Every console system worth its joysticks needs a few arcade-style helicopter games for players to satisfy their unrequited love of destruction. FireBlade attempts to fill the void left by Electronic Arts' Desert Strike series, last seen on PlayStation with 1997's Nuclear Strike. The PlayStation 2 seems the perfect platform to take this style of game to new heights, with graphics capabilities that could replicate the photo-realistic terrain, complex enemy units, and all-important explosions needed for such a title. Unfortunately FireBlade's visuals are a notch below most offerings for 2002, but the control is what ultimately keeps this title grounded.
The third-person perspective just behind the helicopter must have given the developers fits, because the control system is unwieldy. The problems stem from trying to gauge height while fighting, something that was never an issue in the Strike series, since players could only fly at a fixed level; all players had to worry about was safely reaching the destination and jinking left and right to avoid gunfire. With the added complication of managing height while flying, the arcade shooting becomes more cumbersome. Players have to move the right analog stick up and down to shoot at both ground troops and aircraft while steering with the left analog stick. War is hell, but this is ridiculous.
The game is also challenging because of a limited number of useful weapons. Players are equipped with only six heat-seeking missiles at a time, which places further emphasis on adept flying skills to hit targets. The basic machine guns are worthless, because they take far too long to bring down an enemy vessel and there's simply too much being thrown at you at once to waste time firing the equivalent of a peashooter at an elephant. Luck is an essential element in using rockets, as players need to be perfectly in line with their target for the weapons to reach their mark, which is not so easy when your chopper is under attack from all sides.
Still another problem is the helicopter's ability to switch into stealth mode, which is actually a neat special effect that belongs in another game. The issue is the use of a sniper-like viewpoint in this mode, which is more appropriate in a traditional first-person shooter than in flight combat. Players can zoom in on individual soldiers to take them out, but at the expense of seeing everything around them, disrupting the game's flow. Trying to flip between this mode and normal attack power is sloppy and confusing as players fumble with buttons just to prepare for the next mission objective.
The variety of missions is perhaps FireBlade's biggest strength. While none are original, offering the usual mix of defending bases, taking out installations, and escorting allied vehicles, they aren't exactly dull. It's just a shame players spend as much time fighting the controls as they do the enemies, and most will have enough traumatic experiences after the first campaign to qualify for disability. The visuals never draw you in as they should, and the freedom of flight is limited to a specific region, taking the strategy out of planning a mission. In the end, FireBlade would have benefited from more time spent honing its rough edges. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The graphics are bland and muddy despite offering different terrain in later missions. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
Voice-overs are annoying and the music fails to inspire. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The controls, weapons, and limited area in which to fly all diminish the fun players will have. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
Players can earn different medals based on how many units they defeat, but the sloppy controls and frustrating combat undermine the game's replay value. In addition, only two choppers are available. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide
The controls, weapons, and differences between the two helicopters are adequately explained. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide