I have peered down from the clouds upon many a battlefield. I have led my Alliance forces against the invading Orc horde. My Zerglings have run rampant over the corpses of Terran and Protoss alike. Orders I’ve issued have sent UNSC Marines into battle against the Covenant.

Real time strategies are about grand battles and split-second thinking, but what happens when the formula is applied to something more mundane? That is exactly what Serious Games has attempted with their recently released iOS title Emergency.  Unfortunately, the results are mixed, with a good concept that is limited by expectations of the genre.

One of the key divergences that Emergency brings to the table is that your “enemy” is mindless. Fires, injuries and wrecked vehicles don’t have motivations like foes in traditional RTS titles. There are no strategies and counter-tactics to which you must adapt. There are no curveballs thrown by the appearance of new, powerful units that you must build and fortify to overcome.

Rather, Emergency places you in an already bad situation with a designated loadout of units. Police officers exist to usher rubberneckers away from the scene, doctors can treat injured victims and paramedics standby to cart people away to the hospital. By far, the most useful pedestrian units are the Firefighters. They can use the Jaws of Life to free trapped victims, put out small fires with extinguishers and connect hoses to hydrants to help quell the spread of more significant blazes.

There are vehicles that also factor into your disaster management. Tow trucks move wrecks, ambulances transport stabilized people to the hospital and firetrucks and spray water. There are also waterborne and airborne vehicles in stages that call for them, but they function very much like their ground-based counterparts.

All the pieces are there for an engaging experience, but Emergency fails to deliver on the one thing I want when playing an RTS: control. For instance, I should be able to move my stretcher-carrying paramedics freely, putting them right near a doctor and patient for speed of travel. Not only can I not, but they will not even accept an order until a patient is already suitable for transport. Often, this causes a significant delay as they walk from next to the ambulance, which could be on the other side of the map.

The same thing goes with doctors waiting for a fire to be extinguished so they can treat. They will stand around wherever they were last working until they can safely be commanded to work. Additionally, fires seem to behave erratically. Sometimes, buildings seem to randomly become engulfed without any ignition point nearby.

Once you do manage to complete a level, a score is awarded for completion of tasks, with the only separation between a bronze and a gold medal seeming to be the bonuses awarded for speed and survivor rate. The only reason to return to one of the 13 missions is to improve your speed at issuing commands. There are no new challenges, and the scenarios offer nothing dynamic.

That’s not to say that there is no redeeming value in the game. It’s interesting to see RTS conventions applied to a disaster simulation. The scenarios are increasingly extreme, ramping up the challenge to complete the tasks quickly. Unfortunately, there is very little “strategy” involved. I never found my mind taxed in the slightest.

Fires burn and must be put out. They can also harm people, so the flames need to be extinguished before medical assistance is offered. People need to go to the hospital once they can be safely moved. The mundane nature of the premise robs players of the joy of creative problem solving. Had there been more puzzle elements involved, the shortcomings on the tactical side might be more easily forgiven.

The presentation shows some effort, with a nifty cutscene at the start and clips of the tragedies your meant to ameliorate in the menus. The in-mission graphics are serviceable, but don’t push the boundaries of what the iPad is capable of, though. The sound seems to exist to grate on players’ nerves. Each unit has only one or two different acknowledgement lines, and you will hear them in your sleep after playing just a few missions.

I wanted so much to love Emergency, but it too often held me back from managing the scene the way I wanted to. Rather, I was forced to execute a pre-determined plan, with the only challenge existing in the form of the timer in the lower right hand corner. RTS games are heralded for the creative and adaptive thought processes they provoke. Emergency stood in my way each and every time I tried to engage that part of my brain.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Interesting premise
+ Thoughtful presentation in the menus
- The game gets in the way of player creativity
- Redundant order acknowledgement lines
- Only challenge lies in improving time
- “Opponent” has no motivation, and therefore deprives players of satisfaction of victory

 

 

5 and 5.5 are mediocre. These aren’t necessarily bad games, they just don’t do anything that is worth caring about and not worth the time of most people.

Emergency was developed and published by Serious Games. It was released on the App Store on July 11, 2012 for $3.99. A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.