Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: VIS Entertainment
Release Date: March 25, 2003
Originally debuting on the Playstation 2 last year, State of Emergency was met with mediocre review scores and weak praise from customers. Though it was hyped as being a Grand Theft Auto killer, it ended up being quite different from that game and also (understandably) lacked GTA's success and controversy. In hopes of changing that, Rockstar has gone back to the game to fine-tune it and release this new and improved version on the Xbox console, with gamer's wallets in mind - it's only twenty bucks for a brand spankin' new copy. The price tag might be attractive, but how is the game? Well, read on!
The premise of the game is this: future leaders of the world are being corrupted, and people have decided to riot. That's pretty much it. Kinda shallow, eh? Although one of the game's modes attempts to add story arcs involving certain characters, they usually consist of something along the lines of "Oh no! Security has found out where we're stashing Item X! Go help out!" Not very compelling, for sure. There aren't any cutscenes, voice-work, or any real sense of structure. I think it's safe to say that playing State of Emergency for its storyline won't be a very satisfying experience.
What the game does do well, however, is the gameplay. You find yourself in a chaotic location, such as a mall or city street, with the intention of beating the crap out of the authorities, gangs, or whoever decides to pick a fight with you. Basically, you grab a weapon (or use your fists) to eliminate the threat. The AI is not as bright as it could be, but your foes usually put up a challenging fight. There are few feelings of satisfaction that can be compared to the first time you pick up a powerful shotgun and blow the heads off of a half dozen cartoony characters. Red blood blasts into the air and squirts in different directions as the bodies fall limp and squirm around. The art style is definitely silly, but it's still strangely fun to murder goofy-looking people by the truckload.
The game is easy to jump into and have fun with. The left thumbstick moves your character while the right thumbstick rotates the camera. The right trigger can be held in for a burst of extra speed, and the left trigger will force the camera to position itself behind you. When you collect a weapon, you can shoot/swing/throw it with the 'A' button or use the other face buttons for punches, kicks, and spinning attacks. Admittedly, the control isn't perfect and can be a bit awkward, as the camera is frustrating, and the fighting system isn't terribly deep. In fact, melee combat isn't really that fun or effective, so you'll find yourself avoiding lots of fights if you don't have a weapon.
Boy oh boy, are there are lots of weapons. You might want to try a baseball bat, or club, or even a sword, to begin with. Perhaps you'd like to be classy and take hold of a nice black pistol. If automatic is your thing, this game's got you covered there too: uzis, AK-47s, and M-16 Assault Rifles are just a few of the available tools. For the pyromaniac in all of us, a devastating flamethrower has been included. If you think that's an impressive arsenal, I haven't even touched on the rocket launcher, tazer, pepper spray, or grenades! If you miraculously find yourself in a situation where there are no weapons around, don't forget about the best resource yet: the environment!
Trashcans, signs, benches, plants, and debris are all yours for the taking. Don't forget to use corners, crevices, and secret passages to your advantage, either. Although the level design may not be the best ever, it allows for lots of running and hiding. There's an onscreen map that can be toggled on and off, which is thoughtful but wasn't very cleverly implemented, since it practically takes up the entire screen. You'll have to glance at it quickly and turn it off again because it simply takes up too much room, but this could also lead to you absent-mindedly taking the wrong turn, getting lost, and having to backtrack. They could have easily fixed this by making the map smaller, but as it stands, it can be a bit tough to get around.
When you start up the game, you'll find a listing of different ways to play, from the arcade "Chaos" mode to the story-based "Revolution" mode, or one of the new multiplayer games. Chaos can be surprisingly fun in short bursts of playtime. Basically, you run around a particular area (swarming with rioting folk, mind you) attacking enemise and searching for nifty weapons while avoiding killing innocents. You rack up points by killing security, gang members, or other important figures, but you lose points when you kill civilians. There are also nifty little items that you can pick up to help you out by either sending a friend to help you fight, extending the time limit, or adding to your score. Although it can become monotonous after a while, short sessions will keep you interested for some time.
Topping off the list of ways to play are the new multiplayer modes. This is something the PS2 version is sorely lacking, and with good reason. The frantic action and violence begged for a deathmatch mode, or co-op, or something! Thankfully, these modes are here in all their glory. While areas are noticeably less-detailed (to save the framerate), the gameplay remains fun.
State of Emergency sports graphics that look like they came from your average PS2 title. Character models usually aren't very detailed (especially the hoarde of civilians), but decent animation, textures, and some cool environments keep your eyeballs from falling out of their sockets. The framerate is also at a rock-solid sixty FPS, making for a smooth ride. While it would have been cool if Rockstar took the incentive to throw in some nifty special effects via the Xbox's extra power, the game looks okay overall. The graphics certainly won't win any awards, but they're more than bearable.
While it may not have great music on its own, sound is vastly improved over the PS2 version, thanks to the custom soundtrack option. Killing mindless folk is that much better when you've got some of your favorite tunes blaring at the same time. Sound effects are nicely done, from the bang of a shotgun to the rat-tat-tat-tat of an uzi, or the screams of the people as you gun them down. I never even thought of pressing the mute button while playing this game.
All things considered, State of Emergency is not a terrible game. It does have a fair share of problems, the story is a joke, the camera needs major work, combat isn't spectacular, and it can wear thin after a while. The game does, however, makes up for its problems with a very reasonable price tag. The game might not keep you entertained for weeks, but split the cost between a few friends, and you have a game that will easily keep a couple of guys entertained for a few nights. It's not a bad investment.