Fire Tonight is a game about a young couple and their journey to find each other in the midst of a city-wide fire. Maya travels through the fire and flames towards Devin’s apartment, while Devin idly reflects on the mementos he’s saved from the course of their relationship.
STORY – WE WERE FREE
It’s a basic concept that we’ve seen a dozen times: two 20-somethings in the big city must about themselves in the 90s. In this instance, the inspiration for the game comes from Information Society’s song “Fire Tonight“, off of their 1990 album Hack. The story of this game is taken nearly entirely from the lyrics of that song, penned by Kurt Harland.
This game goes beyond the scope of the song and intertwines a second viewpoint into the narrative. Where Devin’s role takes the place of the narrator of the song, watching the fire from his apartment and wondering how Maya is doing, Maya takes charge and works on crossing the enflamed city to reach him. By bouncing between the characters, we’re able to see them both reflect on their relationship and their future together.
Maya is portrayed as strong with a take-charge attitude, as evidenced by her journey to Devin’s apartment. She wants to ensure his safety and will do so even at the risk of her own. She’s smart, can think quickly on her feet, and is amiable enough to gain help from folks she meets along the way.
It’s not exactly fair to say that Devin is Maya’s antithesis – they both care deeply enough to eventually venture out into the unknown to check on the other – but he certainly requires more reflection before he steps outside. Where Maya is defined in her actions, Devin is defined narratively, through the stories he remembers while exploring his own apartment.
The two of them spend time together in familiar ways: long walks, winter hikes, sharing mixtapes. An overarching theme is that Maya was unsure about whether she’d be accepted in the city enough to make friends, and in turn, she found a partner in Devin, who has been nothing but accepting and open with her. Some plot points explore Maya’s struggles in making social connections as a woman of color out of her comfort zone, but the game is far too short to expand on anything more than a fleeting thought.
The length of this game is its own hindrance: I finished Fire Tonight in 32 minutes. Judging from the low price, that might not come as much of a surprise, but I really hope that the Reptoid Games team can expand the story a bit more after launch. A great opportunity to further the tale could be with the twin acquaintances Maya runs into during her journey. We meet them each only fleetingly, but their own dialogue implies their own adventure happening behind the scenes.
While I did enjoy that Maya wasn’t portrayed as the “princess in the tower” stereotype that she could have easily been relegated to, I also wasn’t a huge fan of her being made out to be Devin’s savior (both overall and literally in the final scene). She figured out a way through the city, evading both flames and cops, only to have to then pull her boyfriend out of a river.
That being said, the city-wide blaze isn’t a particularly necessary aspect of the plot, so a different game with these characters would be a delight. Seeing Maya or Devin at work, attending (and getting lost at) a concert, or on a hike together would be just as charming, and could expand their story within a different context.
Over the course of Fire Tonight, we never really get to see the two of them interact with each other, beyond a frantic boat puzzle or a phone call cut short. Seeing their relationship continue, however that may look, would be an interesting story to see. Overall, I’d have to say that the characters are what I ended up being drawn to, even if the scenarios they were put into weren’t particularly engaging. I hope that Maya and Devin can carry on in another body of work as they brave the 90s together.
GAMEPLAY – A WAY ACROSS THE LINE
As mentioned before, the gameplay of Fire Tonight is split into two distinct methods: the puzzle-platforming of Maya, and the point-and-click exploration of Devin. Each contributes their own parts to the story, while also complementing the other’s distinct narrative style.
Maya is the character that really feels the heat, as she is tasked with avoiding both sudden fires and tired cops on her way across the city. Navigating alleyways, finding keys to unlock neighbor’s gates, and pushing dumpsters around doesn’t give her much time to wax poetic about her life, but she has a cool roller-skating level that breaks up the monotony.
Much of our time with Maya is spent running around rooftops and sneaking past flashlights, and it’s honestly fine. I think it would have been more effective if some of the puzzle-solving were more complicated. Rather than taking the right course through a loading dock or moving dumpsters, it might have been more interesting to help a bodega owner find his cat or find a place still open to bring a firefighter some coffee.
On the flipside, Devin’s time spent in his apartment is punctuated with small musings about his life and his time with Maya thus far. Being able to look around his apartment and see things he enjoys (like video games and music) alongside realistic staples like the wine he never drinks and dishes he forgets to wash, you’re given the feeling that Devin’s life is tangible. His life is lived in, and we have a sense of who he is and what he does with his time.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not offered a novel-length amount of details about the life of Devin, but for his part, the point-and-click aspect of the game works really well. Simply exploring the space is entertaining, and it was fun to root around and find things that he would comment on.
Again, there’s a reason why I spoke mostly in regards to the story: it’s a short game. The gameplay mechanics are mostly a vehicle to further the narrative, and it’s not necessary for that vehicle to take a specific shape. An alternative flip of the game that swaps the roles of the characters would be just as interesting to play because the purpose is found in what they have to say, not how they get there.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – LIGHT IN THE SKY WITHOUT A SOUND
Fire Tonight sure is beautiful. The art design and color schemes are beautifully compatible, and the choice to cast the fire in a purplish pink resulted in a truly gorgeous space to move around in. The character design is simple but expressive, and there’s no hint of hyper-realism or cartoony fantasy. Everythings appears to belong to this world as if we’re merely looking in on it.
I’ve also got to note my appreciation for the soundtrack. The Information Society song that the game is based on is a classic synthpop track, with crisp hi-hats and synth swells overlaid on a consistently driving beat. The music within the game is a reflection of this but also includes sharp keyboards and some great decay effects that really evoke a particular feeling.
The shadowy graphics and vaguely hazy music combine into a feast for anyone who’s ever found themselves attracted to the time when new wave music began to peter out and cassette tapes reigned supreme. Most of all, the game’s presentation is a good reflection of the overall narrative: young love is exciting, messy, and all-encompassing.
Fire Tonight was reviewed on PC. A key was provided by Stride PR.