IGN Preview of Emergency Heroes
Wii doesn't have many open world games, and even less serious racing titles on top of that, so when we first head that Emergency Heroes, Ubisoft's latest addition to the Wii Roster, would be delivering both, we were instantly interested in what this stylistic, younger-skewed title is out to offer. We've go the game in-house, have taken it through a few opening missions, and are back to report.
For starters, Emergency Heroes is without a doubt a racing game built specifically for the younger demographic on Wii, and we'd put this one in the eight to 14 range despite whatever aim Ubisoft has on it specifically. Everything from the voice acting, art style, speed, handling, and overall "soft" feel of the entire game can be traced back to that main age target, and while some gamers may enjoy the experience despite not fitting into that category, it's undeniably meant for the younger crowd, and that needs to be kept in mind.
That doesn't mean Emergency Heroes is getting a free pass by any means, but it certainly needs to be taken into account, as literally everything in the city of San Alto is set up for a younger player to morph and explore. The main story is focused around a group called the Emergency Heroes, who are an elite task force put in place to keep the city of San Alto a commercial and residential paradise. When terror strikes, the team is destroyed (in a bout two seconds of VO during an intro cut scene), and the force itself is left in the hands of three characters. You've got Captain Gabriel Walters, a very Morgan Freeman-inspired character, a young hottie that works dispatch named Kelly O'Conner (perhaps Brian O'Conner's sister from the Fast and the Furious series? We can only dream…), and Zack Harper, a young hotshot cadet that left the force for some reason mid-training "a few years back."
Zack is a reserved, unconfident young cadet, and when the team is demolished with little left but Morgan Freeman and Paul Walker's sister, it's all up to him. Harper – who, by the way, looks like the lead from Fast and the Furious 3, a.k.a. the "It's not about the ride, it's about the rider," guy. - takes to the streets, and works to rip apart the evil organization one disaster at a time. You know, when we really sit down and think about it, someone out there must have really loved Fast and the Furious. That, or we need to quick watching it on loop here in the IGN LA offices…
The entire experience is pretty simple, but it gets the job done for a quick narrative. The core mechanic acts like a mini-sized Burnout Paradise mixed with PSP's Pursuit Force series (minus the guns), as you control Harper as he drives around the city from waypoint to waypoint, engaging in tasks with 16 different cars and stopping random disasters along the way. The city has a pretty simple look, and the entire game is enveloped in a cel-shaded design, which gives the game a distinct (but almost Fisher Price) look. Things move pretty quick though, and there's a decent level of visual effects ranging from depth of field and motion blur, to simple overlays that show active waypoints in the form of moving arrows on the actual streets.
As for the gameplay, it's pretty simple, which again – broken record alert – has a lot to do with the demographic intended. You'll drive the city, occasionally see tagged cars speeding around which need a quick slam to stop for a few quick points, and then eventually make your way to the next vehicle-specific mission. So far we've had a chance to try out a just a few vehicles, including the GX-36 pursuit car, AiD-250 rescue buggy, Walden 350 modified fire truck, a shovel-front modified police cruiser called The Sledgehammer – used for blowing through obstacles – and a super-charged pursuit car known only as The Gladiator, obviously modeled after the new police modified police Charger/Mustang used across America. We're still waiting to see one based off the Dodge Viper – also used in real life to catch street racers – but so far haven't unlocked anything quick that "supercar" inspired.
Most of the starter cars control fairly similar, though you'll notice a distinct different between something like The Sledgehammer and rescue buggy when trying to take turns or blast the gas, but for the most part driving is driving, and it's all fairly simple to get into. The whole world of San Alto is broken up into different regions, with the first area – The Commercial Zone – acting as an entryway to the others. Each section is pretty conservatively designed, with the first containing a average mix of traffic, jumps, straightaways, and side streets through the 30-odd intersections. Most of it looks pretty similar so far (since we're still in the opening region), but the navigation system makes it easy to move from point to point. There's no overhead map while driving, but tapping the + button will bring up the "Peril Tracker," which shows each mission, location of all random mini-missions across town, and allows you to set any spot on the map as a waypoint. If you hit the HQ icon, you'll be warped instantly to the main Emergency Heroes complex where you can switch paint jobs on your cars, change up what vehicle you're using, and check your stats in the three regions of the game (commercial, industrial, and residential).
On the street, controls are very simple, having brake and gas (2 and 1 respectively), an action button (A) for firing the water hose or vehicle-specific power, the B trigger as a handbrake for powerslides and quick turning, and the d-pad for siren and a Burnout-inspired "Hero Mode," which launches your car into hyper speed for a brief period of time once full. Building up the meter is very simple, as a few drifts and collisions with enemy cars will have you cashing it in and refilling constantly throughout missions. The control itself could be tighter though, as small tilts (enough to move back and forth through lanes in Mario Kart) don't even register in Emergency Heroes. You'll need to go tilt the remote to a 45 degree angle to get any serious turning power out of the cars, and while we're pretty sure this has to do with making it easy for younger racers it could sure use a tune-up.
The soundtrack is pretty decent so far as we make our way through the city, but the VO may end up turning some players off, as it's really over-the-top. We'll let you judge for yourself for now, but it's yet another aspect of the game that shoots directly for the Wii-owning younglings, and not the hardcore.
We're blazing through San Alto over the weekend, and will be back with our final verdict on Tuesday, so be sure to check back and see what we think once we've put our time in with the Emergency Heroes squad. Until then, be sure to check out our latest direct-feed video, complete with missions from various vehicles and sections of the city.
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