Version tested: PlayStation 2
There is one nice touch in State of Emergency 2. During the introduction to the game, the name of the publisher and then the name of the development studio roll by as neon signs in the generic future-o-city of the game's environment. It's subtle enough that you could almost miss it, and shows that at least during one stage of development, real attention was paid. Sadly, that's the only nice touch in State of Emergency 2. By then we've already seen a prostitute touting her services and heard the first in a long line of tedious expletives thrown about like swearing is going out of fashion.
With the franchise (wisely) dropped by Rockstar after the original urban chaos beat-'em-up was roundly and deservedly panned, DC Studios has decided to alienate even the fans of the frankly terrible original by completely ignoring its few selling points. Gone is any real pretence of a riot simulation or hand-to-hand combat, so we're left with quite possibly the most astoundingly generic third-person action-adventure that could be created by actual human beings. So utterly boring is the game that it's a surprise to flip open the manual and not find the credits simply read 'created by the Lloyds TSB mainframe when it wasn't doing interest calculations'.
While the original State of Emergency had only the barest semblance of a plot, here the plot is extremely heavy-handed (the CORPORATION is BAD and they want to sell DRUGS that make people OBEDIENT so you must ESCAPE PRISON and STOP IT) while the setting and playable characters remain entirely underdeveloped. Your characters range from tediously stereotypical caricature of a fat Mexican Spanky, through 'How about we just copy Carrie-Anne Moss in the Matrix?' Libra, to Mac, who looks like Lenin's embalmed corpse got up and decided to fight injustice... in the future.
Following the plot across 12 levels is not unlike playing a movie adaptation released on an 8-bit console in the early nineties, as the game's little more than a collection of mundane set-pieces - sniper section, helicopter bit, tank bit, etc. It would be fairly easy to polish them off in a day or so were it not for the fact that they are so unfairly hard, demanding the player rote learn each section in an obsessive manner. By the time you've reached level three, the game requires that in the space of one objective the player quickly and efficiently destroys powerful gun turrets while multiple waves of enemies attack, then accurately snipe the pilot of a deadly helicopter out of his cockpit, before yet more waves of enemies descend.
With saves only available at the end of each level and checkpoints only available at the end of each objective, the frustration is only maximised by the ridiculously unhelpful controls. Average (un-configurable) FPS controls, they somehow require an astounding number of buttons to perform even the most elementary tasks. Using the sniper rifle, for example, seems to require every button on the control pad, a flaw sadly only soothed by the tragic AI of all NPCs involved. While the game's few riot sequences feature some of the worst and least meaningful AI I've ever seen (NPCs seem to do nothing but run in random directions or stand and wave their hands in the air), this pales next to the guards in the many (sigh) stealth sections, who watch unmoved as you mow down someone standing right in front of them.
The absolute nadir is Libra's rescue. Having found her during a helicopter-piloting section frustratingly free of clear instruction, rather than just leap onto the helicopter piloted by our hero, zombie Lenin, she decides to abseil down the side of the building she's escaping.
What follows is an astoundingly tedious exercise in memorisation as you slowly edge down the side of a building, shooting enemies popping out of windows all around her. Due to her tiny life bar, the player can do nothing but watch in disgust as she dies at the hands of each enemy you didn't already expect, and by the time you've reached the bottom, a bazillion attempts later, you'll think to yourself 'I never, ever, want to see the side of a building again.'
Which is why it's nice that you then have instantly go up the side of a building around the corner. I won't go into the ridiculous comedy of errors that is the shooting gallery you take part in once you're there, consistent with all of the messy and uncontrollable gunfights in the rest of the game, but I will note that rather than abseil back down the building to escape, she just leaps onto the helicopter that originally rescued her.
WHY DIDN'T SHE JUST TAKE THE HELICOPTER TO THE NEXT BUILDING IN THE FIRST PLACE, EH?
Some people might think it's petty to pick so relentlessly on only one section of a game. After all, I haven't mentioned the arcade mode, a selection of challenges with requirements for success that take rote learning to new heights of banality, or the easily ignored multiplayer mode, but the fact is, the plot and set-pieces are all this game has to differentiate it from a million other games which feature swearing, gun battles and stealth sections. But they're just terrible.
In the end, the most striking thing about SOE2 is its tragic pointlessness. As a sequel in a franchise that is almost entirely unloved, in a world where there are countless games which do any part of this game better, it's sad to think that a group of people developed it, because then we'd have to blame them for putting out such a diabolical piece of cack. Better to pretend the Lloyds TSB mainframe did it. Their rate of interest is terrible, after all.
2 / 10