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Review Flame Over

Bloody hell, if they put this in front of prospective fire fighters as part of the job interview, most of them would go home and become yoghurt farmers, or something a little less challenging! Flame Over is a seriously tough slab of game, cut from the unforgiving cloth of the roguelikes, but with its own distinctive, and slightly singed, aroma to it.

My use of the phrase 'double well-hard bastard' is usually reserved for special forces (where I think our hero Blaze got his 'tache from) and dense highly-radioactive metals, but can now be applied to this! When you're playing it right, Flame Over is a deadly ballet, dancing in and out of rooms to preserve your life, pirouetting around to fight each devilish tongue of fire with water or foam, and striding purposefully with metronomic cadence to find the recharge points and bonuses around the randomly generated levels.

To add to the chaos, there are people to rescue (which add to your time) and cats (extra lives). Finding the feisty Miss Ion and keeping her alive is an essential part of most levels. She gives you simple tasks, if you ignore the massive fire raging around you, to perform with upgrade tokens as a reward.

The isometric perspective (hey, can the Laughing Jackal devs redo Alien 8 in this engine?) means you can't see every bit of the out-of-control BBQ. You are constantly juggling perspective and hose direction to keep the conflagration under control, before you get too toasted - shown by a red ring encircling you as the heat grows.

Money to Burn

Even the first level is a serious challenge (best watch the team's gameplay video to get the gist, if you get frustrated, honestly its not cheating when a game is officially a bastard like Flame Over). And, once you make it out alive, avoiding death - literally - if the timer happens to run out, things only get tougher.

Annoyingly, when you make it out, you can have loads of cash, but often no token, which means you can't gain any benefit from the power-up screen at the start. A slightly more friendly bit of design here would have helped, but apparently Mr. Grumpy was in charge during development. Also, don't say "spend money now" when you can't actually spend any! Still, when you get a token or two, the upgrade process soon becomes another cunning part of your strategy, lots of water bombs, or a hardier fire fighter? You decide.

As it is, you race into the next level with little time and more backdrafts to battle, making rescues the priority over the fire, it becomes a vicious juggling act. Play Flame Over a few times and you learn the strategies for saving and earning time as a priority. There are tips on the loading screen, but there's plenty you can learn yourself through clever play.

Learning the properties of the different materials is another key to success, as is finding the big circuit switch that will kill the electrical fires, making your task a little simpler. Using the map, you can find reload points and other essentials, but Flame Over is essentially about time management, and is remorseless in its punishment when you cock things up.

Spread across four areas, offices, the lavish executive suites, nasty chemical labs and the factory (which add their own challenges in the form of toxic spills, gas, exploding barrels and other nasties), the various power ups become essential. There's a defibrillator kit to revive collapsed victims, holy water to prevent recurring fires and several fire fighter performance improvements to help you battle the flambe more effectively.

Toasty or Toasted?

There are some brilliant touches in Flame Over, from the green glow that reminds you where the exit it, to the clever upgrade strategy and the pernicious nature of the fires. Mastering a major room fire brings a great sense of achievement, dicing with your health, water supply and the surging flames, but there's little direct reward from the game, just plenty more similar battles to fight.

My complaints about the game are mostly minor. It feels a bit unbalanced, with lots of money wasted in the early going and lots of unspent tokens stacking up in the second half. A few cosmetic touches also really, really annoy me, The music is quirky, but they could have done a little more with it. The intro is skippable, but is poor and there should be an option to turn it off to save time. There's no quick replay button (for those many times when you don't get a token or enough cash). Also, it needs more than a little "bloop" to notify that you lost a life, and, as you may have noticed, the difficulty is definitely set at sadist level with no way to dial it down.

While it has some character of its own, and the Caretaker and other guests to liven things up later on, it could also do with some better use of its characters. Flame Over just feels a little lacking in the British humour department that a game like this is crying out for, but that's a minor moan.

As a pure game, Flame Over burns about as bright as a Bunsen burner with the air holes open and some magnesium tape held in the flame. It is a rock of a challenge that only Herculean gamers will complete, with some right bastard trophies! If you're up for the challenge, jump right in, if not best go play Pokemon with the kids!

Score: 9/10
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Price: £7.99 (PSN)
Developer: Laughing Jackal
File size 733MB
Progress: Lab rat...

Currently playing on my Vita/PS4/PS5