Surely everyone has wanted to be a hero at some point, right? I mean that’s one of the reasons why we play games – so we can save the world, ‘get’ the girl (or boy), and generally feel good about ourselves. Rarely does anyone want to play the bad guy for long. It feels good to perform good deeds and do right by the world. It’s empowering. Even in some of the grimmest first-person shooters, you still tend to be the hero, despite the fact that often happens to involve killing an awful lot of bad guys along the way.
Perhaps weirdly, games all too often skim past the actual heroes in our real lives. When you think about it, in our everyday lives, it’s the emergency services that are more obviously heroic than most other professions. However, reliable things are often taken hugely for granted, so we end up underappreciating them.
Similarly, they’re underappreciated within games. Take firefighters, for instance. How many games can you name off the top of your head where you play a firefighter? Don’t run to Wikipedia! I could name two when I thought about it – Rosco McQueen and Burning Rangers.
Rosco McQueen was terrific fun back in the late 90s. I remember it in my local video shop available to rent, except it was so popular that I rarely managed to get hold of it. A cartoon-ish take on The Towering Inferno and Die Hard, Rosco McQueen was an archetypal hero, right down to his square jaw and stoic attitude. It was a relatively typical third-person adventure really, with the twist being that you ‘shot’ at the fires rather than enemies. There were simple puzzles to solve and occasionally people to save too.
Burning Rangers pursued a similar path about the same time, albeit with a typically Japanese flourish thrown in. Set in a futuristic society, players control elite firefighters known as Burning Rangers as they extinguish fires and rescue people. You know the drill. It had its quirky moments. Mostly because you also had a jetpack so you could perform backflips, rolls, and all sorts. A random generator mode that opened up a potential 3,000+ unique routes was also a neat way of enticing you into replaying it.
Notice how both Rosco McQueen and Burning Rangers stuck to a somewhat fantastical way of firefighting? That was a wise move and is why those two games are quietly loved. Because, alternatively, you have the much more modern Firefighters – The Simulation. You can buy it on Steam now, or even buy it for the Xbox One or PS4, but I don’t know why you would.
See, firefighting (like a lot of exciting looking jobs) isn’t actually that exciting a lot of the time. Sure, there are promises of getting to eradicate hazardous substances or extinguish house fires and save people, but Firefighters – The Simulation is a little too close to reality for comfort. You also find yourself washing the fire engine regularly (otherwise, inexplicably, the rest of your crew refuse to get in it), and backing the vehicle into the garage slowly after coming back from a call out. You know, the most fascinating parts of the day.
And maybe that’s the problem with firefighting in games. Too much reality is often a bad thing. Even the all mighty Konami couldn’t quite crack the genre with the PS2’s Firefighter F.D.18. It had its moments with fire ‘bosses’ to tackle at the end of each stage being a particular highlight, but it was still rather repetitive. There’s only so many different ways of extinguishing a fire, after all.
With seemingly no mainstream firefighting games on the horizon, it’s a terrible shame that no one is willing to pick up the mantle that Rosco McQueen and Burning Rangers once held. There are so many kids out there wanting to be firefighters when they grow up, and yet no video game outlet. Heroes can be more than flawed characters shooting everything that moves. We just need to make sure we’re not lumbered with washing vehicles or reverse-parking too often too. Because that’s hardly great entertainment when you could be jetpacking around instead.