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Hip Interactive Corp 2004

Windows 98, 2000, XP


As a student of the greater world of sci-fi/fantasy, I have been exposed to many different visions of the future. Some think we will all live in an intergalactic mega-society peacefully with enlightened alien beings. Others think the future will be a harsh struggle on the open road for dwindling resources like food and gasoline between rival gangs with mohawks and football shoulder pad armor. One thing they all seem to have in common though is that there are no more game consoles in the future, and instead to play a video game one must hook-up all kinds of crazy wires and crap in some kind of huge virtual reality machine.

Hence the very thin plot here - it's 2010, and the world's most popular video game is called "Firestarter," (which just happens to be the game you're playing, what a coincidence.) However some crazy virus has taken over the game, where it starts electrocuting people for real when they get pizzownered in game. For some reason whenever there's a computer virus in a game or movie they can't just install Norton Anti-virus, instead they have to send someone into the computer or program to actually "kill" the virus from the inside. Thus your job as a computer technician cleaner-type person is to risk your life to engage the evil virus in mortal combat instead of just like reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything. IT in the future sounds like a dangerous profession.

I usually tend to avoid budget titles, on account that most of the time they're pretty awful. Despite a plot overflowing with trite the actual game within isn't too bad. It's a standard FPS with some decent weaponry and good visuals that were above par in 2004. The single player game consists of four zones that have different architectural styles (including the standard industrial zone, the ancient ruins-type zone, etc.) The game consists of you running around in the various rooms, capping monsters with high powered weaponry, and collecting little "artifacts" whose purpose seems to be there just so you have something to do. Who needs talking in their games anyway.

You're able to choose between six different characters, a Marine, cop, agent, cyborg, gunfighter, and mutant - each who has their own unique look, attributes, and special abilities. For instance the Mutant can teleport inside of another monster and kill it, while the cop can carry heavy weapons with less reduction in speed. There are active and passive skills, such as the mutant's ability to heal while standing still (passive) or the Marine's ability to target a monster and make other monsters attack it (active.) Some characters can also "dual wield," which in this game means they just get two of the same weapon (and thus use twice the ammo.)

Good things first - The game is fast, simple, and looks great. There isn't much of a learning curve, you can begin capping things right off the bat without too much trouble. The weapons respond good and all of them are useful. The action can get pretty hairy at times, especially in the later levels.

Now the bad stuff - First off there is a lot of flashy baloney going on here that is just not necessary. There are "jump points" akin to Unreal Tournament that launch you across the screen, problem is you automatically do a somersault in mid air, which means the screen spins around all crazy and you lose orientation rather quickly. Second the action purposefully slows down whenever a monster gets close (which is this game's attempt at a "bullet time" type thing.) Yeah that gets old pretty fast, especially when there's a monster on a railing above or below you and you can't see it and thus the screen just slows down for no apparent reason.

Thankfully you can just turn those two unnecessary"features" off, and the game becomes a lot more playable. What you can't turn off though is the fact that every time a new weapon, artifact, or monster spawns, the action has to stop in order to show you a 360 revolving view of it. This is intended to show you where said item or monster is, however you already have a map in the lower left which makes this "feature" completely redundant. Thing is this seems to happen at the most inopportune times - such as right when you're about to score a head shot while flying in the air above a monster - then BAM, look at this weapons spawn thing that you can't skip, and now back to your game where you've just blown your golden opportunity for awesomeness. Sometimes even you'll be running away for your life, about to make a critical jump over some lava or some shit only to be interrupted by that ridiculous spawning crap which then completely fucks you up when gameplay resumes. Yes it is that horrible.

Plus you have to fetch these dumb artifact things whenever they appear. They don't do anything. They're just there to give you something to do. You would think an item that doesn't do anything would just be like bonus points, but here it's game over if you miss them. Lame.

Normally something like that spawning baloney would be enough to put me off a game (that and any attempt to play this game on any difficulty level above "Easy" is a humbling experience,) however in this case I found myself somewhat getting into Firestarter. The later levels are a lot better, with wider open areas and less confusing layouts. Enemy characters look like they've had a bit of thought put into them as they're a notch above the usual generic biomechanical monstrosities these games tend to have. Some of them are downright frightening. I can safely recommend Firestarter to anyone who wants a quick brainless session of monster slaughtering.

Graphics: Very well done for a game in 2004. Lots of reflections, particle effects, little animations all over the place (fans, computer screens, etc.) The enemy characters look pretty and seem to be made of a higher poly count than other budget games of this type. It almost seems as if this were a higher profile title that got side-lined into a smaller project.

Sound: Fast evil sounding techno supports the usual grunts, groans, and roars. Samples are of good quality.

Gameplay: This isn't a game that relys on stealth of suspense. Monsters spawn and immediately rush at you. No pussyfooting around. As a result enemy A. I. is pretty simple, you can usually just get everyone to line up and die as you fire while running backwards, although the more advanced enemy types will actually keep their distance and fire at you. The Spawning crap tends to ruin the action at times.

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