Rocksteady is unlikely to win any awards for its no-holds-barred ultra violent FPS Urban Chaos: Riot Response, but they have created a genuinely fun experience. It's not a game you'll want your kids or your disapproving partner to see, as it'll only reinforce what they think is bad about videogames, but for anyone who plays video games to be entertained, Urban Chaos is a nice slice of over the top fun.
The story isn't quote as clichéd as many action games, but it's not exactly pushing the boundaries of storytelling either. As Nick Mason, a member of the controversial heavily armed riot response unit T-Zero, you must try and tackle a group of arsonists known as 'The Burners'. As well as burning buildings, they also like to take hostages and cause general mayhem around the city. With the aid of some high-powered weapons, a riot shield, and some members of the Emergency Services, it's up to you to take down the gang and bring in the gang leaders.
Each level is preceded by a news report by Channel 7 News, with each, rather amazingly, ending with breaking news of gang activity somewhere in the city. At the start of the game the T-Zero group isn't favoured by the public, but successful missions gradually turn public opinion, and this is shown in the news reports, with T-Zero as a whole gradually becoming very popular. At its core the game plays like any other first-person shooter, but Rocksteady has included a number of neat features that go a long way to making the game a different experience.
The riot shield is probably the item that changes gameplay more than any other. It effectively gives you cover wherever you are in the level, letting you tackle enemies aggressively, pulling your gun out when they pause to reload their weapons. You can still take cover in other locations throughout the levels, but the shield makes gameplay faster and more exciting. Guns can't be fired with the shield raised, but you can throw razor sharp cleavers at enemies while the shield still offers protection. Heavy use of the shield throughout a level will also result in it being covered with bullet marks and blood, which not only looks cool, but makes it harder to see through.
It's not essential to use the shield in normal gameplay (although it is advised), but it's very much needed during hostage situations. At numerous times during the game you'll be faced with a gang member who has taken an innocent person hostage. With your shield raised you have to get into position for a shot at the target, but remain at a safe distance so you don't spook the gang member into killing the hostage. You basically have to wait until the guy reloads his gun, then whip out your gun and take a shot at the guy's head. This will usually need to be done a few times, with the guy occasionally throwing Molotov cocktails at you, before the final shot sends him falling to his death in a sick, but rather humorous way. Some more variety in these setups would have really spiced things up and made them a more thrilling experience, but they're still an interesting portion of the game.
To make it through each level you'll often have to give orders to the firemen, cops and ambulance crew that accompany you. The ambulance crew can give you health top ups, but being unarmed they tend to stay in a safe position, with you having to back track if you fall low on health. The firemen and cops are more active, with cops being able to provide covering fire and the firemen helping you out when you have to enter burning buildings. They can be ordered to smash through obstacles, raise steel doors and obviously put out fires. To give you a fighting chance inside these red hot infernos you're also given one of the fire crew's Breather suits, which protect you from the heat and give you 'enhanced' visibility.
Sadly, while the firemen are the most helpful, the levels inside the burning buildings are the least entertaining. For the most part you'll have to rescue people trapped inside the buildings, and it's simply no fun at all. Visibility is pretty shocking, you've got no map or signposts to help you out, and you can spend a good portion of time simply wandering around doing nothing. Some rescue missions are definitely more hassle than others, but the best of the bunch still aren't as much fun as the standard missions in the game.
Urban Chaos carries a BBFC 18-Cert and it's well deserved. This is a very violent game and includes plenty of foul language for good measure. Headshots literally take off enemy heads, psychos charge at you with chainsaws, enemies shake uncontrollably after they've been incapacitated by your powerful stun gun, blood spurts wildly during prolonged slow motion sequences, and a whole host of other unpleasantries occur regularly while you play. As I mentioned at the start of this review, this isn't a game to show to someone already sceptical on the merits of video games, but as long as the violence is taken in the spirit of the game, it's not as horrific as it seems.
As much as Urban Chaos can be loved for the things it does right, by the end it's hard not to feel like it could have been so much better. The level designs vary from excellent to poor, enemy variety is non-existent (ok, the gang members where masks, but still), the aforementioned rescue missions become tedious, and the end arrives a couple of levels too soon. Some smart, but rough, visuals do the job and make a game that looks genuinely great on a few occasions, with fire effects and some impressive lighting being particularly worthy of mention. Online play for up to eight players, which pits T-Zero against the Burners, is a nice diversion, and a truckload of medals to unlock gives you something to come back for, but as a whole game it's just not quite good enough.
When faced with a price tag that is disappointingly not in the budget range, it's hard to forget about the niggling problems seen throughout the game. Had Eidos gone for it and released the game at an impulse purchase budget price, it would have been hard not to recommend Urban Chaos. With so much quality on shelves for the Xbox and PlayStation 2, though, and with Eidos' excellent Tomb Raider and Rogue Trooper combo vying for your cash, the riots might have to go on for a little longer.