Emergency 3 is both an exasperating and riveting game, which seems strangely appropriate given its disaster rescue theme. If any other release demanded this much work, inspired this much frustration, players would be expected to turn off the computer and promptly use the software for their next drink coasters. Emergency 3 has an awkward interface and a brief tutorial that's laughable in its incompleteness. Yet somehow the game manages to keep you coming back.
It's either the challenge of overcoming insurmountable odds or the missions' puzzle-like structure that will keep players glued to (and yelling at) their screens. Each mission is literally an "accident" that requires the judicious use of police, doctors, firemen, and other rescue workers. The action takes place from an isometric perspective of the area as players spend their allotted budget on vehicles and personnel. The goal is to contain the danger before it gets out of hand or lives are lost. Unfortunately, you begin with more questions on how to effectively use the resources than answers. Each mission introduces new vehicles with new abilities in situations you are completely unprepared for.
Since the documentation inadequately explains the role and capabilities of each unit you assign, missions become trial-and-error exercises in what or who does what to which. There is a also a disappointing amount of micromanagement involved, from positioning individual units on the scene to ordering personnel to get in and out of vehicles. If these speed bumps were designed to simulate real-life challenges of emergency teams, then it is understandable why organizations like FEMA fail to respond in time. Since they are flaws, players will have to suffer through them to appreciate what this game is all about: providing an imaginative twist on a tiring genre. Instead of clichés, Emergency 3 offers 15 clever, compelling, and challenging scenarios that ultimately rescue this title from a certain DNR order.
Graphics: Great lighting and fire effects with detailed urban and outdoor environments. Animation could use some work.
Sound: The groans and wincing pains from victims can be unnerving, but they are also repetitive. Vehicle sirens are European instead of American.
Enjoyment: Despite a frustrating interface and poor documentation, Emergency 3 remains playable because of its unusual premise.
Replay Value: Each mission can be revisited to improve on time and effectiveness, and the game also includes a built-in mission editor and support for player mods.
In a world of RTS games bent on death and destruction, it's a refreshing change of pace to find one that challenges you to actually save lives. Saving lives should be pretty exciting stuff after all, right? Well not necessarily so. Emergency 3 has enough quirks, bugs, and at times tedious play to send you back to your killing ways.
Emergency 3 puts you in charge of the emergency services of a small city. These services are broken down into functional groups such as fire, police, medical, and support. The game's campaign is played as a series of disaster scenarios in which you must select the proper assets to send to the disaster and then direct their actions to contain the disaster and save lives. You may just need a basic fire truck or the disaster may call for special equipment and ladder trucks. You can also select which type of firemen will arrive on the trucks, such as those specially equipped to directly enter burning environments. Your choices will be driven by the nature of the disaster, but you'll also be rated on how many assets you deployed to the disaster. You'll receive the highest rating by deploying just enough units to get the job done.
So far, so good, but where the game starts to get a bit tedious is in directing the emergency units. First of all, newly arrived vehicles always park themselves at the edge of the map and never make their way to the disaster on their own. You'll have to scroll to the map edge, select the vehicles, scroll back to the scene, and then click to send the vehicles there. One would think that the dispatcher would bother to give the emergency vehicles the address of the disaster, but I guess not. Once at the scene, the individual rescue workers will need to be directed on each and every step of the way. For example, when a fire truck arrives at a fire, you must unload the firemen, select one to walk to the truck and get a hose, move him to a hydrant to attach it, move him back to the fire, and then click on the area where you want the water delivered. You then need to select the next fireman and repeat the process. The game would be far more enjoyable if you could play the tactician by selecting which part of the fire you wanted attacked first and then automatically sending the firemen to do the job. This same sort of step by step by step gameplay applies to all of the rescue workers - doctors will continue to work on stabilized patients until told to stop and directed to the next victim, firemen will pour water into an extinguished part of the building while a fire rages right next to them, etc. Seriously, how about a little autonomy here?
So if you have to tell each person exactly what to do each step of the way, you'd think that they'd do their jobs right. Unfortunately, Emergency 3 is full of enough quirks and annoyances that it seems like it should have spent a bit longer in beta testing. For example, a policeman can set up a roadblock to prevent traffic from entering a disaster scene. However, no matter where you place the policeman or which way he is facing, it is a total crap shoot as to where the roadblock will end up. He could put it on the sidewalk, across only half of the road, or send it off in the opposite direction so that you end up roadblocking someone's front lawn.
In addition to the game's campaign there is a free play mode in which disasters of various sorts occur at regular intervals and you're tasked with responding to them and containing them as quickly as possible. This should make for some fun gameplay, but the game's engine is not sophisticated enough to handle such freeform play and as a result some of the situations rapidly become absurd. As a great example I will relate my tale of the faulty traffic light that nearly took down a city. I received notification that a traffic light was out, so I sent an engineer and a police squad car to the scene. I sent the engineer to fix the light while I prepared to set up a roadblock with the police. I had just gotten the policemen out of their car when a slow-moving car approached the engineer's van, bumped it in the rear, and caused both vehicles to explode into fireballs killing the engineer in the process. I tried to rush the police to block the road when their car was hit, causing it to explode as well and set the nearby trees on fire. This particular street happened to be tree-lined and so the fire slowly started hopping from one tree to the next along the avenue. This time I sent a new engineer, a police van packed with policemen whose job it was to block the roads, a fire truck, and two ambulances. Keep in mind that this is a broken traffic light situation. Next came a Keystone Kops routine in which the police managed to throw roadblocks everywhere except on the roads. Good thing the van came with a few hundred roadblocks. I finally got one to actually block one of the roads when a car showed up, rammed the fire truck causing more explosions including one of the ambulances, and injured a doctor, a fireman, and two police. OK, in come more emergency vehicles, more roadblocks went across sidewalks, and more explosions happen. At this point I left to go to Washington and ask for disaster relief from the federal broken traffic light emergency fund.
There's some potential to the kind of gameplay in Emergency 3, it's just too bad that it's not well executed or for that matter very exciting. Eliminate the tedium, ratchet up the tension, and get rid of the annoying quirks and bugs and you may have yourself a good little strategy game here.
People who downloaded Emergency 3 have also downloaded:
Emergency 2: The Ultimate Fight for Life, Emergency: Fighters for Life, 911 First Responders, Firefighter Command: Raging Inferno, Empire Earth II, Empire Earth, Fire Department (a.k.a. Fire Chief / Emergency Fire Response), Fire Department: Episode 3
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