The city is on fire, and its districts lie in ruins. Firefighters, police and paramedics struggle to pull average citizens to safety, only to be savagely cut down or burned alive by the hordes of maniacs who now rule the streets. Into this mess strides Nick Mason, a special-forces riot policeman with big guns and carte blanche to bring the situation under control by any means necessary - and he's going to kick him a little ass.
Yeah, we know. You've heard it a bajillion times before, in slightly different variations. But Urban Chaos: Riot Response is more than just a by-the-numbers shooter, and there's a lot more intensity, variety and innovation here than its hackneyed setup suggests.
For starters, as Nick Mason you'll do a lot more than just run around in burning buildings and ruined streets, capping thugs in the head (although that does play a big role). You'll also need to coordinate the actions of the cops, firefighters and paramedics you'll meet in each level, ordering them to take out fiery obstacles or rescue injured civilians as needed.
These folks aren't just cookie-cutter uniforms, either (although the game's female medics all look identical for some reason); the developers went a long way to humanize them, and they become so vital to your survival that it's often a huge relief to see them after wading through scores of masked psychos.
The gang members you'll fight, called the Burners, aren't fleshed out quite so well, though, and their hockey masks make them almost indistinguishable from each other. But their constant, varied taunts and threats - usually consisting of Mason's name followed by a string of profanity - make them seem like real, vicious people with something to prove. And while they act pretty dumb at first - plenty of them charge at you like idiots, or just stand out in the open and shoot - a few are actually good at staying behind cover and dodging your fire. This unpredictability, along with their habits of attacking in groups and popping up out of nowhere, makes them almost frightening.
Your tools for fighting the Burners are pretty sparse at first - just a pistol and a taser that you can use to arrest or burn them - but by achieving certain goals (like fulfilling a quota for non-lethal arrests in a level, or rescuing a kidnapped official in one of the timed, between-mission bonus levels), you can boost funding for your department and get equipped with upgradeable, progressively more destructive weaponry. You'll also have a transparent, nigh-impenetrable riot shield, which you can use to block attacks or bash thugs in the face. The whole "mobile cover" thing - which the baddies eventually start trying to get around - gives the game a unique tactical angle that most other shooters don't have at all.
Unfortunately, the most immediately striking thing about Urban Chaos isn't its deep gameplay, its unsettling enemies or even the fact that it actually makes you feel like a hero who helps people, instead of just a trigger-puller. No, it's that the graphics are downright hideous. There's a lot of detail crammed into certain parts of the game - backdraft explosions are awesome-looking as well as deadly, the riot shield shows persistent, realistic-looking damage and the slow-motion hostage situations are just cool. But that doesn't soften the blocky characters, drab textures and rough-looking environments. Even on the Xbox, the visuals don't look much better than they do in the grainy PS2 version.
Crummy graphics or no, Urban Chaos
' story mode is remarkably cinematic and intense, with lots of dramatic in-game events and huge explosions that regularly tear the environment apart. For those who don't want to go solo, there's a badass, team-based, chainsaw-revving multiplayer mode - check our preview
for a full description.
It looks underwhelming, but spend a little time with Urban Chaos: Riot Response and it quickly stands out from the crowd. Helping emergency-services crews and saving lives is almost as rewarding as bashing punks into submission, and there's enough unlockable stuff here to keep you going back into its missions after you've finished them once. If you've ever wanted to be on the right side of the law in an urban-crime game, this is a good place to start.