As I said in my initial observations of the game, I’ve been waiting for a firefighting game to come to the market for a long time. Since I was a kid, in fact. What I didn’t realize until writing this review was that there have been many since that I either missed or deemed not worth playing at the time. Embr: Uber Firefighters has changed that for me. It’s partly because of the physics based gameplay and poppy graphics, but it’s also the accessibility of Stadia. Here’s a bit about the game and our verdict.
Embr is a frantic fire-fighting (un)Simulator set in a hyper-capitalist, deregulated alt-present where public firefighting funding has run dry, where venture capitalism and e-hailing rule the roost. The Embr Respondr is the last stand in a world ablaze.
Embr is an online co-op multiplayer game for up to four players, supporting player-hosted servers.
Sure, you put out fires with a water hose and rescue people just like in Firefighters: The Simulation and other such games, but Embr has both a more interesting name and more interesting gameplay mechanics. The graphics are bright and poppy as well and there’s even some humor.
‘The Future of Firefighting’
The game begins by having you complete your registration through a phone app before entering a career fair specifically set up by the Embr company. During the fair, you’ll go through a short tutorial which teaches you about the environmental hazards you’ll face and how to overcome them with your suite of tools. Afterwards, you’re dropped into an alleyway where you use your phone to accept jobs like a homeless Uber driver or something. The funny thing is that the phone is cracked and is covered in a fire resistant case – nice touch. There’s some backstory as to why the ‘Future of Firefighting’ is run like a contractor or work-for-hire service, but I’ll let you play it to get that for yourself.
As you play Embr, you’ll learn to master its mechanics, but not quickly. Once you take a few jobs you realize that there’s a lot going on all at once and it can be overwhelming at for a while. In every direction, there’s chaos. It’s not just the flames that continue to spread despite your best efforts – it’s poisonous gas clouds which will need to be sucked up by fans or out of windows which you break with your axe, electricity that needs to be stopped by flicking light switches lest you be electrocuted, objects that will hinder your traversal through the house and more.
I continually put out fires and walked into rooms, only to be electrocuted because the flames masked the electricity. I also kept forgetting how to pick up objects that were in my way, so I just jumped over and around them. User error, I know. During some jobs, I had difficulty even finding the ‘clients’, or helpless homeowners who were clearly too busy playing mobile games on their phones to escape burning buildings. Now that’s dedication. Honestly, it’s like you’re in the twilight zone and everyone is constantly tapping away with their heads down…wait a minute, that’s just like real life!
I’m sure some of these clients were hiding in inaccessible rooms or something, because I kept forgetting that I could use my axe to chop down hidden walls and doors throughout the house. Instead, my first few jobs consisted of me accidentally getting clients killed. I definitely don’t suck at games, but I think the chaos and the amount of mechanics I had presented to me from the get-go was a bit much.
You can refill your hose at any residential water source like a sink, but I found that most of the time I had to keep going downstairs as it was the only sink with water in it in many of the homes.
You don’t have a traditional timer for when the game is over, but you do have a bar at the top left of the screen that will show you how much longer the flames can eat away at the house before it collapses entirely. If you put out some fire with your hose, you can increase the bar again temporarily.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that the game has multiplayer support, but I was unable to try much of it before this review. All I can say here is that playing with friends would definitely make the chaos more manageable. When I did hop in with another player, I couldn’t find them. Oh well. I would rather play on my couch with my family, but that feature doesn’t exist in the game yet. Keep in mind, Embr is in early access, so there’s always the chance that it will be added down the road.
A Real Hire Fighter
Once you’ve completed…or failed a job, you’ll receive an Embr rating between one and five flames. You still get a small payouts if you fail a job.
There is also bonus cash to find, and you’re not required to rescue all of the clients in the home, which I thought was odd, so the whole thing maintains its Uber feel. If society were really run this way then I fear for the day my house catches fire. At least the customers comments are hilarious. Definitely something you write when you have a bad Uber driver, but to write this about someone who’s trying to save you and your burning house from complete destruction? That kind of dissonance is where the humor was in the game for me.
Bring Your Own Gear (BYOG)
I find it funny that you have to buy and provide your own gear for the job. Even Uber provides their drivers with some things they need to fulfill their tasks, right? Back in your homeless alleyway, you can connect to the shop via your lifeproof phone. Here, you’re able to buy gear, tools and vehicles which you can then add to your loadout before taking another job. Looking through the gear that can be purchased, I found items ranging from a scuba mask to a football helmet and more. Each piece of gear increases your ability to do your job better. Some items increase your run speed while carrying a client and others give you special abilities like double jump and more air control.
My favorite thing in the game so far has got to be water and EMP grenades. While water grenades are self explanatory in a firefighter game, EMP grenades may not be. Toss these at light switches to turn them off from a distance instead of having to walk up to them and manually perform the task. You can buy a trampoline to toss clients down on to safety from a height, a grappling hook so you can feel like Batman and even an item that lets you heal yourself. The selection here seems diverse and useful.
There’s this interesting notification system built into your phone too. News outlets and Embr themselves periodically ping you with information in a sort of simulated social system. Some of these notifications are funny, but you have to read them carefully to get the jokes.
There’s this weird graphical glitch on the screen that looks like old TV static. It doesn’t show on screenshots when I tried to capture it and it only occurs when you are returning to the alleyway from a job. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with Stadia, but I haven’t seen it with any other games yet.
No, there are no microtransactions in this game from what I saw, but there are several surprise mechanics that caught me off guard. For example, after chopping a door down, a blast of fire hit me, dealing damage, because it had been building up behind it. This is something that I always envision when I think of Firefighters, but having it in this game was a nice touch. Thanks a lot, Hollywood. Seeing poisonous gas clouds get sucked out of a window was something I hadn’t ever experienced in a game, so I smiled a bit when I first saw it happen. We’re used to interacting with the environment, but when one part of the environment interacts with another, that’s what makes this special.
So after everything discussed here, does Embr remain structurally sound or do the flames eat it alive? We think that the game has a lot of replayability and fun to be had but could be more entertaining for longer stretches of time if it had local co-op. The chaos in the game takes some getting used to, but it’s a job worth accepting. We give Embr: Uber Firefighters four out of five flames as it’s absolutely worth playing and especially at $14.99. For a game in early access, you simply can’t go wrong. Taking an old and tired firefighting formula and flipping it on its head with physics-based gameplay, interesting graphics and humor, the developers have created something that will hopefully spark those who follow in their fiery footsteps.
- Wacky physics-based gameplay
- Saturday morning cartoon graphics
- Concept and creativity – Reinvents the firefighting genre
- No local multiplayer
- Graphical Glitching
- Difficulty ramp