Four-Alarm Fun: The Ignition Factor
Follow 1994, Jaleco
Super NES
arcade/action

Four-Alarm Fun: The Ignition Factor

Good: Unique gameplay, challenging missions
Bad: Not an accurate representation of firefighting
User Score
9.0
(1 votes)
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Now, it’s time for a subject near and dear to my heart: firefighting in video games. It is interesting to see how few games over the years involving firefighters have surfaced. In my opinion, as a gamer as well as a firefighter, it is very difficult to convey a true sense of what the job entails. A true life simulation involves tons of training, station and equipment upkeep, with short but extremely intense action sequences bookending the mundane. This would make for a terrible video game, as we prefer it to be all action and little tedium. That would be an unrealistic presentation of the fire service in the gaming medium; however The Ignition Factor, cleverly presents the life of a firefighter in an arcade format. This accomplishes two goals, first, making the focus on action with limited ‘between the calls’ content, and second, giving players the chance to take on the role of a firefighter in a way that is fun, yet not too serious.

IF steel millI first played the Ignition Factor soon after it’s release, due to a sale at K-Mart in 1995. My time in the fire service was more than ten years in the future, but like any kid, I always thought firefighters were cool. What I ended up with was a very unique and enjoyable gaming experience, and my second playthrough as an adult, who happens to be a professional firefighter, was just as much fun as well. My enjoyment of the game hinged on suspending my real life role as a firefighter, because, as I said, the game is presented in an arcade format rather than a real simulation. My wife gets very irritated with me when we are watching shows like Law & Order, and I repeatedly make comments on how the firefighters or EMS personnel doing something wrong or unrealistic; I can’t help it and will try not to call out too many discrepancies here as well. So, without further ado, here’s a look at one of the most unique games in the Super Nintendo library.

IF electrical fireJaleco’s 1994 release, The Ignition Factor goes a long way to show what this company was capable of outside the realm of baseball games. Released in Japan as “Firefighting,” you take on the role of a firefighter in an unnamed metropolitan fire department. The game is broken up into three chapters, each with multiple scenarios. Most place you in heavily involved commercial and industrial structure fires, a couple of mining accidents, and a secret mission that I’ll bring up later. You begin at the equipment selection screen. Your firefighter is equipped with an SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus), a handline for basic fires, and a radio for communicating with command. You then select additional equipment such as a pick headed axe, rope, fire extinguishers for electrical and gas fires, and plastic explosives. Look, I promised that I wouldn’t bust this game’s chops for unrealistic content, but I have yet to have seen plastic explosives on a fire engine. Sorry, just had to put that out there. You then select your scenario and roll out on your engine. Upon arrival at your emergency, you have many different objectives. First of all, you have to beat the clock. Just like in real life, you have a limited amount of time to rescue entrapped victims and secure valuables before the building becomes fully involved and a total loss. You also have a limited amount of health, and if you run out, you’re dead. We don’t get a second chance at this in real life structure fires, but like I said, I’m trying to look at this from a gamer’s perspective. For the most part, the fires you’re attacking are already fully developed, so at best you can only hope to contain said fires in order to accomplish your goals. In addition to the fire itself, other hazards such as collapsing floors and gas buildups are present, and if you are carrying too much equipment, your firefighter, just like in real life, moves much slower, making it difficult to progress.

