The fighting genre has not seen many new releases since such titles as Double Dragon on NES, and the classic Streets of Rage series on Sega Genesis. Rockstar has released State of Emergency (SOE) in an effort to fill the void and in the process has created a game that stays true to the genre while utilizing the newest technology to raise the bar. The all out carnage of SOE helps to move the genre forward but does not do so without occasional stumbles.
SOE inserts the player in the not-so-distant future, a future controlled by a sinister force known as the Corporation. The player assumes the role of a Freedom operative, an organization working to remove the Corporation from power. Riots ensue and the goal is to create as much anarchy as possible in an effort to undermine the Corporation’s influence. There is a tremendous arsenal of weapons to choose from and the game provides an unprecedented level of chaotic freedom.
The graphics in SOE are impressive at times, and overly simplistic at others. The graphics engine performs amazing feats by keeping 250 unique entities on the screen at any given time. These characters are animated relatively smoothly and the frame rate hardly ever skips a beat. I found that the graphics helped to set the game to a breakneck pace and really sucked me in. While many of the characters are duplicates of each other, they move uniquely and there is enough variation to keep the chaos interesting. Textures are bright and colorful, and I was unable to notice any obvious glitches or tearing. The developer’s went for a comic-like atmosphere and I feel that they more than achieved their goal. The large amount of violence present in the gameplay is accentuated by the graphics and I especially enjoyed the large amount of blood the engine throws around. Explosions look excellent and the window effects are quite well done. I would have liked to see slightly more complex models and textures but I feel that there was a move for quantity at the expense of quality.
I feel that the sound in SOE is a major weak point. Gun sounds are bordering on pathetic, with the M-16 being the only standout. The music is also quite disappointing, especially after the great soundtrack that Rockstar created for Grand Theft Auto III. The tracks are standard beat tracks that are supposed to get the player’s heart racing. My heartbeat raised maybe a patter or two.
SOE provides for several different gameplay modes, and some are definitely of better quality then others. The modes break down into arcade-style Chaos modes and the mission based Revolution mode. Revolution mode is entertaining but painfully repetitive. Most of the missions boil down to escorting, executing, or defending members of the Freedom organization. I was quite disappointed by Revolution mode, as it does hold promise but it just wears thin. Each level has approximately 30 or so missions that must be completed in order to move on. Some of these missions are quite easy and others are frustratingly difficult. Poor ally AI and overly aggressive enemy AI makes defending objectives quite difficult. I found the lack of available weapons in Revolution mode to be incredibly obnoxious and would have the liked the ability to start a little chaos in between missions. Unfortunately, in order to unlock all of the game’s characters you must totally complete Revolution mode, making it a necessary evil.
The Chaos modes, however, save SOE. In Kaos mode (yes, with a K), the player runs around the board creating as much havoc as possible. Killing Corporation forces, blowing up buildings, executing gang members, and completing objectives all contribute to the running score count. Kaos mode has the added difficulty of having a Crazy Taxi style clock. Reaching target scores, collecting time power-ups and completing objectives help to extend the available time. I find that I generally meet my demise well before the clock runs out; it is, however, an important factor. Weapons are freely distributed and constantly replenishing. This helps to set the fast pace of Kaos mode and keep the player running the entire time. As your score increases, so does the difficulty and I soon found myself confronting entire armies of gangs and the Corporation. I enjoy Kaos mode thoroughly and it keeps me coming back for more. Other chaos modes include: 3-minute fixed, 5-minute fixed, Last Clone Standing, and Timed Last Clone. The x-minute fixed modes challenge the player to get the highest score possible in an x-minute clock. I find these modes to be interesting but not nearly as fun as Kaos mode where endurance matters. Last Clone Standing and Timed Last Clone send you into the level filled only with defenseless “clones”. The simple goal is to kill them all and do it as fast as possible. I loved these modes and found them to be quite stress relieving. There’s something about mowing down 5 people in one shotgun blast that just brings a smile to my face.
Speaking of weapons, SOE has a ton of armament options to choose from. My favorites are the automatic rifles but I found the grenade launcher to be incredibly useful when going for big points. The effects on the flame thrower are very nice and I enjoy the minigun spray. Unfortunately, all of this carnage is limited by a horribly slow camera. The camera rotates overly close to the character and doesn’t respond quickly enough to allow for effective run-and-gun fighting. This makes the game much more difficult and it’s a challenge to keep the camera operating correctly. Overall, SOE offers strong gameplay in its Chaos modes but falls quite short in Revolution mode.
I waited for this game with great anticipation and was a little disappointed when I first started playing it. Little quirks, like poor camera, menus and sound, make the game very frustrating at times. However, Chaos mode is an old-school arcade blast and has continued to suck me in the more I play. I think Rockstar has done a very good job in producing SOE but it could have used a little sandpaper on the edges.
Note: Many people were expecting Grand Theft Auto 4 from this game and are going to be disappointed. State of Emergency is nothing like Grand Theft Auto 3 nor was it ever intended to be. If you evaluate this game, please do so on its own merits and not what you think it should be.