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In Memory
Sean Pettibone



 

       

 

 




State of Emergency is one of the most provocative games to come out in quite some time. The gameís simple arcade-style gameplay mixes elements of Doom and Final Fight but the gameís most controversial element is its high intensity action and high degree of violence. This isnít a bleak title as there is a high-degree of humor involved that takes the edge off. The biggest question however, is how much fun the game is once the shock value wears off. The Laser takes a closer look and examines State of Emergency to see whether the game itself lives up to the controversy.

Following in the adult-oriented footsteps of last yearís hugely popular and critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto 3, Rockstarís State of Emergency is another title thatís already controversial. SOEís gameplay in and of itself isnít likely to draw much criticism, the intense realism, mass-killing and the playerís role as a terrorist is likely to upset more than a few players. While its ultra-violence is unprecedented in console gaming, it isnít nearly as bad as one would imagine given the hype itís received. The violence here is more tolerable because its more exaggerated, though there are some grisly elements such as the ability to blow peoplesí heads off with a shotgun. Itís not as dark as some would have you believe and is actually rather dark-humored in a way, sort of like the first Robocop movie, Blade Runner, Brazil or The Running Man. Itís a satire of violence in an oppressive almost fascist society, but doesnít have the cynicism that youíd expect. While the game doesnít flinch in itís displays of graphic violence, there are ways which make the game seem fun. You never feel like youíre in a realistic environment at all, even though the locales and layouts of the levels are implemented using realistic maps. The huge difference is that SOE is a light-hearted title while Rockstarís other infamous title, GTA3 is gritty and dark. It also helps that itís a third-person shooter which takes some of the edge off and helps to remove you from the action.

The gameís back story is pretty interesting and sets the stage effectively for the provocative gameplay to follow. After the collapse of civilian government, an evil corporation controls the world and has inflicted a totalitarian government on the populace. However, a resistance group has formed to displace the corporation, using any means necessary. State of Emergency casts the player as a revolutionary fighting against the forces of oppression. As you begin each level, youíre standing at the center of a riot in one of, where the streets are over-run by hundreds of people in a panic. You play as one of several different characters and your objective is to defeat an evil fascist corporation. The objectives are two-fold, to kill the corporation forces and gangs while inflicting as few civilian casualties as possible. This is a manic experience and player will find itís almost unavoidable to kill civilians with all the chaos going on, no matter how hard they try not to. Players can also gain bonus point for inflicting damage and destroying vehicles, buildings and other objects. You can also pick up objects such as mailboxes and crates and smash windows for even more bonus points. It might seem a little perverse on the surface, but given the context and motivation youíre provided with, the extreme actions make sense.

Visually, SOE is quite impressive, with detailed character models, realistic explosions, and intelligently designed environments adding to the overall intensity. State of Emergency is basically a virtual riot, and the engine does a good job in recreating the sense of chaos. There are literally hundreds of civilian characters on each level. This is impressive enough but each one seems to react to your actions as well. They cower after an explosion hits nearby and run en masse through the streets. Whatís even more impressive is the AI seems so realistic with the characters in the game running around in huge mobs and rampaging recklessly throughout the streets with no regard to their physical well-being. The production values in State of Emergency are also enhanced by the sound effects and voice acting. From the strangely cheerful announcer, to the angry police forces shouting at you and the screams of the victims, the gameís audio fits the intense nature of the gameplay and shows a game that doesnít take itself seriously and has a great sense of humor to it.

Whatís also impressive about State of Emergency are the aggressive, intelligent enemies. There are two basic kinds, gangs and corporation forces. They arenít that difficult to beat on their own, but they attack you in groups when you destroy and kill enough times, which is a cool effect in and of itself. You can mow them down using one of the weapons, but they still make for an imposing force that can be hard to defeat, thanks to their sheer numbers. Even though you might think that the sheer numbers of opponents will work strongly against you, there are many objects that you can use to help you survive the chaos. Scattered around each level there are loads of cool weapons including flame throwers, AK-47s and Uzis that you can pick up and use. These are all pretty cool and when used right, can inflict a ton of damage on the environments. You need to be careful with some of the weapons such as the grenades however, because they can also damage you if they explode when youíre nearby. The variety of the weapons keeps the game interesting and itís a lot of fun to use them since they have a different strengths. For example, clubs, stun guns, sticks and broken bottles are more effective at close range, while the guns and flame throwers can be used to take out far away enemies. Whatís cool about SOE is that even If you donít have a weapon, youíre not completely defenseless because you can engage in hand-to-hand combat with enemies using kicks and punches, which is cool as well because the characters can also use their special moves. When you kill one of the corporation forces or a gang member, theyíll leave behind health and time power-ups as well which should be collected.

While the gameplay conventions are a lot of fun makes SOE so addictive is that its controls simple but are also tight and responsive which makes the game easy to play. Weapons are picked up and discarded with one button and used with another, players can also strafe when they use guns and turn while standing still, allowing them to slice through forces like butter. The only problem with SOEís interface is the camera control scheme that makes it difficult to change angles. Since the default angle is behind the player and doesnít change until you change. This is especially aggravating when youíre against a wall and you try to turn around to fire only to have the camera stuck in the same angle. This means that you frequently find yourself cornered and have to physically move your character away from the action to get a good viewpoint. This is the one areas in SOE thatís not as polished as it could be but you can compensate for this by learning where the best positions in each level are and avoid the closed in areas.

SOE only other major problem comes in the superficial gameplay which is fun but not that deep. Itís disappointing that the objectives and weapons stay fairly static throughout the game. However, it seems that the developers have realized that the gameplay can become monotonous quickly. To combat this, SOE offers several different modes of play from the beginning, including kaos and revolution modes. Kaos Mode is straightforward arcade style action divided into mini-games. These include different objectives such as killing all the clones on the level or destroying buildings. Revolution mode is deeper and harder because it offers more interesting goals. Here, you have to meet up with a fellow subversive, complete a variety of objectives on a single level, and then report back. This is more difficult than it sounds but makes the game more addictive. VIS has done a good job in adding features that extend SOEís appeal beyond mere mindless shooting, while never losing the visceral, immediate thrill that makes the game so much fun. To make things even more interesting, there are several extra modes besides the main game that extend its depth. After successfully beating levels the game unlocks additional modes such as a deathmatch, survival and timed games. Players can also unlock additional locales and characters, adding more challenge a variety to the experience. The one thing that could have been added would have been a multi-player mode, but the game is still quite enjoyable without it.

While some will undoubtedly be offended by the violence and use this to condemn it, that doesnít mean itís totally without merit. The solid gameplay make it much more than a cheap exercise in shock value because State of Emergency is a highly entertaining title. Between the simple controls and manic pace it resembles the simple fun of classic titles such as Robotron and Smash TV. The elements come together nicely to make playing it quite addictive and the extra modes add even more replay value to the experience. While players may find it gets monotonous during extended play, smaller doses of the game provide a welcome relief valve that offers a solidly entertaining amount of basic mindless arcade-style fun. You can even turn off the blood and gore if it isnít tolerable but this is an intense game. Even without the blood, State of Emergencyís violence means that itís definitely not recommended for children. This is quite an intense experience but not shocking in comparison to other shooters and is actually rather silly, if you can believe that. Once you get over the shock value, itís a fun title with addictive gameplay and surprisingly high replay value thanks to its extras modes. Like GTA3, State of Emergency is a solid title thatís loads of fun, and succeeds on its own merits as a great title despite the controversy surrounding it.