A great simulator in need of mutual aid.

My dad is a firefighter, so growing up I spent a lot of time around fire trucks, rescue equipment and—of course—firefighters. I’ve tried a lot of simulator games in my time, too, such as American Truck Simulator, Farming Simulator and PowerWash simulator, but this is the first time I’ve played one that’s actually about something I have some experience with. I was pretty excited since there aren’t a lot of games about firefighting, and I’m happy to say it met all of my expectations in that regard—though not without an unfortunate caveat that may be a dealbreaker for more general audiences.

As a simulator game, The Squad is less concerned with exciting game mechanics and more concerned with portraying the minutiae of firefighting. It’s not enough to rush into a building and point your hose at a fire; you need to know how to connect a supply line, where the attack line is stored on a fire truck and how to attach a nozzle before you can spray a single drop of water. Once inside a burning building you’ll need to juggle your responsibilities between stopping the spread of the fire and rescuing any victims stuck inside. This can be a careful balancing act since the fire will realistically spread and reignite rooms that were previously safe if you aren’t mindful and strategic about which flames to attack first. You’ll also need to be careful around smoke and keep an eye out for backdrafts that can prove deadly if you fail to spot them. The tone is not flashy and dramatic—it’s slow and methodical, realistically portraying how firefighters approach a fire in real life.

If you’re not experienced with all things firefighting, then you’re in luck; Firefighting Simulator comes with a comprehensive tutorial that walks you through everything you’ll need to know on the job. For me this was just a refresher course that told me which buttons to press to do things I already knew, but I was happy to see this because a lot of simulator games throw you into the action with poor tutorials that don’t help anyone that struggles with the details of how to succeed in realistic simulations. Even if you don’t know the first thing about firefighting you should have no trouble figuring out how everything works with the help of the tutorial.

One of the unique things about Firefighting Simulator is its commitment to playing cooperatively with other players. Every mission is carried out with three squadmates, allowing you to delegate duties to carry out your job efficiently. When playing single-player, AI squadmates will fill in and can be given specific orders to carry out so that you can split up and tackle different problems simultaneously. In theory this is a great idea because of how crucial teamwork is in firefighting, but in practice it’s sadly the game’s biggest red flag.

In my entire time playing this game for review, I never once managed to connect to another player online. Hosting a session myself when selecting a mission was never successful, and the list of public lobbies to join never once showed a single other player online. Unless you have three friends you can convince to buy the game with you it’s unlikely you’ll ever get to play the complete experience of The Squad, instead being stuck with the AI squadmates who will do most of the work for you while you’re busy ordering them around.

Firefighting Simulator – The Squad is a great representation of what it takes to be a firefighter, and the effective tutorial guarantees that any player should be able to figure out how to succeed at any mission in the game. I’d love to get a full squad together and tackle a house fire together with maximum efficiency, but the difficulty I had in finding a squad takes a lot of the wind out of Firefighting Simulator’s sails. This is the ideal form of a simulator game for me, but it’s sadly near impossible to play it under ideal circumstances.