Embr is a cooperative multiplayer firefighting game from developer Muse games. After two years in early access on Steam, the game is finally releasing in full and it’s available on the Xbox One platform. I had heard nothing but good things about the title during its time in development, so I was excited to get a chance to try it out on console. Sadly, things haven’t gone the way I hoped.
Running Out of Gas
There is a lot to like at first glance when it comes to Embr. The cutesy art style mixes well with the basic gameplay loop, and there are many unlocks tied into the campaign. Your firefighter has gear to unlock and upgrade, clothing that offers various benefits, and making a build for each type of mission is quite fun. Where things start to fall apart on console is with the performance and controls. This is not a Series enhanced title, and I’m not even sure if it’s One X enhanced. Despite a basic art style and tiny levels, things run at a low resolution and a poorly paced framerate. Quite frankly the game is ugly on console in a way it is not on PC.
With how confined most of the levels are one would think that 60fps should be an easy target on the new generation of hardware, yet routinely it felt like even sticking to 30 was impossible. Visual bugs are a constant as well, with entire levels disappearing around you if you get too close to certain doors. I know the game is being done by a small team but seeing various clips of PC gameplay and then comparing them to my time on console and it’s obvious that this port is simply not good enough. There is a nebulous promise of “performance fixes” in a future patch, but even that doesn’t read like they are making a proper new-gen version of the title anytime soon. The fire itself that you’re attempting to put out looks low res, and the game’s textures overall seem a step below what is in the PC version.
Poor Controls Never Help
The performance issues are felt in how the game controls. The game is a first-person title, and the controls feel slippery as the aim acceleration curve on the right stick is far too high. To compensate for this I was forced to lower the sensitivity to near the bottom of the slider, but that led to turning left and right being far too slow while up and down was now only a bit too fast. I could never dial in something that felt quick enough but also responsive. Add in the left stick’s movement of your player having an odd inability to strafe at times and my frustration was immense.
These controls work in service of a few basic gameplay types. First up you have Rescue, the main mode in which you work your way through a burning building to save at least a few people and as many of their valuable belongings as possible. There are some other fun modes such as escape, where your entire goal is to get out as quickly as possible, or even one where you attempt to burn down a building before the timer runs out. If things ran and felt good I feel I would have a genuinely good time, especially at $20 but they simply don’t.
There are some clever ideas in the game with how water interacts with the environment. You’ll constantly have to be on the lookout for light switches, as exposed wiring will arc across any water you put on the floor or walls. This is used in light puzzles to great effect with either water or metal being needed to get things powered up at times.
Sound and Music and Accessibility
There is no voice acting in the game, and the sound and music are passable. They can be a little bit too cutesy at times in the menus for me, but overall it’s inoffensive and gets the job done. There are multiple difficulty options but little in the way of accessibility options. You can control how fast the fire spreads and lower gravity so that the people you save are at less risk of dying from a high fall. Overall for a game of this scope, I’d put it in the “ok” category options-wise.
I did hit quite a few bugs while playing. Most were visual in nature, but a few times I did find myself stuck in the environment with no way to get out. This did happen once while I also couldn’t see any of the walls around me and eventually I had to quit a mission I was already 10 minutes deep in. It was frustrating that after two years of early access on PC that the game could be this buggy on console.
Embr is a good game, on PC. The console port for Xbox, even on a Series X, isn’t up to snuff. I would keep an eye on this though in case it ever gets a performance-enhancing patch, as the core gameplay loop can be seriously fun. It’s a shame that it is launching in this state on Xbox, but if you have even a mediocre PC and a few friends then you’ll have a good time.