Game Description: Like Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto III, State of Emergency offers the player virtually unlimited scope for mayhem, and huge, sprawling urban environments to explore through missions or nonlinear action. But this time the level of chaos has been upped considerably, as the game offers the potential for hundreds of rioters to be onscreen at once, each with his or her own AI, set of motivations, and loyalties. The environments are intricately interactive; almost any object (including body parts) can be picked up and used as a weapon.
Game publishers like Rockstar should be more than thankful the courts don't apply the "bad tendency" test too often. The "bad tendency" test basically says this: Anything perceived as a potential threat to the safety of society and the security of establishment falls outside the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and can therefore be subject to punishment. Given Rockstar's recent list of titles (Grand Theft Auto III, Max Payne and Smuggler's Run 2) and its latest PlayStation 2 venture, State Of Emergency, the company could be accused of poisoning the minds of young generations with videogames focusing on criminal and deviant behavior. While it may not be subject to legal "bad tendency," State Of Emergency outlines another kind of bad tendency among game developers: the tendency to stick over-the-top violence into videogames, for lack of more creative concepts.
The game is a veritable riot simulator, where the player takes control of a character in the middle of all-out mayhem, with hundreds of other rioters smashing and looting objects all over the place. The action happens in four modest size areas, from a shopping mall to the downtown sector of the city. Players take on legions of a corporate police force, utilizing a limited number of "beat-'em-up" street fighting moves and a wider array of melee and assault weapons. State Of Emergency is essentially a 3D version of the old side-scrolling fighting games some may remember playing in the arcade or on past videogame consoles.
State Of Emergency represents a watermark in gameplay, as it successfully runs over a hundred characters on screen at the same time without taxing the PlayStation 2's power. This means the game never suffers from the common malady of "slowdown," where the speed at which a game moves decreases visibly to a lesser or greater degree. It really affects a player's sense of place, making the person really feel like he or she is caught in the middle of an out-of-control situation. Somehow, though, it seems disappointing for all this revolutionary gameplay to boil down to a simple "beat-'em-up."
State Of Emergency does stand out from the genre in one aspect. It stands out because it contains a ridiculous amount of blood and gore. Players use pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, grenades, swords, hatchets and human appendages to shoot, blow-up, stab, decapitate and disembowel people on the screen. It doesn't contain the most realistic violence; rather, it presents the carnage in a cartoonish, masochistic light, which makes it a bit more disturbing. Unfortunately, the game is violent for the sake of being violent. The developers seemed to focus only on how many ways a player can brutally eliminate an adversary or an innocent bystander. This is unfortunate on two levels. One, it creates the impression to outsiders of the gaming culture that videogames are a medium through which people act out their gory, violent fantasies. Second, the kind of revolutionary technology State Of Emergency implements is hampered by its limited audience, namely those over age 17.
The one-track-mind game developing also seriously affects State Of Emergency's fun factor. The main story mode, or "Revolution," is a prime example. The background story, set in the near future when all government has collapsed and a big business corporation has taken control, seems prepared to make a poignant statement that could truly apply to today's conglomerate-influenced society. The story never makes its obvious point, as the game quickly degenerates into a series of repetitive and tedious mission objectives. Most of the missions either involve escorting and protecting someone to sabotage something, or chasing down someone and killing them to obtain a particular item. Plus, all mission objectives are conveyed through uninspired, hard-to-read text boxes that pop up on the screen. Worse yet, the story mode represents the deepest part of the gameplay in State Of Emergency, as the few other modes focus on causing as much havoc and bloodshed as possible within a limited amount of time. In other words, it is a showcase for the amount of violence developers can put into the game.
It is more than a little disappointing that so much technical video gaming success was put into a title that has no point and only stays interesting for fifteen minutes. I'm sure that, somewhere out in the world, a small and scattered sect of the gaming community wants to see more games like State Of Emergency in production. However, I'm not willing to believe that those few individuals speak for the majority population. Since videogames are often blamed for breeding violence into younger generations (especially by politicians), why give them an "Exhibit A" to fuel their argument? As the videogame industry makes its way into the mainstream, it will no doubt be under more scrutiny and more criticism from the higher-ups in society. They will likely consider (as I am inclined to agree) games like State Of Emergency not only to be bad tendency but also bad form.
My first impressions of State Of Emergency were favorable. At the time, I was still being amazed with everything Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3) had to offer and the idea of a game similar (or so I thought) to Rockstar's crime simulator in which the main theme would revolve around riots rather than car thefts seemed promising and original. Unfortunately, one problem in particular brought all my positive expectations to an abrupt end: having actually played the game.
Although State Of Emergency appears to offer many of the elements that made GTA3 a hit, it fails to present them as well. An example of this would be, as Caleb mentioned, State Of Emergency's environments. Although he refers to them as "modest in size", I believe "inadequately small" would be more appropriate. Anyone having spent his or her elementary school recesses in a playground surrounded by wire fencing will most likely feel the same sense of confinement here. It becomes obvious that this game does not offer nearly as much space as GTA3's Liberty City did. Granted, a large mass of people running around hysterically will easily eat away the Playstation 2's memory capacity. However, this does not overshadow the fact that players are given environments clearly limited in size.
The actual riots, oddly enough, also serve to disadvantage the game. One would assume that a crowd running wild in all directions would help draw players into the action. Instead, it doesn't take long to realize that the constant flow of masses gone crazy is just that: constant. People just run around like brainless zombies high on caffeine and after a while it had me thinking "Does it ever stop?" Not only is it non-stop, but the chaos-causing rioters also appear to be an inexhaustible resource in this game. Killing everyone in sight will in no way diminish the number of people running around. In this manner, State Of Emergency portrays the rioters as a pack of rats which will always be around, no matter how many of them might be killed.
As far as violence in this game is concerned, Caleb was absolutely right. State Of Emergency, for lack of originality, does not give players much to do aside from indulging in ceaseless carnage, which gets tiresome fairly quickly. At its core, this game is nothing more than a killing free-for-all. In fact, it could be argued that it surpasses even GTA3's amount of gratuitous violence. This point can be easily demonstrated after implementing a specific in-game code that allows players to unlock a mode in which punching a person will result in him or her being instantly decapitated. Not to mention of course that the victims severed head can then be used as a weapon itself. As Caleb indicated, the cartoonish nature of the on-screen characters just makes it more troubling, as it seems to minimize the impact such actions have on gamers.
State Of Emergency would probably be better off as an arcade game, should there ever be an arcade daring enough to offer such a violent title. This is one of those games that aims at giving players immediate gratification, something that was clear after half an hour of doing rather dull and fast missions and blasting my way through the crowd. It is a shame that the technology to move a hundred characters at the same time, without any slowdown, was put to use in this game only as a way of increasing the number of simultaneous kills. The games concept is original without a doubt, but is it as worthy of praise as GTA3? Not a chance.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Violence
Parents, under no circumstances, should allow their children to play State Of Emergency. The game comes loaded with blood and gore, and it entails references to street gangs, hate groups and terrorism in general—a touchy subject of late. State Of Emergency more than earns the "mature" rating, and there are many other titles better suited and more fun to play for younger gamers.
Fans of recent Rockstar-published games beware. State Of Emergency is not the love child of Grand Theft Auto III and contains nowhere near the amount of gameplay depth and variety found in last year's release. It is best to rent this title, as it will quickly become uninteresting after satiating one's curiosity about bloody riots. "Beat-'em-up" gamers might also want to look into State Of Emergency as a rental. It's a very stripped down fighting game, and most of the gameplay emphasis falls upon using different weapons. This aspect can get a little frustrating, but boredom will probably set in long before frustration.