting at the chopper and it’s very easy to loose track of how many missiles or rockets you have left in your payload--although a voice does warn you when you’re low on them.  And the minigun, which looks great when you fire it, seldom does much damage . . . if it hits anything at all to begin with.


The missions grow more difficult the further you get in the game and the unusual enemy AI reaction doesn’t help things.  There are times when you need to secretly fly into a compound using the stealth mode but somehow a moving tank or a truck somehow “feels” your presence and your cover is blown--thus having to start the mission over again.  It can become annoying doing a mission over again because enemies seem to have super-senses.


Concept: 8.0
Lately combat flight games are moving in entirely new and innovative directions, it’s nice too see that a game can be true to the flight experience while providing a bizarre back story or plenty of unique missions to attempt. FireBlade, while not completely innovative, is a game that is entertaining and somewhat true to the combat helicopter experience.


The game’s combat will draw many action fans and this title is filled with many interesting encounters . . . although much of it has been seen before in other titles.  However, the sniper mode--one of the game’s most interesting advantages--was a highly unexpected feature that is far more helpful than the stealth mode. 


Overall: 7.7
FireBlade is the kind of combat title gamers will find hard to put down and, while it suffers from a number of imperfections, the missions are far too engaging to care about the little things.  Those gamers looking for a copter simulation won’t find it here but arcade action fans will find this one up their alley.


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