I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that kicked off with the protagonist being burned on a stake before, but that’s exactly what happens in Wildfire. It sets a precedent that you MIGHT be in for a bit of a rough ride really, doesn’t it?
Alas, that isn’t quite the case in this 2D stealth-adventure from developer Sneaky Bastards. See, this protagonist manages to embrace the elements that have been struck upon them, meaning they survive the torture and are then instead able to bend the scorching flames to their will. That control over the elements is one of the core features of Wildfire and it helps establish a unique gameplay dynamic for the thoroughly enjoyable adventure.
There is a reason why you’re hung on a stake when the adventure begins, with the protagonist seemingly gaining powers after investigating a mysterious meteorite that fell from the sky. Unfortunately, this alerts the armies of the Arch Duchess, who then brands you as a witch and burns down your village as a means to hunt you down. Things go a bit pear-shaped and, after failing to escape, you end up on the stake… things come around full circle.
As mentioned, you manage to absorb the power of the flames when you’re meant to be burning to death, which frightens the soldiers torturing you and gives you a chance to escape. What follows is a treacherous adventure through the land where you must evade capture, help rescue your fellow villagers that managed to escape, and learn all-new abilities to ensure you survive to the end of your journey.
If you’ve played a 2D adventure before, you’ll feel right at home with the game. You’re able to run jump, climb, and sprint, with some basic platforming challenges keeping players on their toes as they navigate the environment. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing too perplexing as far as the platforming is concerned, but there’s enough challenge there to ensure that players’ platforming prowess is tested. It certainly gets all of the basics right and it always feels fluid to control your character.
Of course, Wildfire is all about sneaking around and keeping out of sight, with plenty of stealth elements introduced to the game: both in the platforming and with your elemental powers. As far as simply sneaking around is concerned, you’re able to hide yourself in tall grass and even walk past enemies directly within it – you’re always hidden in the grass, provided you hadn’t made your presence known before you headed into it. You can even lure enemies to your spot with a little whistle, making it easy enough to evade them when they come to investigate the noise.
Sometimes, you’ll have to use your elemental powers in creative ways to keep your enemies off your back. Your fire can allow you to burn objects in the environment for example, with the spreading flames sending your potential captors into a panic and momentarily keeping them off your back. You can even burn the grass to keep foes off your trail, though this does come with the caveat that the grass will burn away and can no longer be used a hiding spot; it shows that you’ve got to think your actions through in Wildfire and have a plan in place, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself hounded by guards and having to replay the section all over again.
Wildfire consistently introduces new mechanics to the game to ensure that players are challenged in a variety of ways, whether that’s with additional objectives, new enemy types that find it easier to seek you out, or, most significantly, with additional elemental powers to add to your arsenal. Whilst things like your fire can be upgraded to allow you to send a bouncing flame to reach longer distances, you’ll also eventually be able to utilise water and earth-based abilities too. Whether you’re creating bubbles of water to use as platforms, freezing water to make new pathways, ensnaring guards in a vine-trap, or growing some vines to climb upon yourself, there’s always an extra sense of creativity that comes with the player’s abilities and how they decide to use them. They’re all really fun to use whilst the clever level design always means there’s no right or wrong way to approach each situation – some will work better than others, sure, but there’s certainly room for experimentation on the player’s behalf.
That experimentation ties into each level’s objectives too, with plenty of optional tasks to complete if you want to earn additional upgrade points. Most of them are standard things such as not killing enemies, not being seen, or completing a level in a specific time, but they all add an extra reason to re-visit previously completed levels and approach them a bit differently. No level in Wildfire ever feels too long either, so it never feels like a chore to try them again.
I’ve got plenty of praise for Wildfire, with its imaginative powers and clever level design coming together to make for an exhilarating stealth experience that kept me completely hooked in through the roughly eight-hour adventure; I managed to beat it in two sessions, so it shows just how fun it is to actually play. It’s not completely flawless though, with some stuttering kicking in during some of the game’s busier sequences. It never felt unplayable, but if you’re in a large level full of guards and get a few fires going, you can expect a bit of slowdown.
It could be argued that the stealth mechanics are a bit simple in places too, though I think that’s something that’s expected with 2D stealth-adventures. The mechanics for hiding are pretty bare-boned and it’s always easy to see how much noise your making, whilst enemies’ lines of sight are pretty clear too since… you know… everything takes place on a 2D plane. This isn’t something that I held against the game though and it does introduce tougher mechanics as you progress to up the tension a little; the simplicty can just alleviate some of the sense of pressure that is present in other stealth titles where you’re constantly on edge thinking, “Can anyone see me?” as you slowly trudge your way around and hide away.
It’s worth mentioning that Wildfire has a local co-op option for two players, though I didn’t get the chance to try this out. It’s a shame too because I think it’d be a lot of fun; a lot of Wildfire’s strengths come from the fact that there’s an emphasis placed on strategizing your actions, which I think would be even more satisfying if plotting with a second player. I’m looking forward to trying it out when this pandemic is over…
Wildfire’s clever use of elemental powers and intuitive level design come together nicely to make for a satisfying stealth-escapade that emphasises player creativity. I loved tinkering around with my abilities and seeing how they could be best utilised to evade my foes, whilst the fact that you genuinely have to think your actions through carefully and strategize adds a satisfying sense of tension to each scenario you face. It’s just a whole lot of fun.
It is guilty of seeing the frame rate stutter in busier sections which could be annoying, whilst fans of the genre might argue that the stealth mechanics could be a little bit simple in places too. If you can look past those flaws though, you’ll quickly find that Wildfire offers a genuinely enthralling adventure that certainly adds a unique (and often destructive) sense of flair to sneaking around.
Developer: Sneaky Bastards
Publisher: Humble Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC