Minimalist, retro-looking games are a big deal at the moment, which is never a bad thing. I mean, get me talking and I will tell you how amazing Hotline Miami, Crossing Souls and Dead Cells are. It’s both a beautiful new style and a throwback to the older days in one, mixing new mechanics with old timey visuals.
Even on the storytelling front, minimal exposition and help is also a big feature, allowing players to use the ol’ “tried and tested” method of progression.
So why, then, does Riot: Civil Unrest miss the mark on most of these things?
<Insert Kaiser Chiefs pun here>
Riot, as you might have guessed, is a game supposedly based on real-life events that the game even tells you to look up if you’re interested. Not in a “we couldn’t be bothered to explain ourselves” way, but in an unbiased way that shows no favour to either side. It’s quite a nice act, in trying to engage your brain in doing a bit of homework to what you’re getting involved in.
It’s a shame really, that the game itself is such a chaotic mess that I can never really make head nor tale of what is happening at any time. A riot, by its very nature, is an unpredictable thing. A force of civil disorder, there has been many an occurrence of rioting and whatnot breaking out over various things that have usually spiralled out of control.
So, imagine how it feels to try and control one.
“You’re no Guevara, boy. Just a poor man’s Marx”
It’s a weird dichotomy to give to a player: control rioters. It’s like herding cats. Alright, cats with megaphones and fireworks, but still. Or, control the police/response units for a slightly better equipped but equally baffling mess.
Imagine if you were playing Cannon Fodder, but instead of your small unit of Spadgers, Tonks and Jones’, you’ve got fifty-ish units that get distracted and break rank. Split into several squads of about 10-15 people each, depending on the mission, you can select each squad independently and vaguely steer them towards an objective.
As the protestors, this isn’t normally an issue. Your usual objective is to stand your ground, either defending a landmark or your protest site, so moving too far isn’t a massive issue. Or occasionally try and drive back the police as you make your stand, whilst advancing. Strength in numbers and all that.
As the police, however, you’re normally tasked with either dismantling any makeshift camps or barricades that have been constructed. Some squads have tear/smoke gas launchers for crowd dispersal, or must press on and quash any resistance. It depends on if you want to a begrudging presence of order, or a brutal and totalitarian force to be reckoned with.
On paper, it sounds pretty straightforward. But actual execution is something different, with so much going on at once onscreen. When you think you’ve got a handle on things, you’ll get messages saying, “Someone’s been hurt!”. But the game doesn’t tell you who has been hurt. Bottles and fireworks are difficult to aim, and trying to ascertain who is in which squad as they scatter and reform is challenge. Maybe that’s the intended nature of a game called Riot but for me, it just wasn’t fun after a while.
Fightin’ round the world
Of the available modes to choose from; Global, Story and Versus, it seems Global is actually the most cohesive. What I thought to be multiplayer, it’s actually where the meat of Riot’s progression lies. Depending on whom you choose, you’ll see a percentage counter as to how well you’re doing with them.
Starting slowly, completion of a level unlocks more items to use as you advance, such as fireworks and tear gas. However, your actions do shape the overall perception of your chosen side. Public attitudes sway depending on how you do, so you may see more people join your cause, or conversely have more aggressive rioters to deal with if you show too much brutality.
Story mode, confusingly, is a chance to play single missions based on levels in the Global mode, using items earned through that. Lastly, Versus is local multiplayer, for up to four players. Having not played it, I’m going to hazard a guess (going by the single player shenanigans) that it’ll be anarchy in the literal sense.
Fighting for your right
Stylistically, I’m a fan of what Riot is trying to do. Rocking that vintage Amiga/Cannon Fodder look, crossed with a bit of Another/Out of this World’s flat, almost rotoscoped style. It’s probably a blessing and a curse to the style, as so much can happen on screen at once it all becomes a wonderful blur. I mean, in keeping with the theme, I guess?
Musically, this hits a bum note as soon as gameplay starts. Introductory scenes remind of Fixion’s score for Mother Russia Bleeds: bombastic electro to get you frenzied up for the event. As soon as the mission starts, though, you get…quiet. You can hear the sides shouting and chanting at each other, as tensions start to rise. But no music, weirdly. Maybe because it might detract from the onscreen chaos? I couldn’t tell you, it just struck as a very odd choice to remove the upbeat music as the mission starts.
So on paper, who would this game be for? It’s highly remiscient of a real time strategy, or at least seems more suited to it. So if you’re a Command and Conquer fan, and you fancy something off kilter, this would be for you. Otherwise, it’s hard to pitch a game with such an unclear motive.
There are some things about it I enjoyed. The graphical style, the general out-of-nowhere style of game, and what it sets out to do. The delivery though, is so overwhelming and disappointing that it doesn’t make it a wholly enjoyable experience, more one of stumbling your way through each mission.
It’s a shame, as we complain we never get anything new to play. But something as too abstract as this chaotic affair doesn’t hit any specific mark to make it fun. I’d recommend if you want to try something a bit out there, or perhaps enjoy your interactive history lessons.
Either way, this is a riot I cannot predict the outcome of.
RIOT Civil Unrest is out now on Mac, iOS, Android, PC, Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed on Base PS4) and Switch.
Developer: Leonard Menchiari, Marco Agricola
Publisher: Merge Games Limited
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publishers. For our full review policy, please go here.
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