By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
Several hundred like minded people gather in an area. Too long have their voices gone unheard and unanswered. They take to the streets, the parks, and the plazas. The wording might change, but almost always the message is the same: “We the people demand that the powers that be listen. We are the nation, not the corporations. Not the rich. We, the masses. The faceless and voiceless. When we come together, we gain a voice, and we demand that voice be heard.”
And then the opposition comes. Paid for out of the pockets of the people who they now stare down. They don their armor and form their lines. Batons out, shields locked. They say they’re there to keep the peace, while coming armed for war. The eyes of the people at home are on them. Their families waiting for them to come home safely.
The tension mounts as the battle lines are drawn. Barricades and fences erected. An almost electric buzzing in the air from the throats of both sides as soft conversations carry on. From time to time a chant arises, or a song. The anticipation is like a wire pulled taut, fraying like the nerves of both sides of the line.
What happens next depends on the pressure being applied to one side or the other. Are the protestors being driven to poverty while an expensive rail line is being built, for and by the rich, that will damage the environment? Have the peacekeepers been told that their jobs depend on their ability to disperse the crowds, and that failure will result in loss of ability to support their families? Who blinks first? A thrown rock, an order to open fire, or just someone at their breaking point? And suddenly all hell breaks loose.
Having participated in some of the Occupy protests, I saw similar experiences to the one written above, on many occasions. I’ve never been shot by a rubber bullet, but I have been pepper sprayed, and I have felt the angry striking of an unrestrained baton. I’ve also seen the fear in the eyes of police who are outnumbered many times over. So it is with some knowledge that I come into this review of RIOT – Civil Unrest (RIOT).
No snowflakes were harmed in the making of this game.
RIOT takes you to street level in one of four relatively well known protests and riots, each of which has 4 stages. Interestingly enough, all of the protests in the game take place around 2010 and 2011. Not sure what the reasoning behind that is, but just something a quick Google search turned up that I thought folks might like knowing. In each of the four scenarios you choose to play as the protestors, or the police forces trying to suppress them. Each stage has different objectives, such as “defend this camp” or “destroy that machinery”. Or, inverted, “clear this camp” or “defend that machinery”.
The graphics are entirely pixel based, which was an interesting (and ultimately bad) design choice. The game backgrounds themselves I found to be detailed, but those of the mobs and the police were, I felt, below expectation. Perhaps the goal was to achieve a sort of “faceless masses” effect, which it does, but I feel like this could have been done with better assets and animations. The game’s sounds are “meh” as well, perhaps rating just below average. They’re there, but nothing to write home about.
One of the most frustrating parts to me is that the game isn’t very intuitive at all, and there are no in game tutorials whatsoever. It all happens from the menus where a number of vague “wiki” entries give you some rudimentary facts about the levels, such as the objectives, without really giving you any intricacies about how to achieve those objectives or the mechanics behind the game.
I mostly played as the protestors on the various missions, and I found it, to be honest, to be pretty boring. I didn’t feel like there was any real strategy going on. I just clicked various places, trying to get my crowds to mass in those places, and then either continue moving, or using various abilities to make it so the cops couldn’t move me. Granted, you have a number of different clusters of groups to control, usually between 3-4 depending on the mission. That control is pretty limited though. You can basically tell them where to move, and toggle them between aggressive or passive modes.
There are a couple abilities beyond this, but the effect of most of them seemed to be very difficult to discern, to the point where I didn’t really feel like I was involved in what I was watching. There are some discernible mechanics though. Each side has a morale stat that determines how likely you are to flee if faced with aggression. Cops can use rubber bullets or gas grenades to make lives miserable for protesters. These can be negated by “armor” or antacid (Maalox is specifically referenced in the game).
Frankly, I’m just not impressed. The gameplay is frustrating at best, and abyssmal at worst. The audio doesn’t do anything to really create an atmosphere in the game, other than being a persistently loud buzzing. The graphics leave a lot to be desired. One place where this game could really have made an impact, which is the politics behind these riots, is extremely underdeveloped. Oh, sure, the load screens have a bunch of quaint quotes from historical figures like Gandhi, but the quotes have nothing to do with the events taking place in the game, and the load screens that do tell you what’s going on barely touch on the events in any meaningful way.
At the end of the day, I don’t really get what the point of this game is. Sure, you see some tiny slice of life picture of what it’s like to be in a protest, but without the passion behind the protest, you’re just left feeling empty and without motivation. Without enjoyable gameplay, or immersive storytelling, or visual engagement, or emotional attachment you’re just left with nothing. Which is why I give this game a whopping 1 out of 5. It just doesn’t have anything to recommend it.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.