Of the various games Rockstar exhibited at E3 this year, one which really caught our eye was "State of Emergency", a game that simulates a citizen uprising in a near future urban setting. When we first heard about SoE, our thoughts immediately turned to the idea of an urban pacification simulation. Perhaps some sort of clever strategy title where players have to try and bring increasingly rowdy crowds under control using various police and army personnel and equipment, rather like the old Super Nintendo classic, "Firemen", where the fire was the crowd and you were the police. We should have twigged earlier. The word "pacification" doesn't really connect with Rockstar's recent history of near future action games. In stark contrast to our hopes above, State of Emergency is a game where a sinister establishment called the American Trade Organisation is being overthrown by the American people. It's your job to move around a big city dodging the authorities and causing as much riotous mayhem as possible. In other words, it's a smash 'em up, and the ultimate objective is to destabilize the ATO through your actions. All in all, State of Emergency is a rather alarming concept for a game. Far from being GTA without the cars, it sounds more like the sort of thing the real authorities will have good reason to object to, transcending the boundaries between the computer screen and real life with its vicious antics. "Hit everybody! Smash everything!" the press release gleefully instructs. Blimmin 'eck, we reply.
Instrument of pain
That's not to say State of Emergency is going to encourage children to take their on screen actions out on real life venues, but it is rather closer to the line than we've seen in the past. The nub of the situation is that this ATO lot are very nasty fellows and deserve everything they get. To make sure they do get their just desserts, you have to take advantage of the uprising to cause as much devastation as possible. This involves smashing up everything with everything and everyone. Use any item available to begin fighting, including pipes, bricks and benches, even dismembered body parts. According to the press release, this is the first game ever to let you participate in relentless street combat with over 100 people on screen at once. There are four districts in which to carry out your wanton destruction of property with at least 30 missions for each and two modes of play - Progressive and Freeplay. Progressive is the one with all the missions and objectives, while Freeplay is just violence without a time limit. You can play as any of five resistance agents in fully interactive environments where everybody is a potential target and everything can be destroyed. Looting and bombing are apparently key aspects of the game, and there will be seek and destroy campaigns using traditional weapons (as traditional as grenades, rockets, shotguns, machine guns, flamethrowers and petrol bombs are, anyway) as well as "improvised instruments of pain" - virtually anything you can rip up, off or out.
The crowd that you're rioting with is equally angry, and the city's characters behave in their own particular way, reacting to events depending on their allegiance. If you're trying to blow something up and they want to help out, they will, otherwise they might join the police in beating the living daylights out of you. The helpless victims of your carnage will be driven by a sophisticated virtual sensing system, so they can react realistically by cowering, running away or calling the nearest Peacekeeper (read: nasty bloke with a truncheon) for help. There's a subset of missions that seem to include all out gang warfare - apparently it's not all selfless "greater good" stuff, it's gratuitous hostility too! Other missions involve assassination of ATO leaders, avoiding Peacekeeper death squads and rescuing resistance sympathizers. It'll all come to a head in the fall of this year. If it meets with massive protest though, this writer won't be part of any resistance.