One of the chief criticisms lobbed at the Wii’s current software catalog is that there are too many copycat titles. The immediate system selling success of Wii Sports opened the floodgate to a virtual Olympics of sports game compilations. Soon after, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves ushered in a glut of gimmicky mini game compendiums. And it seems like only a month ago, I was reviewing the Crazi Taxi-esque Emergency Mayhem and quickly upon its heels comes the similarly themed racer, Emergency Heroes.
While Emergency Heroes shares a lot in common with Emergency Mayhem, with both games presenting open world driving environments where the player is set loose to set right a variety of wrongs using various emergency vehicles (culled from the assorted police, ambulatory and fire professions), Heroes is the more serious of the two titles.
Heroes opens in a vaguely futuristic burg that combines elements of California living with Akira’s New Tokyo. The player enters the role of Zack, a new recruit in the cities’ Emergency Heroes division. This elite unit is responsible for controlling all of the chaos that endlessly erupts in the city limits and the player will be called upon to collar criminals, fight fire and rescue civilians from an escalating series of calamities. All of this is done behind the wheels of your emergency rescue vehicle – of which there are more than 40 specifically designed for the various circumstances that erupt.
The gameplay takes the form of a driving game, with the player always behind the wheel of one of these vehicles. Following a dynamic tutorial designed to teach you the ropes of the various vehicles you’ll jockey as well as introduce you to the specific challenges that will crop up, players can then scout an in-menu map which depicts the location of the next emergency. The emergencies tend to come in four flavors – car chase, fire fighting, civilian rescue or obstacle removal – with different variables applied to them as the game progresses. For instance, earlier in the game you may be called upon to chase a suspect and stop their car by smashing into it a set number of times while later in the game, you’ll find that the only way to stop the car is to hit it on it’s side to take out its special armor.
Once a mission is selected, the player will drive their vehicle to the designated start point by following the onscreen GPS directions in the form of visible arrows and audible navigation depicting the quickest route. Should you arrive at the mission with the wrong vehicle, a cut scene will trigger and the right tool for the job will be delivered to you.
Missions are rated based on how fast you complete them with Bronze, Silver and Gold medals being awarded for exceptional play. The medals carry various levels of points that fill an experience meter. Every time the meter fills, the player will gain a level and usually unlock a new vehicle to for their garage. Players can also gain experience by cruising through the city and seeking out randomly generated emergencies.
Each of the emergency types are track based. The fire fighting missions will place you in a closed-in environment (a college campus, an amusement park) and will force you to follow a set path and put out fires as you encounter them. While earlier in the game, you may need to extinguish five fires to complete the mission, later missions add to the number of hot spots requiring dousing. As the game design is track based (almost like a rail shooter except you are controlling your velocity), should you miss a fire there’s no reason to backtrack as it will come back around again as you navigate the circuit.
The rescue missions are similar in structure. The environments are also track based only instead of fighting fires, you are picking up marked medical supplies before making your way to a person in need of rescue. Once you’ve reach the halfway point of your supply goal, you’ll encounter your civilian target and then will have to retrace your drive out of the building before it collapses – all the while collecting the remaining supplies.
The obstacle removal sequences are similar as well. You are given control of an armored vehicle and charged with driving through a set number of obstacles to clear a path. Again, the only challenge is to complete this in the fastest time possible.
The car chase sequences will drop you in a section of the open city and charge you with chasing down and disabling a criminal. A car can be disabled by repeatedly crashing into it. Later chases will add new variables limiting the sides of the car you can hit. It’s the car chases that feel more like a traditional driving game with the criminal changing routes on the fly requiring the player to keep up.
Once you’ve completed a set number of missions, additional areas of the city will open up, thereby presenting more complex missions to tackle.
Tying the whole package together is a narrative that follows some intrigue involving the new recruit Zack and a mysterious figure from his past who may be behind the escalating series of attacks and mayhem that have plagued the city. This mysterious racer will pop in from time to issue cryptic threats and move the story along.
So, is Emergency Heroes worth saving?
In comparison to the similarly themed Emergency Mayhem, I thought Emergency Heroes presented a more compelling visual package upon first glance. The game certainly looks more grown up with the main city environment showcasing some compelling futuristic designs. In fact, it bears a little resemblance to the city of Santa Destroy on display in the Wii release, No More Heroes, with the graphics featuring a subtle cell shading to their construction. That said, the vehicles, while diverse, are hit or miss. Some of them look pretty snazzy while others are down right blocky, boasting low polygon counts. All of this contributes to keep the frame rate fairly high although whenever the amateur looking fire effects are used, the framerate takes a hit. The story is told through some static anime images that pop up on your HUD from time to time however they’re fairly cliché and are dragged down by the fact that they are not animated at all. This game could easily have been developed for the PS2.
Repetition is the name of the game here. The three main game types are simply too similar to each other (with the player essentially racing against time and occasionally pressing a button to put out a fire). The other cars on the road are easily pushed out of the way and there doesn’t appear to be any real challenge outside of trying to improve your time and thus, net more experience points to open a new vehicle. There also doesn’t appear to be any penalties for driving like a complete maniac on your way to the next emergency meaning you end up causing more mayhem than you are actually controlling. The chase sequences are the best of the lot as the computer will mix things up by reversing direction and taking alternate paths, meaning you have to stay on your toes, however the GPS system dumbs it down for you by providing very large arrows on the road to follow and squawking directions (“TURN LEFT”) at you constantly meaning if you get lost than perhaps a return visit to Driver’s Ed is in order.
Being a pure driving game, Heroes co-opts the same scheme used by Excite Truck and Mario Kart, with the Wii Remote turned on its side and held like a steering wheel. The game also includes support for the recently released Wii Wheel which is used by popping the controller in the shell and driving like you would in real life. Drifting can been executed by applying the break while taking a corner but the roads are so forgiving there’s really no reason to use it. Turning seems less touchy than Excite Truck which means navigating these streets is usually a breeze, provided you can contend with their congestion.
The game is backed by the standard techno beat that one would expect. It just really serves as background music. It’s the sort of synth tracks you’ve heard in every futuristic racer that’s been released and really lacks character.
While the vehicles sound fine – with different sound effects used to represent each of the different variations of craft (from police cars to blockade runners to motorcycles, etc) – the voice acting will drive you insane. The main character comes off as a neurotic wimp whose geeky earnestness does a poor job of selling him as a great emergency hero. His main nemesis is even worse – with a nasally whine that cuts right through your brain. His greatest crime is that he speaks. The banal dialogue coupled with the amateurish voice acting calls to mind the poor dub jobs we used to see on those anime shows that were imported to the US in the early 80’s. The game is trying to go for a Trauma Center-like narrative but lacks any semblance of wit or style to make it work.
Aside from the dynamic chase scenes, everything else in this game is overly scripted. The fire fighting and rescue scenarios play like a rail shooter with elements predictably popping up in the same location constantly. During the open city chase scenes, your nemesis will keep you on your toes by varying his route and changing directions but the developers make sure you always know where to go by laying out those intrusive GPS commands and holding your hand the whole way through. I also encountered some game crashing bugs on two instances where my car crashed through a barrier and landed in a nebulous land of untested code. Finally, I could have used those GPS instructions but alas, I had to reset to escape.
I found it incredibly hard to fail a mission and earned the Gold medal on most missions on the first try. There is very little in the way of adversaries outside of the chase missions meaning you are simply playing through each mission for a better time – of which the “win” conditions seems pretty accommodating. Later missions will add some variety by introducing variables (i.e. only crash into the right door, etc) but there’s nothing here that’s too challenging and the biggest battle you end up fighting is boredom.
There are some simple minigames where you can race against friends but they grow as repetitive as the main game and really aren’t worth your time. There are better racers on the Wii. With no online support for racing, gamers are encouraged to stick with Mario Kart Wii for their multiplayer racing fix.
Emergency Heroes comes out so close on the heels of last month’s Emergency Mayhem and in addition to sharing similar themes they also have one other characteristic in common – they’re just not good. With a unique looking environment, this game had the potential to offer a different sort of racer on the Wii but the lack of challenge coupled with the routine nature of the missions just conspire to sap the game of any appeal. It’s nice to see 3rd party games making use of Nintendo’s peripherals but you really are better served taking that Wii Wheel for a spin with Mario Kart. Who needs Emergency Heroes? Save yourself from this misery.