Embr Review: Parachutes and Ladders

A copy of Embr was provided for Gideon’s Gaming for the purpose of review. I reviewed Embr on an Xbox Series X while playing on Hard.

A video version of this review can be found here!

Overview

Embr manages to stand apart from most party games in two ways. For one it’s played from a first-person perspective, and secondly, it ain’t half bad as a single-player experience. That’s an achievement, not even granddaddy Overcooked can claim. You can still play online with up three friends, and doing so does add some extra spice to the inferno.

In Embr you play as gig-based firefighters in a chaotically clever game about saving people and fighting fires, while also dancing with an often amusing physics system.

Embr 101: Fire=hot

The better you perform, the more money you earn to unlock and upgrade new tools or outfit yourself with proper attire. If you suck at it, you can always stuff some expensive electronics in your trunk to make up the difference. Hey, it was going to burn up anyway right?

As you climb the ladder, literally and metaphorically, you might make some enemies, such as Embr’s Canadian competitor, complete with socialized healthcare and living wages. Don’t worry, you aren’t giving up your capitalistic enforced poverty without a fight!

Clients and Hose

Embr features two difficulty settings, easy and hard. I went with the latter, and while early missions were pretty simple, things got hot quickly. The different stages vary from everyday houses to key card locked complexes and mansions with rotating bridges and stairwells.

Each one presents different challenges that can be tackled in a variety of ways but also reward your mastery of the area’s layout. Most furniture and water sources spawn in the same places, but the people you need to rescue don’t, and fire spreads quickly.

The game scales by the number of players. I played it together with my partner and solo, and both worked really well. When you’re alone, you have to form a plan and use your gear to be as efficient as possible. While in co-op you can use teamwork to split up and tackle different areas at once.

Teamwork is being willing to pick up your partner, no matter how many times she electrocutes herself.

You can buy and upgrade a variety of tools, but you can only take a select few into a mission at a time, and it’s crucial to properly plan for each one. Embr might be a comical game with wonky physics, but some aspects are shockingly realistic.

Backdrafts are a thing that I discovered the hard way. Gas can be vented through windows, water conducts electricity, and makes oil fires worse. While I can’t confirm this for certain, it appeared as though doors and windows affected a fire’s spread depending on whether they were opened or closed. In addition, different materials seemed to be more or less flammable.

One of the most interesting things about Embr is while it does feature a timer like most other party games, it’s one that you have some control over. The timer is the fire. Once it spreads too far, the house becomes unstable, and you have to flee. Taking time to fight the fire not only helps keep you and the clients you need to rescue safe, it also slows down and even increases the timer.

This gives Embr a methodical feel to the chaos. Careful fire containment can buy you more time to complete your objectives, or even salvage some furniture for extra tips.

Using tools such as a ladder can help you get around, just be careful not to knock it over.

At the same time, you have to balance your fire fighting with your objectives. Your clients are in danger and can be harmed by all the same hazards that you can. If they take too much damage, they can die. That means bad reviews and less of a payout.

Every stage is a complex puzzle of interwoven layers. You could, for example, disable the power completely, so you don’t have to worry about zapping yourself near electrical outlets. Doing so would also disable any sprinklers you could activate, and some valuables may be locked in powered safes.

On hard at least, Embr manages to be a pretty challenging game while still offering you the freedom to tackle each stage the way you want. One of my go-to strategies was to attach parachutes to clients and toss them out of windows on the upper levels of a building. My partner opted for a trampoline instead. That kind of agency added a lot to my enjoyment.

The gear is varied enough that you always wish you could take more tools into a stage than you can. But I found at least a few that were so specific in their usage that outside of a select few modes or stages, I could never justify using them at all, which is a bummer.

I did enjoy the fact that the various pieces of attire you can purchase have in-game effects. Some could protect you from different types of damage. Others would let you carry clients faster or even double jump. You can also upgrade your vehicle to have a bigger trunk if you like to steal things, or some water barrels for refilling your hose. None of it is particularly deep, but you do have a few ways to augment your playstyle.

