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Score: 45%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Hip Interactive
Developer: GSC Game World
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 32
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

I'm not sure where Firestarter tries to place itself in the genre of FPS's. A quick glance at the back of the box and a thumb-through of the manual suggest that this is a story-driven affair. Once you slog through all the pointless crap in game, you see it's little more than a straight-forward, ultra-violent shooter in the vein of the original Doom. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not all that good either.

Like nearly every aspect of the game, Firestarter is a melting pot of unrelated graphics. Visually, coherence is the game's greatest enemy. Instead of creating realistic feeling worlds, the entire game feels like the demo reel of an aspiring art designer. Even when looked at from the game's 'haywire VR' angle, nothing flows into anything else, leaving you with a collection of eye-candy and special effects. For what it's worth, things look nice and evoke the dark feeling of games like Unreal, but more goes into a good graphical package than a mish-mash of ideas and special effects. Even the enemies make no sense since you can conceivably find yourself fighting hordes of zombies in a technological paradise. What really topped off the unappealing look of the game was the overdone gore factor. Shooting enemies produces literal geysers of blood with every hit from every seam of the virtual model that make Mortal Kombat look tame.

Sound and music is competent at best. The soundtrack is comprised of the throwaway techno tracks. This is complemented by sub-par sound effects. Overall, these do little for the game other than make its complete lack of character stick out like a Nintendo fanboy at E3.


Judging from the back of the box, Firestarter looks like it would be a story-driven game. Sometime in the future, a virus infects a virtual reality simulator. You are unfortunately trapped inside the construct and must fight your way out. Where the story goes from here is really left up to your imagination since the narrative is never picked up anywhere in the story. Because of this, Firestarter has a certain old-school Doom feeling to it. Well, almost.

The structure of the game follows a more deathmatch approach rather than a corridor shooter. Upon entering a level, you are told to kill X number of enemies before progressing. The level layout is terrible and lacks any kind of flow - which fits well within the game's lack of personality. Most levels consist of maybe four rooms with no real thought put into them. Typical deathmatch areas are ripe with sniping spots and interesting level design. Walking through the levels in Firestarter felt more like walking to my bathroom and back about ten times. This is the extent of the game, making it a dull bore.

Firestarter also features a 32-player online mode with four play modes. Deathmatch and Cooperative modes are typical of the genre and don't warrant much explanation. Hunting is a somewhat interesting level where players compete to kill one monster as fast as possible. The point of Slaughter is to kill as many stealth-enhanced monsters as you can. The player who kills the most monsters wins the level. Killing another player takes kills off his record.


As clich as it has become to say this, it is true for Firestarter. The hardest aspect of this game is to actually make it through a full playing session. The AI is predictable bore, even on the game's hardest levels and offers no challenge. It's rare that anyone can make it through an entire game without seeing the 'Game Over' screen, but it is possible in Firestarter.

Game Mechanics:

When looking at some of the mechanics in the game, Firestarter once again suggests that it is a more about story and building a character than shooting things. Before embarking into the virtual reality, you must choose to play as one of six player-types. Each type has its own special abilities and drawbacks that contribute to the gameplay experience. On grammatically challenged paper (the instruction manual isn't the best-written piece of literature) this sounds great, but it doesn't feel like it makes much of a difference in gameplay. Most of these abilities come in the form of attack bonuses when using certain weapons. Again, I really couldn't tell much difference because I was able to take out enemies with the same brutal efficiency regardless of which character I was using. The only noticeable difference in the lot is the Mutant's ability to use two-handed firing abilities. After completing levels, your character is awarded points which can be applied to a skill tree similar to Diablo.

Weapon variety it plentiful, perhaps overly so. The number of firearms available is a little too great in number to the point that you really don't want to use them all. These range from miniguns to shotguns and missile launchers. You can even pick up some melee weapons like the saw.

Aside from the character elements, Firestarter also tries to use the now overly-used effect of 'Bullet-time' during gameplay. Whenever you get within a few feet of an enemy, the game slows down to a near crawl until you either move away or kill it. Like nearly every other aspect of the game, this only serves to detract from the game.

With a price point of 20 bucks, hardcore FPS fans, as well as some casual fans, might find something to like in Firestarter. However, budget-minded gamers may also want to look at some other titles on the rack first. Considering that stellar titles like Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Platinum Edition and Unreal Tournament 2k3 are also 20 dollars, Firestarter comes in at a hard bargain.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows 98, 2000, XP; Pentium 3 750MHz; 128 MB RAM; 32 MB 3D card; Direct X 9

Test System:

Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.7 GHz; Radeon 9100 128 MB; 40 Gig HD; 640 MB RAM

Windows Deus Ex: Invisible War Nintendo GameBoy Advance CT: Special Forces

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated