STAFF REVIEW of Embr (Xbox One)

Saturday, October 16, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Embr Box art While it may have originally released two years ago, Embr is finally here for console players to have a hilarious time with their friends as you act as civilian firefighters. As you team up with your friends to fight fires, not only will you save lives by rescuing people stuck in a burning building, but maybe you’ll decide that taking their hidden pile of cash at the same time is a good way to increase your salary. I mean, who’s going to notice? Not to be taken in any serious way, Embr is almost an un-simulator, as it puts a lighthearted spin on the premise of being a firefighter, focusing on fun and wackiness more than anything else.

You’re an Embr Respondr, basically the last line of defense since public funding for firefighting has run dry. While there is a single player campaign, don’t expect any real narrative, as you’re simply placed in new levels as you progress, aiming to earn the most amount of stars and fulfilling your different objectives along the way. There’s no one way to complete a stage either. If you need to save someone on the third floor of a building, maybe you fight the fire from the front door, slowly working your way up as you put out fires along the way. Maybe instead you use your ladder to get to a higher floor then smash your way through some doors, only to then toss the person you’re saving safely to the ground onto a trampoline. It’s up to you, and I found the less conventional the solution, the more fun I would have.

Not your typical firefighter, an Embr Respondr will utilize a number of tools at their disposal. First and foremost is your extinguisher, something that resembles a Super Soaker more than a typical fire hose you’d expect, along with an axe which is how you’ll break down doors and smash apart anything else breakable. As you earn more cash from mission completions and possibly lining your pocket with others’ valuables, you’ll be able to purchase a number of other tools to aid in your emergency response career, such as deployable ladders, trampolines, water grenades and more. Each tool can also be upgraded significantly, though this is going to take quite a while to achieve since there are different currencies and the costs aren’t cheap by any means.

The opening tutorial level will show you the ropes of being a Respondr, how to fight the flames and save people along the way. It’s quite simple and there’s not much to memorize, but even from the opening level you’ll notice how janky and clunky the controls feel. Instead of completely putting out flames, you instead kind of carve a path of safety with your extinguisher, as the flames can spread quite easily and quickly. Not only will you have to watch for fire all around you, but electricity still flows through the buildings, and if you spray some exposed wires, you’re going to electrocute yourself and your partners if you are standing nearby. On the flip side, you can also use water as a conduit to have electricity flow from one wire to another should you want to have a certain switch powered and enabled.

Situations can escalate quickly. One accidental swipe at a gas container and you might be blocked off from one pathway or cause an explosive barrel to set fire to a whole room. Don’t reach someone in need quick enough and maybe it’ll be too late and they’ll simply be a pile of bones, or the building is about to collapse on top of you. Regardless of the danger you got a job to do, and you want to do as best as you can for those five star ratings.

While there’s a number of different modes and objectives you can choose per level, rescuing survivors is always a blast. Your first few will be your standard style of grabbing them and literally carrying them outside to safety, but that’s boring. Why not smash a window and toss them off the second or third floor? There’s a pile of mattresses, so if they land on those they’ll be fine. I hope your aim is good, because if you miss they’ll instantly turn into a skeleton and die. Hilarity for all due to the ragdoll physics.

Your tiny extinguisher that resembles a cool Super Soaker I had once as a kid has quite a reservoir, but the flames you’re fighting against are almost never ending, so to refill you’ll have to find small pools of water, like a kitchen sink for example. Another tool you’ll need to rely on is a small tablet that acts as a special vision, allowing you to see through walls and where clients needs saving. This tablet can even be upgraded to show other vital information like health of survivors remaining or even hidden caches that you’ll want to check out for some extra pay.

You’ll be able to play 25 different missions across three separate districts, each becoming much more challenging than the last. Some of the later missions becomes quite involved and challenging, like having to take a gondola to reach the upper floors and get back down safely, that is unless you are creative with your ladder and trampoline placement. Instead of a difficulty name, instead missions are rated on a danger rating, with the higher being much more challenging. As you earn stars for completion based on a number of different factors, this is how you’ll unlock new levels and your cash can be spent on your equipment and upgrades.

There’s a number of different missions you can choose to play as well in each stage. These drastically change the gameplay based on what mode you choose, altering the main objective. Rescue missions are your standard fare where you need to save a certain mount of people from the building before it burns down. One of my favorites are Salvage Missions. Here you’ll instead need to save the client’s belongings by placing them outside the burning building. Finding small little items may only net you a buck or two, where expensive items and equipment is how you’ll quickly rack up the cash towards your goal. Finding the higher priced items is the key to completing these stages in time. Demolition is basically the opposite of the main goal, seeing how quickly you can destroy the building by blowing up barrels and other ways to spread fire and mayhem. There are a handful of other mission types as well, seven in total, but these were my favorites of the bunch, so there’s plenty of variety for you to enjoy with your friends with daily and weekly challenges thrown in as well.

While completely playable on your own, Embr’s real enjoyment comes from playing alongside three other friends where there will be plenty of laughs and probably a good amount of swearing (if you’re not playing with your kids of course). The host chooses which mission and mode to play and once all the players stand within the starting area you’re whisked off to play. It seems missions scale based on how many players there are, as we had way more objectives to fulfil the more players we had compared to playing alone, so everyone needs to pull their weight. Given that every mission is basically a sandbox to play how you wish, no two playthroughs will be the same. With cross-platform play, in theory it shouldn’t take long to find a match with others online, though even still, there’s usually not a lot of lobbies hosted at any given time whenever I would check.

Played in first person, having your Respondr do exactly what you want can be frustrating at the best of times. Controls in general seem very clunky and awkward, almost as if the game was designed to be played in VR but later adapted for a controller. I’m not sure if developers Muse Games were going for that Human: Fall Flat kind of purposeful awkwardness, but even after a handful of hours, I still had issues placing ladders exactly how I wanted and a plethora of constant smaller bugs. It should be noted that this review was originally going to be written by someone else, but because of how the camera and movement works, she felt physically nauseous after playing each mission. There are even some motion sickness option toggles, so I’m guessing this isn’t a rare occurrence.

Embr is quite bright and colorful, almost as if it came out of a comic or kids cartoon. For how destructible the environments are, there’s plenty of household items that are all detailed. Level design of the buildings themselves are done well and quite varied and seeing how each player dresses up their Respondr is always good for a laugh. Unfortunately, even on an Xbox Series X, it felt like there were some framerate issues when things became quite chaotic. The audios has kind of an elevator jazzy type of music and your extinguisher certainly sounds like you’re spraying water, but there’s nothing else of note really.

Viewing Embr critically I could list a ton of problems and issues I encountered along the way. Playing online with a friend or two makes me forget all these when we’re laughing because I just yeeted someone from the third story and missed landing them safely on the mattresses below. The laughs are memorable alongside some friends if you’re simply playing for fun and not focusing on the arduous grind to unlock everything. Embr doesn’t take itself seriously, and if you can do the same there’s some enjoyment to be had alongside others.

**Embr was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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