Most tools have several possible upgrades

You also unlock a variety of modes for each stage, and each one really switches things up. One might have you salvaging as much furniture as possible. While Embr Eats requires you to deliver specific food to each client before you rescue them! Others might need you to keep the damage to the building minimal, with a bonus if you completely put the fire out.

If you purely rushed through the game, you could probably complete it in around 6 or 8 hours. However, Embr has a ton of replay value in order to obtain the highest rating on each stage and complete the extra modes on all of them. Beyond that, you eventually unlock a set of mini-campaigns that change weekly and have a variety of modifiers active, such as low gravity. They are a lot of fun too.

Uber Oops

Sadly not every stage burns that bright. There are special stages where you encounter Embr’s rivals. These usually consist of a puzzle-like obstacle course or boss fights. Your tools become even more limited, and the game takes on a different playstyle, but not a complimentary one.

The janky and goofy physics are usually fun and oftentimes hilarious. Accidentally slamming a big screen tv sideways into a doorway, or falling on top of a client, killing them in the process are both giggle-worthy. In competitor stages, however, everything just feels clunky and frustrating.

There was one stage where I had to dodge tons of lasers and push a button multiple times. Well, as part of the scripted sequence a giant fan would blow me backward and start the next part of the fight when I pushed the button

Letting fires get out of hand can lead to a mission failure.

Three times in a row I pushed the button, and the slippery physics shoved me off the side of the stage, forcing me to start the lengthy process all over again. The fourth time the fan blew a barrel into me and knocked me off the side, and I had to start over, despite the fact that I “won” again, and I was ready to hang up my axe altogether.

Thankfully there are only a few of those stages relative to the rest. Nothing doused my flames faster than being forced into what feels like a Roblox obstacle course to reach the fun stuff again.

The fire could be wonky at times too. Sometimes pieces of furniture would just refuse to be doused. More than once I found fire inside a wall that I could only see by clipping through it, but I still couldn’t put them out. Most of the time it was just annoying, but whenever it happened when I was trying to complete an objective to put the fire out completely, it was frustrating.

The only burn I felt in real life…

I still had a blast with Embr more times than not. I’m still burning to go back and complete more modes on specific stages or tackle the weekly challenges. That is rare for a party game where I’m usually one and done once I reach the end.

The anticapitalistic humor is amusing, and painful when it’s true. There is a lot it spread throughout the game considering the whole concept is a parody on gig workers. Some of it’s sneaky and subtle, while the rest proudly steps on your neck. Sort of like…Capitalism.

Verdict

Embr is a ton of fun even alone, but the experience is intensified with friends. First-person firefighting is a clever twist for a party game, and Embr is a perfect mix of comical humor, crazy physics, and realistic fire behavior. Each mode and stage require a combination of strategy to tackle the blaze, and the skill to manage it. At the same time, Embr is easy to pick up and learn.

Throwing clients is totally viable as long you remember to stick a parachute on them.

The competitor stages and boss fights are definitely a drag, and there are a few bugs that can be frustrating. But for the most part, those gripes are a mere flicker to the fun that lights up most of the experience.

Embr manages to be a hectic, yet methodical co-op game about firefighters that can also be enjoyed solo. Its replayable nature through a variety of enjoyable modes keeps the game burning bright when many other party games would have long fizzled out on dead wood.

You might also enjoy my review of Pummel Party

Pros

  • The concept of a comedic first person party game about firefighting is unique and fun
  • Nifty semi-realism where you have to account for oil, gas, electricity and backdrafts
  • Difficulty settings present
  • Highly replayable through a variety of modes
  • A co-op focused experience that’s also enjoyable alone

Cons

  • Escape stages and boss fights feel out place and are a let down
  • Some wonky bugs with the fire can be frustrating
  • Some of the tools have such specific uses that they are rarely seem useful