During the first two decades of the 21st century, we have witnessed civil crisis spread throughout the world. People have been fighting like never before to have their voices heard, be it against corruption, oppression or for their freedom of speech. And let’s not forget about the movements for equality, safety or opportunity. In an attempt to fight against the lies of the media (don’t tell me you believe in everything you watch on TV…) and to help those who are still fighting to be heard, the Italian developer Leonard Menchiari in association with IV Productions brings Riot: Civil Unrest, a real-time riot simulator published by Merge Games that has been gathering a lot of hype (including mine!) since its announcement and its now available for those willing to change the world… even though only in their Xbox. Now follow us in this review and get ready to make yourself heard!
What is Good?
- Concept and gameplay: I can’t praise enough the originality behind the concept of the game. It’s hard to label it as a strategy or a simulator game because there’s so much on it that makes it so original. Anyway, let me try to give you an overview about it: playing as activists or the police, fighting to stop the riots, you must accomplish tasks like securing or occupying a location, push away the activists (or the police) or to destroy (or protect) some vital structures before the time runs out. To do so, you will control different groups and use different actions like forming barricades, yelling, using laser pens and throwing rocks, while playing as the activists, or throwing smoke bombs, rushing into the crowd and arresting militants, while playing as the police. You can also switch between a pacifist stance to an aggressive one, what gives you more options in both sides. But these new actions usually end up in a big mess, with people injured or even dead, what will cost you points at the end of the stage. And this is the formula to succeed in the game: to balance the amount of strength you use to achieve your objectives and still have the public opinion in your favor. A hard task, if you ask me.
- A history lesson and game modes: In its story mode, the game takes you through four different real events: the Arab Spring in Egypt, the Battle of Keratea in Greece, the No TAV Movement in Italy and the Indignados Movement in Spain. Each event has up to five stages that represent important moments of each event. Besides these main events in story mode, in Versus mode you can play side-by-side or against a local friend in other manifestations throughout the world (a big surprise for me: they even brought one of the riots against Confederations Cup in Brazil). In Global mode, you choose one of the factions, riots or police, and play a series of missions that become harder after each level if you don’t manage to keep the public opinion in your favor.
- Graphics: Riot: Civil Unrest presents scenarios and characters in pixel art graphics with beautiful use of light and visual effects. Though they are tiny in your screen, the animations you see when the tension is high and the mob starts throwing whatever they can find on the police shows home much attention to detail the developers had. Sometimes when there’s a huge crowd on the screen, the graphics will look a little blurry. But it doesn’t impact on the magic these little pixels performed on my TV. There are also some small cutscenes whenever you finish a level that shows an outcome for your actions. Really impressive!
- Sound: Although there’s no music during the gameplay, the sound effects do a pretty decent job to make you feel like in a real manifestation. You can hear the cry of the crowd, shots fired and explosions that help to build the immersion of the game. While in the menus, you can listen to some interesting songs that also refer to the tense atmosphere of the game.
- Tough mission: I usually don’t complain against a game difficulty level. With few exceptions, I consider every challenge games throw at me valid and (sometimes) fair. Riot: Civil Unrest comes with three difficulty levels, Too easy, Challenging and Lawless. And it feels embarrassing to say that, even playing in Too easy, I found some really tough stages! I found myself stuck, having to retry several times more than I would call acceptable (especially when playing as the police). I can’t say I mastered this game in my time reviewing it, but I was able to understand its mechanics enough to finish the Story mode and advance a good number of levels in Global mode, but it still feels unfair in some levels.
What is Bad?
- Limited gameplay: Yes, the concept feels great, but the execution felt a little shallow. Especially when we consider the gameplay. Most of the time, you’ll be repeating the same mechanics over and over level after level. Occupy that area. Resist occupation. Push them away. They all feel different excuses to do the same thing: position your groups and keep pushing the opposing forces, yelling here, using Molotov cocktails there until the clock runs out. Ans just try not to be too violent (or, at least, be less violent than your adversary) to have the public opinion supporting you more than him. And this repetition will tire you soon.
- Bugs, crashes and company: Well, no game is free of bugs and we can always count on updates and patches to correct its problems. But until then, I must mention the problems I had while playing it. First, the game crashed several times, coming back to the Xbox home screen with no apparent reason. One of them in special had me really pissed because I was about to win a level playing as the cops and I haven’t been able to get even close to winning it again. Second, before each stage, you can customize the equipment and abilities your riots will have available. But it’s impossible to control your cursor while selecting the abilities, so you end up always going with the standard equipment. The controls for the game, especially while in the menus (!), are very bad optimized. And to end this topic, sometimes when selecting to retry the mission after failing it, my hud became invisible and the camera zoomed in so close I was unable to see what was happening around. To solve it, sometimes only leaving to the menu screen was enough. In others, I had to restart the game. And talking about the camera.
- Camera: Though the camera is positioned above all the action, I really miss the option to control the camera, so I could avoid leaving my militants or enforcers lost outside the reach of the camera.
Riot Civil Unrest [Score: 62/100]
I was aboard the hype train for Riot: Civil Unrest since I first read about it. Its scope was so unique, with a very opportune and captivating concept. A concept, however, that looked better back in time, with an execution that was a letdown to me. Not only for its many bugs (that are many, but nothing that can’t be solved) but for the shallowness of its gameplay. But still, even with these problems, somehow enjoyable experience when you finally manage to overcome the obstacles the game throws at you. Now you must pick a side: will you fight as the police to support the status quo and the government or will you use your throats to cry for change? The choice is all yours.