Unlike PCs, consoles have been crying out for a few more decent first-person shooters to call their own, with only a few true greats and true turkeys standing out amongst the backdrop of endless 3D platformers. Along comes THQ then, waving its Warhammer 40,000 licence about and hoping to join Medal of Honor: Frontline and TimeSplitters 2 in the upper echelons of PS2 shooters.
Trial by fire
For a reason that isn't outlined particularly well in the impressive introductory sequence, Imperial forces have considered the advanced Tau race of aliens as a threat. This does of course mean war, and you as a fledgling Tau Fire Warrior are quickly drafted in to aid in the effort and resist the oppressive Imperial grip.
Fire Warrior starts very well, with an action-packed trench assault on an Imperial base. The atmosphere is very Medal of Honor, with mortars, bullets and goodness knows what flying about and thudding into the scenery, and large APCs, tanks and aircraft making an occasional cursory appearance above just for show. The panicked chatter of comrades and constant gunfire and explosions rattling the speakers along with my initial insistence on ducking in and out of cover lent the game an especially hectic and genuinely threatening air. Making my way through the maze-like trenches with my housemate blasting "Get your hands off of my woman, [muddyfunster -Ed]!" at one side of my head, and mortar shells raining down on the other, it all got a bit much. I hit him, and moved on.
And move on I did. On and on and on. By about the fifth level I quite comfortably assessed that this was as good as it was going to get, and it honestly does start good. However, each level is the same as the last, only in different clothes; get coloured key, unlock door to get next key, free prisoners, get another coloured key, blow up generators/guns/engines, escape. Because of this the game becomes extremely tiresome extremely fast. The only really interesting moments come when the game throws the occasional boss at you, and they're usually just a test of patience rather than skill.
Take the first one for instance: a large Klingon Bird of Prey type machine [it certainly looked like one -Ed] that has to be destroyed before your lift can escort you out of the level. It took many, many magazines of ammunition and an entire terrorist organisation's worth of explosives to get rid of the swine, all the while the game saw fit to give us absolutely no feedback as to whether or not our efforts were having any effect whatsoever. Until the thing went down in a ball of flames, natch.
Our name is legion
The lack of variety doesn't just end with the levels either, with legions of painfully similar Imperial adversaries coming at you level after level. However, just when I was aching for some Space Marines to turn up for the sake of something else to shoot at, they did. And handed my arse to me. Yeah Space Marines are hard, and cool, and exactly what we wanted more of in a Warhammer 40,000 game. Developer Kuju hasn't really made the most of the licence, and what could have been a huge display of bombast, frantic action and guns the size of a house is in fact no more than a fanciful romp through a bunch of scenarios you couldn't care less about.
The problem solving elements that pop up occasionally to drag your attention away from the trigger wouldn't stretch even the most dim-witted of players, although the solution is usually so painfully obvious that it tripped me up a few times as I was searching for more complex solutions. As an example, a heap of rubble blocks my progress and I complain to anyone who's listening - in this case, Tom: "This is stupid! I can't get through here; I have no explosives, my demolitions bloke is dead and the guns can't blow it up!" "Go up to the wall and press X or something," he said, dismissively. I did. BANG. "Oh."
You're right, this wasn't a fault of the game, and I am stupid. Though I did wonder why I needed a demolitions expert to get through a wall earlier in the level if I could just as well have done the job myself.
Anything you can do...
There's also a fair amount of flagrant idea-'borrowing' in evidence. We've already pointed out that the opening scenes reminded us of Medal of Honor but to good effect. However, the game's two-weapon inventory and recharging shield are straight out of Halo. Fire Warrior also looks a lot like any number of old shooters you can whisk off the top of your head, recalling the likes of Unreal (vaguely, with its bump-mapped-except-not dull brown textures), Quake 2 (the bright, over-lit orange levels), and Red Faction [the publisher? -Ed] in places, and in 2003 we've come to expect more. It's a shame that the game never really manages to live up to any of the titles it so blatantly imitates.
Each of the game's 17 weapons fall into the standard categories of standard FPS armouries: machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, grenades, and slight variations on each. The sheer lack of imagination is startling. Even our favourite FPS weapon ever, the sniper rifle, is dull - I mean honestly, I didn't even think it was possible to make a sniper rifle that wasn't fun, but Kuju has succeeded admirably.
For what it's worth, enemy AI isn't too bad, and you'll find them shooting nearby barrels to try and knock chunks out of you more effectively, finding cover, retreating when you pile the pressure on and pursuing you when they're aware of an advantage. However, coming at you as they do in their numbers it becomes increasingly pointless to attempt to engage them tactically - lobbing a grenade ahead of me into a marauding crowd of enemies and then picking off the stragglers was my winning tactic for longer than I care to remember.
The bad and the ugly
Fire Warrior's production values are all over the place, with some fabulous FMV getting my hopes up high, only to come crashing down again an hour into the game when I get hooked on the scenery, unable to move again until I restarted from the last checkpoint. Some character models are far more simplistic than they should be, even on a PS2 game, and the same could be said for the levels too.
Despite the presence of voice talent such as Tom Baker (responsible for narrating the story) and Brian Blessed who act out their roles as well as you might expect, the general standard of voice acting for many of the characters is unremarkable. Your objectives are outlined unenthusiastically during each mission by that bloke from EyeToy: Play, and fellow Tau chatter with a superbly comical speech impediment: "It ith too wate for me, tholjah", struggles a wounded comrade, going on to inform you that your goal lies "behind the gweat dorrth at the end of the cowwidaw". It shouldn't be funny. It is. The quality of the sound samples themselves is unpredictable as well, leaping from the crisp crack of automatic fire down to the endlessly repeating death wail of Imperial grunts, of which Tom now does a startlingly good impression.
Fire Warrior doesn't last particularly long either, with only a couple of days' worth of casual play in it assuming you can be bothered to even play for that long. Online multiplayer will only expand the life of the game for the particularly easily pleased, with just deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes to keep players occupied. With dull maps and dull weapons, the multiplayer modes become... dull. As such, Fire Warrior will be collecting dust within the week when players realise that when they finally find a server to play on, it won't even be worth the effort of setting up the network adapter. This is a shame when you consider this is the PS2's first chance at some fierce online first person action.
The only thing I got out of Fire Warrior was motion sickness. It's starts off great, but soon degenerates into a tiresome chore of a game. It has little to offer beyond tried and tested game mechanics that we've been seeing for years, which wouldn't be so bad if it could offer them up properly. That said, if what you're after is an extraordinarily average game that won't last you longer than a week tops, then Fire Warrior is the game for you.