IF on fire againAs your operation progresses, the timer ticks down and the percentage of fire involvement goes up. You can combat this by straying from your objectives and attacking the fire itself. It is possible to get the fire percentage down to zero, but as soon as you stop attacking it, the fire comes back. Believe me, I tried it. Sometimes you’ll come across electrical fires, illustrated as blue flames, or gas fires, illustrated as green flames. Situations like these warrant careful equipment selection at the beginning of a scenario. Fortunately, you’ll come across fellow firefighters inside the buildings, and they give you an opportunity to recover health as well as exchange equipment. Sometimes objectives change or new ones present themselves on the fly. There really are some unique missions, ranging from museum fires that require you to save precious artifacts to coal mines that have suffered collapse and require victim extrication. There is even a secret level where you respond to a fire at the DM headquarters, which is the final level from another Jaleco release, “The Peacekeepers.” Here you’re tasked with putting out a fire in a building full of diseased angry mutants while people are fighting all around you. This is where your axe really comes in handy. Between the missions, you’re treated to a small amount of fire department drama, which is necessary to move the plot along. Also, at the end of each mission, you return to the engine on the streets in front of the news media and gathering crowd to cheering and adulation; you’re also judged by your performance in how much of the fire you actually extinguished as well as victims rescued and precious items saved.

IF level upWhen we take a look at the game’s graphics, at first glance they appear par for the course with other SNES games of the time; further inspection places them above average in my opinion, due to the fact that historically flames and smoke had been one of the more difficult images to properly render up to that point in video games. The poison gas swirls in the mine rescue levels are pretty neat as well. A couple of drawbacks include the in-mission faces of NPCs appear sort of bland, and the fact that your firefighter’s handline is ‘cut off’ a few feet behind him. This was probably more of a hardware limitation than developer laziness, if you ask me. The cutscenes are pretty cool looking, and the imagery helps you get a sense of attachment to your squad. The backgrounds and overall presentation of each mission are well done, and contribute to giving every mission a different atmosphere. Clearly this game was no rush job, and the graphics reflect this.

IF molten ironSoundwise, the music is typical fare for the mid-16 bit era, however the music is well paced and appropriate for the situation. At the beginning of each mission the music starts out slow, and as time goes by picks up the pace. Finally, when time is running out, you get more of a frenzied tempo that fits the urgency of your rapidly-decaying situation. There’s some voice-over work that is nothing too special, but it’s well done. A lot of effort clearly went into the sound effects, as the sound of flames burning is of high quality. Simple things that commonly get overlooked such as doors being forced have a cool sound to them, even your boots hitting the metal catwalks in some of the industrial levels get the players attention. Man, the more I write about this game, the more I realize how great it really was.

IF where's nancyAs far as the game’s mechanics and controls, the button layout was very conducive to how you perform your fireground operations. The ability to switch tools is smooth, and the ability to run when unencumbered was a nice touch. Things like falling through floors and collapsing catwalks are captured artfully, making the most of the system’s hardware. The pace of which the flames grow match the intended difficulty of each level, so it’s enough of a challenge, but not too much as the game progresses. The time limits are fair, yet can be unforgiving, and this is intentional in order to give the player a sense of split-second decision making that firefighting actually requires. The replay value can be determined in a couple of different ways. If you’re looking for another feather in your cap by simply beating the game, you’ll be done with this one after a couple of playthroughs. However, if you are the type of gamer that tries for things like the best possible completion times and most victims rescued, you’ll get some extended play out of this one, well after you’ve beaten the game.

IF fully involvedSo ultimately, just what do I, as a professional firefighter as well as a gamer have to say about the Ignition Factor? Good things on both ends, actually. The game is a lot of fun, and doesn’t have many flaws at all, other than wanting more missions. It looks and sounds great, is an original idea, has a neat storyline and plays well. As a firefighter, I understand that most of the general public see us as smashing doors, jumping out of windows, battling blazes and savin’ babies. In reality, it’s nowhere near like that on a regular basis in many fire departments. But a lot of people aren’t interested in things like thermal gas layers, laws of combustion, and oxygen deprivation in hostile environments. The developers of this game realized this, yet found a way to highlight the badassery we get to engage in from time to time with the critical thinking and decision making that is necessary for us to successfully do our jobs. The end result is a fun, action packed experience that makes you think, and that is what made the Ignition Factor a great game twenty years ago, and what still makes it a fun game to this day.

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Four-Alarm Fun: The Ignition Factor, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
fflando
fflando


I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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