What should be a time of wonderful change and justified excitement brings a new reign of terror and bloodshed. Rather than celebrating the dawn of a new millennium, the Union City residents are suffering from malicious gang wars, terrorists and widespread famine. The once friendly streets are an open battleground for anyone wanting to solve their problems. Many fear the Apocalypse is at hand; ancient predictions cast by Nostradamus are becoming a reality.
The Union City police force has a difficult mission at hand: they're to restore order to the once peaceful city by any means necessary. Players assume the role of either D'arci Stern or Roper McIntyre. Whereas the hardened and mentally unstable Roper uses his knowledge of advanced weaponry and highly explosive materials to get the job done, D'arci is an excellent sleuth specializing in stealthy infiltration and reconnaissance missions.
Spanning thirty missions, Urban Chaos takes the player on a wild third-person adventure filled with explosive action and terrorist activities. Depending on the character, missions include highly dangerous infiltration objectives, arresting terrorist masterminds, and the eradication of street gangs. By successfully completing each mission, an apocalyptic story is slowly unraveled; something is definitely wrong in the city and it's not just crime.
D'arci Stern must be the most overworked rookie cop in the history of the Union City police force. Not only do the officers have her single-handedly taking on hordes of gang members and thugs with nothing but her fists and a few bullets, but it's up to her to save the city from complete disaster, and solve a mystery involving corruption and evil. But hey, that's what you get for trying to follow in your father's footsteps, right? Maybe she should have followed in her mother's instead, and taken that job managing the Hot Dog on a Stick stand at the Union City mall. In the tradition of all good games, her misery is your pleasure, and you'll be taking D'arci through some harrowing adventures as you progress through one of the fastest and best games of the year.
The storyline involves -- surprise -- the millennium and a crazy group of gangs called the Wildcats, who are bent on taking over the city for a dark purpose. As a rookie cop, it's your job to take care of some of the muggers and thugs that are bringing the city down, and ultimately, reveal the larger subplot, gameplay speaking. As the game progresses, you'll meet up with a secretive vigilante named Roper who gives you clues on the real evil behind the Wildcats take-over of the city, and ultimately ends up helping you in your struggle. Play far enough, and you'll be able to control Roper, using his series of moves and tricks to clean up in special missions.
The key to Urban Chaos' success is its pure speed -- levels are condensed into small bite-sized pieces, with an average win time (that's if you don't go searching for every secret and enemy) of around 15 minutes. The designers have constructed the game around Union City locations, sometimes giving you different missions within an area, or throwing you into a completely new environment for a change of pace. Like real cop life, Urban Chaos thrives on surprises. Each new mission will give you a new objective, and then immediately throw a wrench into the works by tossing in side-missions and objectives during the actual levels. For instance, early in the game you'll be called in to stop a jumper from making a fatal leap from atop a large building. On your way, however, you get a call from a timid cop who needs your help in recovering his stolen car. You may not have to solve it, but do it and you'll get yourself some added bonuses. Take out a boss meeting by tracking down a club owner at a popular mexican restaurant, or spend a level bringing down the percentage of crime in an area (AKA, kick much ass). Some areas give you incredibly hard tasks, like taking out wave after wave of enemies in a certain time limit, or the addictive "find two hostages and take them back to the safe zone." In this particular mission, D'arci is aided by the officer she rescues, but Roper's officer is unconscious and must be carried to the safe zone over his shoulder -- with streams of baddies coming out of the woodwork to stop his progress. There are dozens upon dozens of missions to accomplish, and rarely do they ever repeat in theme, or in practice.
