I’m a big fan of games that attempt something different. There are a million different first person shooting clones, where your job is to save the world, or a ton of RPGs putting you in the role of a hero from a small village that has just been burned down, leaving you as the chosen one. So when game developers come along and try something different it has to be applauded.
There are successes, especially with the farming sim titles that have gained huge numbers, and then there are not-so-great cult classics that fail in many gamers’ eyes – I am Bread and Goat Simulator, spring to mind – somehow still managing to sell loads of copies. Now though we have a game about rioting, one that is based on actual real-world political upheavals, seeing you either play out proceedings as the protesters, or the police enforcing law and order. This is the toughest game I’ve ever had to review and I will try to tell you why.
When you first fire up RIOT: Civil Unrest the developers inform you that they are a small team and in making the game they have tried to remain as unbiased as possible. Also, they happily tell the player to go out and discover more information about the civil unrest situations they are trying to portray.
In the story mode, you are presented with four options, with a variety of locations and political upheavals over the last few years all present. The first is the Arab Spring and the revolution that happened in Egypt, while the second is that of the Catalan protests in Spain. Thirdly we see some bits set in Italy covering the proposed demolition of properties for a high-speed railway and the last puts us up in Greece – there is a protest that gets out of hand with an environmental issue. The set up is that you choose to play either as the Police or the Protesters, taking part in a number of missions or reenactments through the campaign. The missions have goals like holding the ground for the protesters, or trying to push these guys back should you side with the police. But how do you do this, I can hear you ask? Well, this is the tricky part.
Without beating around the bush, RIOT: Civil Unrest is a game that might well play out a whole load better with a mouse and keyboard, as the console controller interface just doesn’t feel very fluid with the action on screen.
But should you get to grips with what is going on, then it is defintiely much easier to play on the protesting side of the fence as opposed that of the law, something which I will readily admit got me completely lost with. You see, the whole scene is covered and you are able to zoom in and out of the action. With the protesters, you must corral the masses to keep them all together, before then trying to action the peaceful approach, or a more aggressive violent one. With the latter, a number of icons appear above the action to give you a set of clear options – do you to throw rocks or petrol bombs at the police? Or would you prefer going for a more peaceful approach, opting to lay on the ground or utilising social media to showcase the police actions through the eyes of the world.
When taking charge of the police force though, it all gets a bit more complicated as you have different units to control. For example, you have the shield units on the front line, holding station and keeping the protesters in one place. Then you might have an attacking force who will rush at those who are out of control, truncheons out and aggressively moving them back step by step. You also have access to a ballistic unit who will fire out plastic bullets and tear gas on command.
When you start each scenario you may well have many plans to mind, ready to action as soon as things get going. But what the game doesn’t prepare you for is the complete and utter mindless chaos. Very quickly you’ll be left with loads of people on screen at once, running, protesting, and milling around, with announcements appearing at the bottom of the screen. “The Barricade has gone”. What barricade? How have I lost it? “Seven casualties”. Who? How do I help? Civil Unrest doesn’t really offer you much in the way of a tutorial either so you’re just thrown in there, trying to work out the controls and plans of action as you go.
As strange as this seems though, this whole experience got me thinking. What if this is what the development team wanted to happen? These situations are chaotic, sometimes arbitrary and totally random events that can’t be controlled when the circumstances heat up. Maybe there is a lesson here, but overall it really does make the gameplay a bit of a nightmare to control.
On the good side though, RIOT: Civil Unrest utilises a pixel art design that actually shouldn’t work on paper, but is totally perfect for this game. Little cutscenes are horrific, but really work well with the visual choice and the inclusion of the audio sees it all absolutely well designed; dramatic and a real drama heightener. The effects of a tear gas canister being fired are truly terrifying as is the constant level of chaos and mass protesting. It’s relentless. But again, I think that is the point.
The reason that RIOT: Civil Unrest on Xbox One is one of the hardest games to review is that I am not sure about whether it’s an actual game, an experience that should be taken in, or a social-political statement. As an experience it’s completely original; a taxing and emotional rollercoaster that questions the whole process of demonstrations from both sides of the line. As a game, and well, it all comes across as a bit of a mess while playing, and it’s really hard to control or work out what is going on at any one time, whilst controlling the police feels completely wrong, as the chaos descends into utter violence.
That said though, if you want to try something wholly innovative and hugely experimental then it may well be worth giving RIOT: Civil Unrest a go. But heed my words carefully because the gameplay may well turn many a gamer away.