May 26, 2020
Ever wanted to be a Witch who had immense control over the elements surrounding them? Sounds amazing, right?! That is until you start setting things on fire, at which point the blaze spirals out of your control, all whilst you’re trying to remain undetected. Wildfire is a 2D stealth game where the elements are at your disposal, but they can just as easily dispose of you.
Developed by Sneaky Bastards and designed by Dan Hindes, Wildfire tells a familiar tale of your village being burned to the ground for unknown reasons. This inciting incident spurns you into vengeful action, not before nearly being killed by the Duchess’s soldiers. This sparks the emergence of magic; once thought lost but now residing within you to aid you in saving your fellow villagers.
Stealth isn’t always an easy mechanic to implement within a game. It’s even more difficult to design stealth mechanics that both empower the player, while simultaneously reinforcing just how vulnerable the player is. Wildfire is able to pull this off exceptionally well by not only making enemies and environments obstacles for the player to overcome, but also making your own abilities a cause for concern as well as celebration.
Being a Witch on a quest to save your fellow villagers, you’ve gained control of the various elements that surround you. Your initial power concerns the use of fire, and being able to harness that power has its benefits as well as its risks.
Although you may feel like the ultimate sneaky person, it only takes one misjudged throw of a fireball or one unforeseen consequence of your previously well-thought out plan for the game to suddenly shift from a tactical stealth game to full blown chaotic panic. I learned just how quickly fire could spread, and how it can just as easily trap me as it can aid me. Only then did I fully understand the delicate nature of my fire powers.
Games primarily focused on stealth often centre around the level of control that is given to the player. Being given control over elemental magic seems purely advantageous, but it can just as easily lead to your own downfall. This is where Wildfire truly shines. Its systems are laid bare and the understanding sets in that these powers are to be used with caution and tactical reasoning. So while the initial feeling of becoming all powerful is fleeting, it pales in comparison to the true realisation that comes later in the game. You begin to understand how your powers can best aid you in stealth and subterfuge, rather than a great show of force. This shift in mindset is seamless and parallels perfectly with the game’s narrative.
The story of Wildfire begins with you stumbling across a meteorite that fell from the sky. Moments later you’re once non-descript, peaceful village is now being devastated by a raging wild fire. Or so it would first seem. Unbeknownst to you however, soldiers have ransacked your village in search of said meteorite, by the orders of a figure known as the Arch-Duchess. The game’s opening attempts to set the necessary stakes, as well as providing an inciting incident that raises key questions. Sadly, it fails to plant the seeds of intrigue as much as it might have hoped, instead weaving a narrative with no real hook to speak off.
One of the game’s various objectives has you rescuing villagers that have been captured by the Arch Duchess’s forces. However none of these NPCs have any real character or flavour to them.
While the lack of a compelling narrative does hurt the game in some respects, it does not in anyway tarnish the overall experience. I feel Wildfire was made with a clear vision of what it wanted to achieve within its core gameplay loop, and it does that exceptionally well. Its world puts forward an overall art aesthetic that suits its 2D constraint, and this is further emphasised when you see how fire and smoke behave on screen for the first time.
Audio, an often overlooked area but vital for any stealth game, is greatly implemented and adds additional depth to Wildfire’s strategic gameplay. Hearing a guard’s footsteps as they walk past while you’re busy crouching in a bush is always satisfying. It becomes self-evident as you play that a lot of focus was placed to help allow the gameplay to feel right and for its various systems to integrate perfectly with both the world and player.
In addition to the game’s superb execution of stealth mechanics, I must also praise the game’s copious amount of accessibility choices. The game offered the option to adjust its difficulty through various toggles, switching controller layouts to suit one handed play, multiple language support and more. It shows a great deal of care and forethought for different kinds of players. This kind of outward thinking not only enables players to tailor their individual experiences to suit how they best wish to play Wildfire, but it also means that more people can play this incredibly well-crafted video game.
- Gorgeous game artwork
- Heaps of accessibility options
- Superb audio design/implementation
- Amazing stealth/puzzle design
- Highly replayable
- Light on narrative
Wildfire stays true to its name. As the player, you’re both figuratively and literally playing with fire. While your elemental abilities are a joy to use, the game is careful not to let you feel all powerful. Your abilities can open up new opportunities for evasion, traversal as well as defeating your enemies, but they can also just as easily cause strife for yourself.
While the narrative hook left a lot to be desired, the mechanical depth that Wildfire brings is unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. Its optional objectives provide various ways to both enhance the challenge of the game, as well as adding new twists on older levels to further replayability for those dedicated players looking to master the art of elemental stealth.