Now don't go thinking that you're going to be stuck a-runnin' and a-jumpin' through this adventure -- D'arci's all about Double Dragon style kicks and punches, as well as the ability to stock more munitions than your local millennium-crazed militia. When an enemy gets within a certain radius, you'll automatically face them, and can focus on kicking, punching, or using holds and combos to either bring your opponent to the ground, or slay them outright. It's works well in practice, but overall, Darci and Roper's combos are fairly limited, and the timing of their triple-attacks are incredibly hard to put into practice when you've got multiple enemies attacking. Though the designers have given you the ability to kick in different directions while facing one enemy, usually the perspective ends up confusing your directions, and your character inevitably gets the pixels pounded out of them while you try to kick off multiple attackers. The weapon attacks fare much better -- a Virtua Cop style target zooms in on you when you're being targeted, and gives you a dotted line pointing out the direction of your attacker. You also get a similar scope when you take out a firing weapon on an enemy, guaranteeing that you won't take out an innocent bystander when you're actually aiming for thug #3. Tired of firing of shotgun blasts, or using a machine gun? Taking out some enemies will give you a knife or a baseball bat to use as well, a fantastic aid in skull pummeling. Though all the weapons are great, the best bet (at least early in the game, when you aren't supposed to kill attackers) is to slide, knock the baddies on their feed, and quickly arrest them using the actions key. The same action key also allows you to search their bodies for extra bonus items, and though it takes time, more often than not, it's worth the effort. If you get tired of running, you can always try out a vehicle -- most are locked, but you'll be able to gain access to vans or cop cars in certain missions, adding a level of fun on top of the hand to hand battles. Even the cars are utilized in inventive ways -- vans can also be used to hop high fences, or to gain access to ladder that you couldn't reach without jumping on someone else's hood. Some mission also bring cars into play, such as one where D'arci must find a broken down car, and drive it back to a bomb squad before it explodes. The controls are as simple as running around on foot, but still give you a different feel for the individual size and weight of the vehicles.
The on-screen pop-up gives you a quick heads up on your health, as well as how much stamina you have left in your sprint (something D'arci will use almost nonstop in the game to get from point A to point B quickly). Bonuses are hidden throughout the levels that can permanently aid your character's stats, giving them more stamina, power, or reflexes, which over time improve your character's overall performance. It's a nice way to get you to explore the levels thoroughly without resorting to the boring "find the hidden items" gimmick. The radar is an essential tool as well, and makes sure that you can always keep track of the location of different enemies and mission objective points without giving you a map, which would ruin the mystery of the levels. You may know that you're a block from objective X, but it's up to you to find out exactly how to get there.
This is all glossed over by the incredible, wow, I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter graphics, led by what I like to call the inventive "leaf engine." As you run through the streets, leaves and papers blow about behind you beautifully, in a way that I've never seen done before in a game. It may be fluff, but I'm permanently addicted. Puddles not only reflect characters, but the moon as well, twisting the images to fit the movement of the water. Even the fog is volumetric, reacting to the movement of characters. The textures are detailed, and the details are detailed, meaning that the designers have not only put incredible textures on the buildings, but that they've also put the effort into creating polygonal windowsills that make each area that much more believable. You can even pick up cans and throw them down the street, if you get bored of, I don't know, actually kicking in faces. With moving cars, pedestrians, thugs that chase you almost anywhere, and AI partners that not only look good, but act like real characters in battle, you'll swear that you were running through a real city. And then you'd move out to the much safer suburbs.
The music in the game is a nice, subconscious style of British thump that will keep you excited -- though I wish there was more variety in the number of songs that are used in the game. The sound effects and voice acting, however, are pure New York trash. Fun, thick voices that swear whenever possible, and fill in accents to keep you interested. The punches and kicks, however, are where the fun lies. And just wait until you hear the loud thud of a baseball bat as it takes out an enemy.
What makes Urban Chaos so damn fun is the way that it provides you with all the size and mass of todays biggest adventures, without any of the bad pacing. You'll come back to earlier areas with new missions, and then suddenly have the opportunity to explore a completely new level only a few minutes later. D'arci moves really fast, and you'll rarely, if ever, become involved in the block-pushing puzzles, perfect jumps, or switch madness that currently dog most third-person games. I couldn't get myself to stop playing Urban Chaos, and found it to be one of the fastest and most fun games of the year -- even though I wished that the actual fighting system had a deeper level of complexity. But forget about nitpicking -- you'll find yourself playing this one into the night, waiting to see what the next mission will bring you. Plus, you may actually be able to use this as a sort of police-prep course.
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