The firefighting sub-genre of action games might be underrepresented but man are there some real gems out there. The Ignition Factor was a low key release in 1994 but one that I feel should have gotten more attention as it was so different from everything else on the shelf at the time. Sadly the hype surrounding the impending launch of the Saturn and PlayStation caused many 16-bit gems to be overlooked. That’s why I’m here to spread the good word. The Ignition Factor is a cool game and one you should seek out.
Immediate comparisons to Human Entertainment’s the Firemen can’t be avoided and in many ways the two games are similar. Both titles have a similar structure and mechanics but in this regard I feel the Firemen is a stronger title. The Ignition Factor has a number of niggling control quirks that are frustrating but manageable but is also inconsistent in its tone. Despite that however this is still a pretty good game that executes its core concept very well and a worthy alternative.
The Ignition Factor casts you as Dave, the newest recruit in the fire department as you are sent to deal with various emergency situations in the city along with a few team members. There is no overarching story to the proceedings but the game doesn’t need one. While it appears to be a more serious take on the subject of firefighting the localization is anything but as there is plenty of fourth wall dialogue poking fun at the script and its writers. It’s mostly harmless but shows up randomly and seems out of place.
Prior to every level you have a choice of equipment to bring along. There are multiple extinguishers for different flames, an axe to bust open walls or doors, rope to cross gaps, and even a pole to check for unsafe floors. The briefings clue you in as to what to expect but even so you can still switch gear by finding other team members. Like real life encumbrance plays a factor in movement. Anything beyond three pieces of equipment prevents you from running or kicking to eventually moving at a snail’s pace. I can appreciate the idea but the way it’s handled here is completely unrealistic. Picking up a small piece of paper shouldn’t weigh me down so much that I can’t run. The bonus items add so little to your score they aren’t worth carrying.
The primary goal in every mission is to rescue a certain number of civilians within a varying time limit. The condition of each level varies; sometimes the flames have barely started while in others they rage out of control. There are even some where fire isn’t a factor and you’ll deal with toxic air instead! Unlike the Firemen battling flames isn’t the most crucial part of the game surprisingly. It’s there but with so much else going on it seems like a minor element at times. That variety is what I like the most. While I find the map to be mostly useless each level, despite spanning multiple floors, isn’t terribly large. Most of the time you’ll save about ¾ of the necessary civilians in record time only to receive an additional objective. These can be locating and defusing a bomb or preventing a reactor from exploding.
Performance is graded based on a number of factors such as people rescued, time, and any bonus items found. Your score is important for two reasons, the first in order to level up which increases your maximum health. The second is to unlock an optional ninth mission if you have a score greater than 5000. It’s a nice gesture but one that isn’t entirely needed as the game is lengthy as is. Chances are you won’t complete each level on your first or second try making this a long lasting experience.
The core of Ignition Factor is solid but it isn’t perfect. There are a number of control problems that are frustrating to deal with and ruin the experience slightly. The game’s menus use the equivalent of a mouse based interface that is pointless on a console and make switching equipment or checking the map a slow process. The movement controls are incredibly touchy; normally sprinting is accomplished by double tapping but even holding down in a direction will initiate it which unfortunately will cause you to run into flames more often than not. The game is already challenging as is and these issues bring it down a notch but aren’t deal breaking.
Seeing this to its conclusion is a tall order as it starts out tough and only gets worse from there. The initial mission alone literally throws you into the shit and doesn’t let up with its exploding barrels, falling platforms and increasing gouts of flames. It’s all a bit much to take in from the start and I honestly believe most will fail the first few times. While the primary objective of rescuing five survivors seems simple actually accomplishing it is anything but. It gets better as the time limit is relaxed and you adjust to the mission structure. But that still doesn’t mean it isn’t infuriating. The map only shows a basic grid and a few points but is otherwise useless. With how complex the levels become this really is an oversight. But just like the controls you can work around these problems.
The quality of the Ignition Factor and its rival the Firemen really makes me wish for more games that explored this subject matter. Despite its few faults I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to those looking for something a little different. One of Jaleco’s better titles.