Urban Chaos: Riot Response Review
Each of the game's 20 single player missions is introduced by a mock live action newscast that sets up the upcoming mission scenario. These newscasts are very tongue-in-cheek, much like the newscasts in Paul Verhoeven's Robocop and Starship Troopers films. A gang known as "The Burners" has declared war on New York City. Politicians are being kidnapped, property is being torched, and gang members are engaging the city's police and rescue workers in urban warfare. Players are immediately thrust into the middle of the uprising, assuming the role of a supercop named Nick Mason, who has just joined the city's elite T-Zero anti-crime unit. As part of T-Zero, you have access to all sorts of high-powered weapons that the local cops can only dream of using. Unfortunately, T-Zero has a bad rep with the media and Nick seems to be the butt of their jokes on numerous occasions. That sucks for him, but it sure makes those newscasts a joy to sit through.
With regard to weapons and combat, Urban Chaos is pretty much cookie-cutter of what we've come to expect from the FPS genre. Despite their fancy names, Nick's weapons are basically the usual assortment of pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. Gang members tend to attack using one of three methods (guns, knives, or molotov cocktails). The dual-analog controls let you strafe, aim, and crouch like you would in every other FPS. Bullets to the body will slow down or incapacitate enemies, whereas head shots will lay them out with a single bullet. And, of course, every wound is accompanied by a bloody spray. Fans of the Halo series will appreciate that Nick can pick up and use the weapons and ammo that enemies leave behind, and that he can toss grenades and molotovs for a bit of crowd control. Meanwhile, anyone familiar with the Syphon Filter franchise will get a big smile from tazering enemies into submission (or cooking them). About the only object that's unique to Urban Chaos is the riot shield, a handy object that allows players to absorb gunfire without any injury whatsoever, except when you drop your guard to return fire. The riot shield can also be used to smack enemies unconscious and to walk through flame jets and backdrafts without incurring any fire-related injuries.
Two things help distinguish Urban Chaos from the all of the other cookie-cutter FPS games that are out there. First, Nick usually has backup tagging along, in the form of a rescue worker that the player can issue commands to. A police officer will provide covering fire or target specific enemies. A fire fighter can put out fires and chop away obstructions with his axe. Paramedics can heal wounded civilians or help Nick regain his own health. You do have to protect these helpers from harm, but they're (thankfully) quite good at dodging bullets and taking cover during gun battles. The second thing that makes Urban Chaos seem so fresh is the way missions are setup. While you're going through the level, the game will present you with objectives that you need to fulfill. Some are straightforward, like when you're told to shut off a gas valve or capture the gang leader alive. Some require multiple trips or steps. Every so often, you'll have to drag multiple civilians out of a burning building or activate multiple panels in order to unlock a single door. Other situations involve careful combat and strategy. For example, in a hostage standoff, you need to remain at a safe distance and use the riot shield for cover, so that you can nail the baddie with a headshot when he's reloading. The number and variety of different mission objectives is such that you never feel like you're just mindlessly killing everything or participating in stale escort scenarios.
There's a slight learning curve to go through before the game becomes "fun," but that first hour or two of toil is very much worth it. The claustrophobic level layouts take some getting used to, as does remembering to use the riot shield to protect yourself from bullets and backdrafts. Also, the overall difficulty starts out somewhere around "tough" and gradually works its way down to "manageable." Part of that is because gang members have no qualms about running up to you and chopping you to bits with cleavers. Mostly though, the initial difficulty is due to Nick starting out with crummy armor and lame weapons. You earn better weapons and armor by satisfying optional objectives in each mission, and somewhere around the sixth mission or so the pendulum begins to sway in Nick's favor. In all, there are 204 medals to earn, which unlock more than 40 different weapons and upgrades. You usually can't get all of the medals for a mission in one go, so the prospect of better weapons offers a good incentive to go back and replay previous missions. Plus, it's violently satisfying to go back to an early level and take revenge on punks with your level-3 assault rifle.
Most importantly, Urban Chaos looks and sounds great. This isn't the next Halo by any stretch, but the pre-mission news briefs and game-engine-rendered fly-bys that open each mission definitely give the game that "larger than life" feel. On the whole, the graphics are sharp and intricately detailed. You can shoot out windows, puncture fire extinguishers, and detonate gas-filled drums. Personally, I made it a point to look at all of the posters and signs in each level, because they're funny and perfectly legible. All of the various gang members look a bit fruity, since they're all wearing jeans and clown paint, but they're also fluidly animated. And they get torn to bloody bits when you shoot them (heh heh, whee!). Even though the game doesn't offer a progressive scan display option, the graphics are still very crisp. Throughout everything, the directional audio of gunfire and chatty gang members provides a fitting soundscape, as does the highbrow Robocop-esque music.
Once you're done nurturing your skills in the single player mode, you can move on to the multiplayer modes, which support both LAN and Internet setups. As many as 8 players can duke it out in any of 9 maps. Although you can jump in and play every man for himself, the best way to play is in teams. In team play, half the players are T-Zero members and the other half are Burners. Each set has its own unique arsenal of weapons and unique objectives. For instance, the T-Zero team may have to break into a building held by the Burners and steal their flags. Most maps are just the right size to accommodate six to eight players without much wandering.
As someone that's pretty much bored to tears with the FPS genre, I personally found Urban Chaos to be a breath of fresh air. The game plays like every other FPS does, but the CPU controlled buddies and different mission objectives help keep the gunplay fresh. Furthermore, the live action newsbreaks and in-game conversations kept me entertained even when I was backtracking to earlier missions in order to unlock better weapons.
7/14/2006 Frank Provo