STAFF REVIEW of RIOT: Civil Unrest (Xbox One)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

RIOT: Civil Unrest Box art Riots look like one thing on TV, yet are a completely different world when you’re in the thick of it. I’m actually able to speak from experience here, as I was once stuck in the middle of a riot, granted, not a political based one as this game, RIOT – Civil Unrest, portraits. Simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was stuck in a crowd of thousands of people when things starting turning for worse. I wanted to go one way, but the crowd was running the other, and I knew if I fell over, I would have most likely been trampled to death. Then the tear gas from police came. That stuff hurts; believe me. I made it out eventually, but experienced firsthand how quickly chaos can spread with the right conditions, something I hope to never experience again.

Yet here I am, playing it in game form. I can handle that though, and even some of my first initial impressions brought back some of those feelings of chaos. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for someone to be there willingly at a political protest when things turn south. RIOT will let you experience that in a handful of different scenarios. It’s an absolutely unique and interesting game idea, as I guess I would categorize it as a ‘simulator’ of sorts, but there really is nothing else quite like it.

The idea came from RIOT – Civil Unrest’s creator, as he himself also experienced firsthand chaos at the NoTAV demonstrations in Italy. Never heard of that world event before? Don’t worry, I’ve not either, nor any of the other scenarios contained within aside from maybe a headline here and there, but RIOT gives you some simple background information on each setting, purposely trying to be as unbiased as possible. In fact, as you begin, you’re greeted with a message about how RIOT is built from a small group of people and actually suggest you do research yourselves elsewhere to learn more about the conflicts. This is a great way to not cater to the protester's, or police, side of the conflicts, and allows you to see where you stand yourself without outside influence.

What makes RIOT really interesting is that you get to play out these handfuls of conflicts, but can choose from either side, protestors or police. While there’s no real right vs wrong here, both sides have their own reasons, abilities and playstyles that need to be taken into consideration. You’ll witness events from around the world, in Italy, Spain, Greece and Egypt, as well as a handful of others as you progress.

I don’t really want to delve into each of the ‘stories’ backdrop, as they were the most interesting to uncover for myself, especially with the online research I did afterwards on my own, as I found the subject matter quite interesting to learn about. As many conflicts, they start out with good intentions and peaceful protests, but usually the perfect storm occurs and things take a turn for the worse, even to violence. Each of the main campaign houses 4 separate scenarios where you choose which side to experience. For protesters, you’ll need to hold your ground, or occupy a space, though how you do so, peacefully or with violence, is completely up to you. The same goes for playing as the Police, as you need to usually disperse a mob or deny access to an area, but things can turn ugly real quick when protesters start chucking rocks and Molotov’s.

As for the gameplay, it’s a completely mixed bag of confusion and awkwardness on a controller. At the top left, you’ll have your abilities that can be utilized, based on which side your chose, if they are in offensive or defensive stances and other variables. Executing the abilities starts a cooldown period of each until they can be used again, but sometimes certain abilities won’t enable, and I’m unable to figure out why. Or for example, I had my protesters sit in a spot, only to realize I was controlling the wrong group, and I couldn’t get them to stand back up so I could move them again where I wanted.

You can also switch between your numerous groups, able to place certain ones in key locations or using them for specific objectives, like pushing back police, destroying barriers or calling in backup via social media. The same goes for the police side, as you’ll need to control each group of police separately, from the riot squad with shields, tear gas launchers, water cannons and more. Given the utter chaos that happens on screen, it’s very difficult to tell what’s exactly happening at a given moment, but that’s true for the real life counterpart as well I guess.

I preferred the rioters, trying to protest peacefully without bringing out the rocks and Molotov’s, but when police start pushing you back, something’s got to give at some point. There’s a meter at the top that shows just how peaceful, provoking or violent each side is, but most of the time, my outcomes were almost always violent. Part of this is because there’s no tutorial at all of how to play the game, so I was initially just mashing buttons and trying to see what would happen, but of course, that meant using my more offensive tactics.

I tried a few scenarios with only peaceful abilities equipped, like megaphones, cameras, and social media, but seemed to have much more success when I was using rocks, bottle rockets, homemade smoke bombs, firecrackers and more. As you can imagine, once a few rockets and Molotov’s get thrown, the chaos starts to ensue and the mob mentality sets in. From here on violence will quickly begin, so you better have a plan.

On the police side, I found these same scenarios much harder, also due to a lack of any tutorial or explanation of mechanics. Do you put all your force together and push back as one, destroying barriers, or you to turn on the water cannon to disperse the crowd, inciting rage? While I found the tear gas worked quite well, and you can aim to a specific spot in the crowd should you desire, I rarely won any of the police scenarios, and I’m not sure why. When I had to clear an area of protesters, there’s always a few lingering somewhere, and once you move your units to arrest or attack them, others come in where you just were, so it always felt like a losing battle. Just like rioters, I tended to play the police much more violent than I initially wanted to, as I was unable to get any results I wanted the peaceful way.

While you have most of the campaigns behind the Story Mode, there’s also an Online and Versus mode. Online isn’t what you think, as it plays out each mission in a row, granting you bonuses or negatives for the following riots, based on how you perform or which side you pick. Almost like an endless or challenge mode, there’s a lot of content to tackle here, but I found it quite challenging. If you’ve got a friend over, you’re able to able to play against one another, but it would have been a bonus to have online play enabled instead.

As for its visuals, the aesthetic is done in a retro pixel style, which by all means shouldn’t work with how much chaos is happening on screen, yet somehow does. While there’s not much detail to each person, you’re able to clearly make out every character, and for the cops, can determine which ones have your riot shields, etc. I really enjoyed the visual aesthetic and think it is RIOT’s strongest feature, aside from showcasing the conflicts themselves. As for the audio, the sound effects are very powerful, with tear gas launching sounding terrifying (maybe because of my past experience), but the majority of all you’ll hear is the shouting and murmur of the crowd more than anything, which overpowers everything else.

RIOT – Civil Unrest sets out to show a side of riots you may not think of, and does so perfectly fine in an unbiased way based on real life protests. Riots are chaotic and unpredictable, and it’s no different here. It’s a shame that the controls aren’t very controller friendly, nor any subtle learning curve, as I probably would have enjoyed my time with it more if I knew what I was doing, how it was going to affect the outcome or even what the repercussions will be. But maybe that’s what RIOT does right, simply throwing you into the fray and letting the chaos ensue, though it almost always ended in a bloodbath for myself.

Overall: 6.1 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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