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State of Emergency Review

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Action 
PUBLISHER Rockstar Games 
DEVELOPER VIS Entertainment 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Come and see the violence inherent in the system!

It's common knowledge that violence begets violence. Punch a guy in the mouth and you'll surely get socked in the nose. Throw a bottle at someone's head and expect to see another one come flying back. It's a simple fact of life that when one person gets mad, the rest get mad, too.

This holds up particularly well when considering the case of State of Emergency. The first big offering from publisher du jour Rockstar since their smash hit Grand Theft Auto 3, SOE has been in the public eye since last year's E3, when it made serious noise as the world's first riot simulator.

After spending some time with State of Emergency, it became clear that violence indeed leads to more violence, because after about an hour I wanted to throw my controller through the wall. Though packed with more bloodshed than a European soccer match, there's not enough actual gameplay in this one to qualify it as a good game.

The first important thing you should know about State of Emergency is that it's not made by the same people who made Grand Theft Auto 3. Both are published by Rockstar, but the game designers at DMA didn't have anything to do with SOE. That honor belongs to Vis Entertainment, whose other games include such adult-themed material as The Power Puff Girls and Tom & Jerry: Fists of Fury.

Guess too many cartoons can make a company snap, because State of Emergency definitely isn't designed for the 'under 10' crowd. The story (if you can call it that) has something to do with a dictatorial government called, creatively enough, 'The Corporation,' who go about oppressing the masses. You're a rogue citizen fighting for a freedom group called, creatively enough, 'Freedom.' You wage your war against The Man by running errands for the group in various locales, all while maniacally mashing buttons. Smash windows, break furniture, and kill lots and lots of people. Pretty much Woodstock '99.

The gameplay is very straightforward. You choose one of several characters (though you only start with a choice of two) and take to the riotous streets in a 3D slugfest in one of two main modes - Chaos or Revolution.

Chaos mode is the equivalent to the 'arcade' mode - you run around killing bad guys for time and health pickups and keep going until the clock runs out. The object is to last as long as you can and score big points. Occasionally things are spiced up by 'threats', which means someone is hunting you down, and the best response is to just kill them first. You'll also have temporary bonus multipliers and penalties to play with.

Revolution mode is where the 'story' takes place, though again there's about as much story here as you'd find in game of tic-tac-toe. You constantly take assignments from a member of Freedom, which usually involves either: 1.) Escorting someone; 2.) Protecting someone; 3.) Killing someone; or 4.) A combination of 1, 2, and 3. The variety is lacking, to say the least.

Come to think of it, you can say that about State of Emergency as a whole. Regardless of which mode you play, you're just running around beating people up with your fists, whacking them with bats or batons, or shooting them with Uzis or shotguns. Though it looks okay on paper, there are a few major design flaws that keep this fight from reaching the later rounds.

The first issue revolves around the control, which needs some work. You have exactly two buttons for fighting - a kick and a punch. One of these functions as a 'shoot' button for when you're armed. You can also strafe, though you don't often need it since you spend so much time mashing the two attack buttons for a few lame combos. For a game steeped so heavily in its violence, State of Emergency's limited combat scheme takes it out of the next-generation and hurls it back to the days of Fighting Force and Double Dragon.

There is only one camera, and it's about as smart as a Fudgesicle. You constantly have to manually move the camera around to actually see the gang of meanies headed your way. There's no auto-lock targeting, either, so shooting guys is somewhat random.

But man, they sure go for broke when it comes to the violence. Heads explode like overripe melons after meeting up with a blast from the shotgun. Limbs fly off left and right and can be used as weapons. The blood is prodigious and comical and is entertaining for about a half-hour.

The graphics aren't bad, particularly when you consider the technical merits of allowing tons of people to run around looting buildings onscreen without really any slowdown. It actually feels like a riot, though if you look and watch carefully you'll notice patterns. Still, textures are smooth and things run at a solid framerate. The animations are kind of simple, but the generally cartoony nature of the character design makes that seem okay.

What isn't okay is the level design and general game flow. In Revolution mode, you start off with access to a Mall, and you better like it, because you'll be playing on it for ages. It will take hours to complete all the missions just to move on to another level. Things do get a bit better when you make it to the outdoor levels like the East Side and Chinatown, but it's still the same basic gameplay the whole way. Plus, you can't go into any of the shops - you just take orders from your little resistance leader friends and run back and forth across the somewhat constrained playing fields.

For a game that's supposed to simulate the chaotic nature of a full-blown riot, the strictly linear flow and claustrophobic design slams a few nails in the coffin. This could have been a much, much better game had they actually allowed you to roam around more freely and explore the world as a whole. At least it would have led to a less repetitive game.

Admittedly, there's still some fun in State of Emergency. The over-the-top violence does have its merits if you're into that kind of thing. You can beat up a bad guy, steal his gun and put some bloody holes in him while he lies helpless on the ground. Mmmmm....M-rating.

But while this sort of brutality worked great in Rockstar's 'other' big game, it feels forced and gratuitous here. State of Emergency winds up containing all of the violence of GTA 3 without most of the brilliance and is much better suited for a rental than a buy. Either that, or just go loot your local Blockbuster.

C- Revolution report card
  • Oh, the humanity
  • Feels like a riot
  • Plays like a boring riot
  • Redundant missions
  • Button-mashing control
  • Controller-mashing camera
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