State of Emergency is a no-holds-barred romp of carnage and destruction set in chaotic 3D city streets full of hundreds of characters. In the near future, the oppressive ubiquitous "Corporation" finally pushes the people too far, causing a riot to break out in the streets. The Corporation calls a "State of Emergency" and begins to fill the streets with heavily armed officers to try to keep the peace. In line with publisher Rockstar Games' brave trend of violent games based on criminal situations, the player in this adventure takes the role of an angry agent that resists the domineering Corporation and is encouraged to do so as viciously and brutally as possible.
Players choose to guide one of five diverse resistance agents through the four different city districts, challenged by over 30 missions in each area. Free-form "Chaos" modes are available as well, to allow the player to wreak havoc on his or her own terms. In either mode, survival through merciless violence is a founding aspect of gameplay and the resistance agent will need to use any means available to cause as much pain and destruction as possible while moving through the city streets. While simple found items like pipes and clubs serve as good beginning weapons, more sophisticated arms become available as the game progresses, including shotguns, grenades, flamethrowers, and even rocket launchers.
Other versions of Rockstar's State of Emergency were announced just as the PS2 game was making its way to gamers who were still in a state of Grand Theft Auto III euphoria. Whoever's decision it was to make State of Emergency's main gameplay mode look like GTA's on-foot segments, should be commended because the ploy worked. A year and another GTA masterpiece later, State of Emergency shows up on PC and cooler heads have prevailed. This most recent edition of the riot-themed game carries many of the same problems that plagued the PS2 original, but we have to admit the addition of a fairly rich multiplayer component does indeed make a difference on PC. That's not to say State of Emergency is catapulted into must-have status, but it definitely deserves a long look if you and three of your buddies are hankering for a quick violent fix.
The game engine in State of Emergency is well suited for what the game sets out to do, the problem is State of Emergency isn't intended to do too much beyond throwing you into the middle of a riot and leave you there. Across multiple solo gameplay modes, with various objectives in each, you're mainly dealing out melee and ranged punishment to dozens of characters thanks to developer Vis' fast-twitch third person engine. You get punches, kicks, combinations of both, strafing, dash attacks and tons of weapons from tazers and pepper spray all the way up to rocket launchers and park benches. The attack/weapons selections aren't the problem, however.
The wide-openness of State of Emergency is part of its undoing because in giving us so much freedom to use all of these weapons as we see fit to fight the powers that be that control this grim vision of the future, we don't always know what we're supposed to do that's fun. The AI of the little people running about holding VCRs and washing machines over their heads is only slightly worse than that of the dangerous weapon-toting enemies that you'll have to deal with. The only thinking you'll have to do is discerning the innocents from the threats. There are objectives such as finding a particular threat/person and eliminating them or escorting another character from place to place, but these motivations aren't enough to sustain interest once you've already done your basic kill/destroy everything missions early on.
Like we said, the game engine does some impressive things by having so many characters on screen at once, running nearly as fast as your main character, plus weapons and slightly destructible environments, but State of Emergency peaks too soon. You're picking up and playing with ease in a matter of seconds and everything that follows after that to ramp up the learning curve doesn't convince us that we're doing anything other than shooting and destroying as quickly as possible. The early satisfaction of decapitating a "control officer" --they look like cops in riot gear-- and then using his head as a bludgeoning weapon or even wasting a crowd of two dozen innocents/rioters with a rocket or grenade quickly gives way once you've done it for the 700th time. Just because you're swinging head for the purposes of protecting an innocent or beating down a police captain, you're not getting any more satisfaction out of it.
The multiplayer elements added to State of Emergency for the PC version go a long way towards solving the bad AI problems assuming your buddies are at least halfway intelligent. There are timed multiplayer editions of the game's basic single player modes where you're racking up points in a certain amount of time by killing certain targets or destroying property in general. These games can be played cooperatively or competitively. The Deathmatch mode is by far the greatest strength of State of Emergency.
In this competitive-only game mode, you're still running around one of the game's four environments but your only targets are other human players. The twist is you can "recruit" nearby rioters into your "gang" by hitting the white button whilst in their vicinity. Tall, short, male, female, scared or tough, they're all instantly converted into gangsters that will match whatever lead character you're controlling. They're still controlled by a suspect AI but they will follow you around closely as you roam the area looking for opponents to smoke. Your gangsters will attack opposing gangsters and opposing human controlled players and will automatically upgrade to more powerful weapons as you collect weapon power-up icons for them. We haven't observed the upper limit of how many people you can have following you but we've seen at least two dozen thugs with bats, assault rifles and flamethrowers patrolling the neighborhoods of State of Emergency behind our main character. The whole thing ends up looking like a videogame version of "Gangs of New York," especially when you encounter an opponent and their gang.
The visuals are little sharper in this PC version of State of Emergency but you're getting the same animations and special effects from weapons and explosions that we saw in the PS2 game. Nothing else about State of Emergency has changed much in its transition to the PC.
The speed of the animation remains impressive as you see multiple characters moving their low polygon bodies at impressive speeds especially when you're hacking them to pieces with a sword or convulsing when you zap them with a tazer.
The character models, especially the playable ones, are very stylized with extra large feet and hands --even on the women-- so you can really appreciate when they're punching and kicking their way through crowds.
The audio elements are limited to riot sounds and whatnot but the inclusion of custom soundtracks is perfect fit for this type of game. Real riots aren't necessarily the concentrated bursts of sound that are portrayed in State of Emergency, but the sirens and yelling featured in the game all fit the theme of the game very well.
The ticking clock sound effect when timing is running down is relentless and really puts the pressure you to take care of business, but not long after that it comes close to driving you insane. The weapon sound effects are nothing too special. They sound different from each other, but you won't be confusing these sound effects for anything you might find in a Tom Clancy military sim for example.
The importance of custom soundtracks can't be understated. It makes a huge difference in action sports games and racing titles. In a game like State of Emergency being to blast whatever alternative, underground anti-establishment rebel music you like can add quite a bit to the overall game experience.
Even with the addition of the multiplayer modes and custom soundtracks, State of Emergency doesn't hold up on PC. An additional year of development time after the PS2 version's hot-then-cold reception, really should've yield something more than a just a decent port.
The quick satisfaction I got from chopping off heads and limbs and blowing up various objects and people is definitely worth something. But like other games that peak too soon and can't maintain my interest, the overall feeling is disappointment. State of Emergency's best selling point, however, will be its pricing point.
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