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Back to Fire! info page

Review: James Greenhalgh on 20/07/2004

fire
I've had two of these machines now - the most recent came from the first auction of Bob Thomsons machines. It was quite a lucky win, and certainly one of the best condition machines there (to this date, I've replaced a couple of bulbs and that's it).

The Fire! playfield layout is symmetrical and pretty simple - almost classic looking with its large outer orbit - but it has some clever tricks. Working around the table, the first thing a player will meet is the plunger and skill shot, which is a straight lane the ball initially runs into. It rolls out of this and towards the lower playfield. The flipper and slingshot arrangement is pretty standard - I haven't measured, but I'm sure the angle of the return lanes is steeper than on most others. Between the flippers is the 'fire plug' which can raise to stop the ball going between the flippers. Above the slingshots around the edge, are two sets of fire targets, 3 per side. Behind these under the buildings, are the ball locks - more on this later. Further up in the middle, we find a narrow opening into the upper playfield area. This has two smaller slingshots at the entrance, two more sets of fire targets, a lane which curves around the back like a small horseshoe, and a ladder set into the playfield surface. This can raise to give access to the upper orbit ramp. To the sides of this entrance are two fire ramps with a target at the top of each (people trapped in the building) - the ball rolls up these, hits the target and rolls back the way it came. To the sides of these ramps, are the orbit entrances.

Right - the orbits. Fire! has a very clever arrangement. The main orbit is double layer, there's a plain playfield level, and a raised plastic level directly above. At both orbit entrances attached to the upper level, is a ramp which can be raised or lowered (usually these stay raised). When an orbit entrance is green, that ramp is lowered - giving access to the upper level. When a ball hits one of these, the ramp on the other side raises (if need be), so that the ball goes around, over the orbit exit, and is directed into the nearby ball lock through a drop hole. If the ball enters the upper orbit via the upper playfield ladder, both orbit ramps stay raised so that it rolls into one of the locks.

The classic layout is matched by the art. Fire! is a beautiful game. The cabinet is brown (solid oak if you're lucky enough to find a Champagne Edition), with old fashioned Fire! logos on both sides, and below the coin door. The backbox has some similar art up the sides, and the backglass (a translight) is amazing - it looks like an old fashioned oil painting, showing a burning building with some horses pulling an engine cart with firemen on it. The bell on the top is a nice touch - and it actually can ring, but in home use you're probably going to have to disable it for the benefit of the neighbours. The playfield is a mix of browns and oranges, with old patterns around the flipper area, a burning building in the middle (underneath which is a large mass of bulbs to light the windows, and a rolling colour tube - when lit this gives the impression of moving flames on the roof). All around the edges of the playfield are individually lit plastic buildings - these look great when lit up, like a small town - and key sections contain flashers for effect.

Audio is a similar story - a mixture of ragtime piano tunes - the multiball tune reminds me of silent comedy chase scenes, great stuff and it sounds unlike any other game I've played. The sounds are what you'd expect - splashing of water, bells, a fire siren - in conjunction with the music they do a good job. The speech is great - the trapped women in the building aren't much special, but the voices for the firemen are full of character - spoken with a thick irish american accent (high scores result in a 'Nice job, lad!')

Playing Fire is a real rollercoaster ride. The game can move from light potshots at the fire targets to real belter orbits without a pause for breath. Despite the fact that both orbit entrance/exits and both fire ramps essentially aim the ball right at the flippers, the number of SDTM drains is very low, and in fact the fire plug rarely seems to be the cause of them staying in play, but it can be reassuring. It's very manageable to play too, I think experienced players may find it a little too easy to stay on a long time (increase the rules difficulty to fix this - no more fire plug guys ;), but the rest of us will feel suitably challenged - especially if we're trying to go for good scores. This comes down to the bonus system. While going for multiball all the time is a good way to keep balls in play and score points, if you want the big scores you're going to have to put some work into keeping up the multiplier. Fire! doesn't make you earn your multiplier - it's 10X at the start. However, as buildings catch fire, you need to hit the targets to put them out. Leave things burning too long, and the multiplier will start to drop - I'm not sure if you can raise them again. The skill shot is very subtle, and really is the trickiest one I've seen bar Riverboat Gambler. It basically fires directly into a lane with multiple rollover switches. The last switch hit before the ball rolls back down determines the award. Sounds easy enough, but they're very close together so even the way you release the plunger is critical.

Ok - so what do I like about Fire!? Well - it's great to play, and depending on how you play and the settings, it can be as easy or as difficult as you want. It's an attractive machine. Scratch that, this is one of the nicest looking machines out there - and it sounds great too. The theme is original, the bell is a nice touch if you live somewhere you can leave it turned on. This is a classic game - one of the few times marketing slogans are actually true ("This fire is matchless!")

What don't I like? The manual states the playfield should be set at 6 degrees. I have mine set at a little over 7, and even then the ball will slap the glass sometimes on the fire ramps, and on rare occasion jump out of the upper orbit. If you set it to 6, the ball becomes a trail of destruction - finding a Fire! without every plastic broken is quite an achievement...