This half-true espionage thriller concerns two operatives from the real-life counter revolutionary Brigade 2506, fleeing Castro’s army in search of safety. What they find instead is an international conspiracy so vast that…well, it will be a while before users find out, as Hundred Fires: Episode 1 is as brief and incomplete as the Bay of Pigs Invasion on which it is based. This game’s objective, to rescue Cuba from the international crossfire, involves a promising Metal Gear-inspired blend of puzzle elements and blazing gun battles. Unfortunately, solutions are too simple, enemies are too easy, and the end of this chapter comes far too soon.
In starts and stops, you move through the bullet-riddled jungle to a military prison and on to your inevitable daring escape, with each armed confrontation or hunt for an item punctuated by surprisingly involved expository dialog. Developer David Amado Fernandez has put most of his muscle behind the writing. Cut scenes show our cammo-clad heroes in scratchy still drawings and clunky 3D cartoons, discussing their predicament at such length that it makes the play stages seem even shorter than they already are.The detailed explanation of our heroes’ backgrounds – one a commie photographer in trouble, the other a Cuban patriot set on taking back his homeland from Castro – are reasonably engrossing, and Fernandez seems to have plotted an impressively sprawling conspiracy, spiced up with the threat of nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, hopefulness about future Hundred Fires episodes is as speculative as this history-based yarn, as the present Episode 1 ends much too abruptly to see how it will all play out. Additionally, the production is pretty raw, with spoken Spanish dialog that sounds like it was recorded in a bathtub, fickle English subtitles, and the aforementioned drawings that look like first-pass concept art.
In spite of the complex storytelling, the puzzle elements of this game are disappointingly simple. Any sense of mystery about how to progress is dispelled by absurdly explicit instructions from other characters, accompanied by extreme closeups of the area or object you need to get to next. On waking up in jail, you are immediately instructed to escape through a vent right behind you; on learning that you must search for your comrade’s stolen camera, you only have to kill the next soldier you see to get it. These one-step “puzzles” are such no-brainers, you wonder why this couldn’t have been left as a simple action game.
For better or worse, it’s easy to focus on the cinematic sequences of Hundred Fires, since they seem to get more screen time than you do. The play stages involve sneaking up on Cuban soldiers, collecting their key cards and ammo, and grabbing medikits wherever you find them. The graphics are “just ok”, and the animation has the slippery zero-gravity sensation of early digital animation—inoffensive, but also unimpressiveeeee. The screen is cluttered with a directional pad, Look, Fight, Crawl and Weapon-selector buttons, in addition to Pause and Help buttons, and Gun and Item drop-down menus. The character handles well enough, but combat is frustrating; each time you take a bullet, you fall all the way down to the ground and seem to struggle to get back up. Your health bar is more than a match for the enemies’ onslaught (perhaps more than necessary), but the battles are so stiff and repetitive that you may not feel grateful to be able to drag them out.
Your pistol and AK47 help move things along faster than your fists will, but positioning to hit your target is can be difficult in 3rd person. You can fire from a first person perspective by selecting Look and then selecting your weapon, but you’re rooted in the spot. These cumbersome combat issues really rear their ugly heads in the boss fight, which pits you and a rocket launcher against a helicopter full of torpedoes. Each time you’re struck you fall, get up, use the Look button to scan the sky for the moving helicopter, and select your rocket launcher again to fire before the helicopter can fire another projectile. The whole game would benefit from collapsing the mutually exclusive Look and Fight/Shoot functions into an FPS format.
The developer’s passion for his spy story is evident, as his script takes the starring role, but he needs to treat the other elements of the game as more than second-rate extras. There is no credits menu attached to this game, other than the assurance that it is “an original title created by David Amado Fernandez”. Fernandez, who has only one previous game under his belt—the rail shooter Wild Hunter 3D—might do with a little design assistance from a supportive and experienced crew. Hundred Fires may take place in the trust-on-one world of espionage, but it would strongly benefit from a little team work. Perhaps Episode 2 brings with it some lessons learned.
Is it Hardcore?
Hundred Fires’ strong storytelling is undermined by stiff gameplay and an overly short campaign. The writing is there, but the design is not.