State of the Planet
As 3D versions of decadent scrolling beat 'em ups go, SOE isn't terribly special, but it has done well on the basis of its association with the Rockstar brand. Developer VIS Entertainment has had no qualms about dashing a bit of the old ultra-violence all over the gaming world's collective face, but it's done so with none of the polish and glamour of the immense, definitive videogame that is Grand Theft Auto 3. In looks alone SOE is a match for its gritty sibling. Immediately reminding players of the 'on-foot' sections of GTA, it won't be long before the hunger for some sort of motorized transport sets in, if only to mow down a few of those rioting bastards. There may be some hokey premise about fighting the power here, but ultimately State of Emergency is a 16-bit scrolling beat 'em up in new threads and there is no escape. As if to emphasize this, throughout the game you'll find 'exits' and doorways that AI-controlled rioters can escape into, but which you can't. Nice to know it's upholding the legacy. There are several ways to 'do' a riot simulation, and when I envisaged SOE as it went through the rigors of development, I had my heart set on photo-realistic slaughter and mindless anarchy. Unfortunately, being handed a list of objectives ruins just about anybody's perception of a riot and that's pretty much why SOE fails. You have to be organised, so whilst all these people around you (up to 250 at once) are madly dashing about lootin' and pillagin', you have to go and blow up something specific, or knock a particular somebody's block off.
A to B
SOE is also an extremely linear game, for a number of reasons. Take the Revolution mode, for example. There are plenty of objectives - 185 is often quoted, but I didn't bother to count - and they take you all over the city, starting out in Capitol City Mall before heading to Chinatown, Eastside and Corporation Central. But the layout of these particular areas is worse than a Crash Bandicoot level. Instead of towering walls flanking you on both sides you have shopfronts and cafés, but the end result is the same, with the game funnelling you from one objective to the next, all the time forcing you to fight off the interests of fellow rioters and security forces. You can almost feel the rails beneath your feet at times. Apart from following this 'story', players can also take on the might of Chaos mode. Freed from the shackles of a time limit, or with self-inflicted three or five minute deadlines, players have to score as many 'points' as possible, picking up bonuses for carrying out the narrator's instructions - like blowing up cars and smashing windows - which can earn you up to 5X multipliers. The attraction of Chaos mode is meant to be beating high scores and bringing the chaos to order, controlling something as menacing as a full scale riot by doing as the Romans do with an arsenal of, well, anything, from M-16s to park benches. But to facilitate this you have to fight your way through swathes of rioters and riot police, none of whom wants to lie down for long. It's a sad fact, but beyond Revolution (a handful of hours recycled into new areas) and Chaos (three, five or more minutes per session, and a great deal more if mindless carnage can really float your boat for that long), there is nothing to this game. Okay so what we do have suggests replay value, and hot-seating the Chaos mode with your friends can be interesting, but with a finite number of weapons and a playground full of targets, you won't need more than a few hours to see everything.
The one thing VIS could perhaps be expected to get right is control and movement, and fortunately for them it's not too bad, although the camera is a bastion of lethargy in an otherwise frenetic setting and often needs manually correcting. I quite like the option to walk, run or sprint (making it easier to get away if you can't be bothered to fight), and picking up weapons one at a time is simple and works well alongside the array of scrolling-fighter-style moves - the punch, the kick and the throw. There's even a dash-and-punch move to take out stragglers. So what's left? The game's graphics? They're at times toony and at other times fairly realistic, but a lack of variety in the animations can lead to quite stunning monotony and bouts of extreme déjà vu as you take on new levels and see the same thing over and over again. There are a number of redeeming features to consider though, such as the spectacular weapon effects and of course, the sight of 250 swarming rioters. That said, I am not impressed by numbers alone. VIS has stopped short of actually simulating a riot, preferring apparently to apply Brownian motion to a bunch of character models. If this were a proper riot people would be beating each other senseless; tripping over one another; there would be bodies strewn around and people would not be riding the escalators, nor running around touching each wall and then doing another circuit on their bit of floor.
The Last Act
The game's accompanying sound effects form one of the highlights; a crescendo of noise consisting of people screaming, dying and committing mass crime on previously unseen scale. Beyond that the weapon sounds are a mixed bag, with the shotgun sounding better than anything else, and having a satisfying visual effect to match. Sadly the music is a bit off, and it took me a few moments to actually identify it from the noise. It won't really bother players of the game, because you have to be fairly tolerant to play this game long enough to actually pick it out from the gurgling and the dying, but it's a mixture of rock and techno as best I can tell. Having been forced to play it at length, I would say that the final nail in SOE's coffin is probably the bitter taste it leaves in the mouth. For £40 you expect a hell of a lot of entertainment, and where GTA3 delivered, SOE is a hollow shell of the game whose simplistic presentation and chunky menu graphics are an adequate precursor to the inane and repetitive nature of the actual game. There's a small amount of lasting appeal if you do enjoy it, but I got bored of the game extremely quickly, and now I sound extremely cynical whenever I'm asked to comment on it. Whatever my tone, this is not a bad game; it's just a disappointing, badly timed one, which if it weren't for the extraordinary sales figures I would honestly not have expected to sell to the same punters. Watch out though Take 2, I doubt they'll fall for the same trick twice. Take 2 / Rockstar may have envisaged an adult toybox of destruction for their next release after Grand Theft Auto, but instead they've been duped, along with the thousands of you who have helped propel this game to the top of the charts. After turning Rockstar into the symbol to shop for, they have, in this writer's opinion, irreparably damaged it.