Emergency 2012
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Firemen are pretty brave when you think about it

It seems odd to me, that you'd call a game Emergency 2012. You'd either need to be planning on bringing out another iteration every year, a la EA Sports, or you'd need to be content with your game looking risibly out of date by January 2013.

Mind you, if we have the kind of year that's depicted in Emergency 2012, it's not going to matter much. Hurricanes, riots, fires and collapsing mountains are only a handful of the disasters that we can look forward to next year. It's like the end of days, only without Arnold Schwarzenegger.

You play the role of an emergency services coordinator, pointing and clicking your firemen, ambulances and policemen from crisis to crisis, trying to limit the body count and keep the buildings upright. You're in control of a fleet of vehicles and personnel, each with unique (if somewhat vaguely-defined) qualities and skills. For instance, firemen aren't just handy with a hosepipe, they can also free people from wrecked vehicles with the jaws of life, or maybe just politely but firmly move bystanders away from imminent befrazzlement.

Experienced gamers will immediately recognise the accoutrements of the RTS up in here - Top-down zoomable 3D environment, point-and click interface, lasso to grab a posse of units at once, minimap... but there's no artillery, or cover system, or advanced levelling system. OK, so the first two should be obvious, really - this is a game of search and rescue, not seek and destroy - but the lack of any kind of experience system for surviving team members seems like a missed opportunity to me. Perhaps doctors could get quicker at resuscitation, or firemen able to withstand the heat for a bit longer... As it is, your boys remain faceless and generic throughout, little more than tools for the job.

I mentioned the minimap. I have something of a problem with the minimap, and it's indicative of a bigger thing, really. So, you know in some RTS games you can pause the game, examine the lay of the land, develop tactics, issue order to your squads, then restart time and see how it all plays out? Such is not the case here. Sure, you can pause the game, but you can't look around or issue commands. So it's a frenetic race against time, trying to stop fires and rescue the wounded before the situation gets out of hand. Therefore, thank god for the minimap, because everyone knows that you can select units and click on the minimap to give them general moving instructions, in order to save time, right? Well, no. The best you can really hope to do is to select your units, double click on the minimap to move the camera, then click on the ground where you want your boys to toddle off to. Oh, and then double click on the multimap again to get the camera back into the region of where you want to focus. I wouldn't really mind, but in cases where every second counts it can be infuriating.

Some of the units are vaguely described, and this hurts the game and the player. For instance, on one level you're given a police helicopter and a rescue helicopter (in police-style colours, so I'm guessing it's a police rescue helicopter). Then, a tutorial tip tells you to use the police chopper to rescue people from the roof of a burning building. Of course, they meant the RESCUE chopper rather than the plain old police helicopter, and blindly following orders saw me hitting the restart button over and over.

Oh, and the learning curve is tightly wound. The only real way to learn how to use the new options on each level is to play with them, and fail horribly, a good couple of times until you've learnt the optimal route through the level. Then there's no challenge left at all. And while I'm moaning, I found it difficult to see some of the wounded bodies lying on the ground in some levels, and spent ages wandering aimlessly round while they bled out.

But wait! It's the near future, and the world is wracked by crises of a biblical scale. The Thames has frozen solid, the Matterhorn has collapsed into rubble and the Eiffel Tower is a twisted wreck. Emergency 2012 is nothing if not imaginative, gleefully levelling some of Europe's best loved landmarks, and setting the rest on fire. The action is fast-paced, and while the correct path is not always immediately obvious, a little common sense will usually see you through. Variety is key, and each level introduces a lovely new environment and a fresh, Michael Bay-flavoured disaster.

I've got to be honest. I was expecting Emergency 2012 to be horrible. And true, the controls can be clunky and frustrating, and the replayability limited once you do finally work your way past the fiendish difficulty, but for all its faults I enjoyed the originality and pace of Emergency 2012. System requirements are not exactly what you'd call gentle, but you'll be able to get by with a halfway decent rig. No need to raid the piggy bank for this one.

It's different. It looks fairly pretty. It's easy to pick up and play. There are no zombies, Nazis, orcs or Italian plumbers in it.

It's worth a look.


Its a disaster jamboree!