Review: Rockstar's trash is a second-stringer's treasure.
Five years ago, Rockstar struck gold. They tossed aside their pick axes and danced a jig around the campfire. "Gold!" they said, "Sweet, sweet gold!" Everyone knew them for Grand Theft Auto III, a PlayStation 2 title that grabbed the attention of the entire world that fall. Gamer grown-ups were addicted to the massively open-ended world of crime. Gamer young'uns, who were sure to set in motion a chain of events that would lead to politicians and parents breathing hard down the necks of the gaming industry. And yes, even those suits and ties we call "old people" (like radical lawyer Jack Thompson, for one) were all over the number one chart-topper at the time like spilt hot coffee. That's when Rockstar drew the gaze of everyone's eyeballs over to another thing for them to pick apart, whether figuratively or literally, 2002's State of Emergency. The riotous beat-'em-up has idly pulverized, terrorized, and brutalized in its lonesome until now.
Gas has several known forms, but the one we're going to be talking about today class is not the one that vents out of your... oven. No, we're going to learn about asphyxiated gas: the same type of lethal airborne poison pumped into gas chambers you'll find on death row, like the one Roy MacNiel is about to be executed in. Being the leader of Freedom, however -- a resistance group fighting the corrupt policing, governmental organization known as Corporation -- has its advantages. Giving Mac a means to get out is the easy part. Escaping, regrouping, and ultimately terminating the Corporation's diabolical scheme to mind control the populace is the difficult assignment you're to undertake if you want justice to reign supreme.
After four years of no return to the State of Emergency franchise, Rockstar's once important product has now landed in the hands of the relatively unknown distributor, SouthPeak Interactive, and designer, DC Studios. Who knows why. The most likely cause is due to the original's lineup of mixed reviews. Some thought it was okay, while others were quick to find a chink in Rockstar's reputable armor. And so, no longer a Rockstar prize to-be, State of Emergency 2 has found change in more places than just ownership. It's also changed stations to categorizing its genre into the third-person shooting territory. This shift in direction drastically alters the formula that once made State of Emergency what it was: an animated beat-'em-up on a massive scale. The things you could do in that game... Using the heads and limbs of some person you slaughtered as weapons? Wasn't a problem. Hundreds of flocking citizens to rush through onto completing your various tasks? Yeah, it was there. State of Emergency 2, in abolishing that one-of-a-kind take, instead opts for a much more generic shooter offering. While lending some of the same playable characters and some of the same crowded rooms to plow through, it's nowhere near as fun or relevant as the first game made it.
It all begins with the fact that doing in Corporation guards isn't with a collection of guns and melee weapons any longer. The guns are here, but melee is totally out. Having no more environmental objects (like the mall trash cans and benches of old) to debilitate your enemies means all you can do now is shoot at them, and shoot at them some more. When you make a game where about the only thing you do is run around shooting at guards, you might want to ensure that the shooting doesn't agitate players. Here, State of Emergency 2 makes that its primary objective. It's not just that the AI has mush for brains. It's that they're cheap. It's that the gun mechanics drive an immense feeling of sensitivity with an inability to lock onto targets, which can drive you up the wall. It's that the enemies you face are in the dozens, when you have far fewer odds going against an AI that is hilarious when it's stupid enough to do laps around you before pausing and taking aim. It's that enemies are crappy enough to be programmed with near-perfect aiming almost every time. Enemies will hit you and keep coming, even when you can't do anything. Climbing a ladder has no defense. Running has no defense. In fact, apart from switching between allies when your health drops or leaning out from a wall, there's no defensive procedure whatsoever built into the game. Grabbing restoration items that sporadically come up sometimes is a possibility. With a baby-sized health gauge that experiences rapid decline often, is trying to live off that in endless storms of bullets all that exciting? Not really.
Running to and fro -- and shooting -- isn't the only segment you'll indulge in throughout State of Emergency 2. It's the main visage though, with weapon selections as common as a new day to back you up; whether it's the pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, automatics, or bazooka and remote mines you have on hand every once in a while. Missions, luckily, will vary somewhat in taking your leave from prison to repelling down a building and picking off Corporation bucket-heads. Newly thrown into the fray for the franchise are asinine button-tapping mini-games (e.g., using Bull's strength to break off doorways in the middle of running for your life), nerve-wracking mechanics behind the vehicles you'll pilot (by tank, helicopter, or speedboat), and recruitable gang members to command for the much needed backup in certain areas. The game's missions temporarily save you from completely pulling out your hair with infinity continues, as long as you get through each area of a chapter all the way. But to succeed each individual objective is not stunningly simple. The game gets hard, is hard, and can throw you for a loop with its poor control and its enemy who's badly made because it usually has the advantage.
Hideous could describe State of Emergency 2's choice in art direction, but it doesn't. No, suffice it to say, the game isn't that displeasing on the eyes. However, it isn't all that terribly great either. When remembering the original, you think about how at the time this game was unique in that it set you up with a colorful orientation where finding a corner all to yourself was not easy. There were quite literally hundreds of individual AI cluttering the screen. While the game wasn't the Mona Lisa of video games, it did break new ground for PlayStation 2 games of the time. In the same sort of way, the sequel now tries to render these animated characters again. But it fails. It expands the levels. It now looks exactly like hundreds of other generic games that have slithered through the same skin. Through city blocks and shabby building structures, more barren and drab is the game's uninteresting finish. The closed-quarters compacting that made the zany rioting such a sight to see in the first game spans out this time where much, much more negative space fills in and the AI is repetitive and boring. They run around as you do, and when you brush into them they fall over with no real mass like if they were a domino waiting to fall. Sometimes two NPCs will get in a fist fight all for no reason. One will spill some blood with just one punch. Other times one such person will stop to shake their fist at the sky as if they were showing thin air how badass they are. About the best thing this game's got going for it is when you shoot at specific objects, like explosive barrels, electrical signs, and cars. These items spark and explode. The enemy goes flying: KABOOM! Yeah, you've seen it all before, and yeah here the quality is flat as plain Sunday morning flapjacks. Once again, the game's not bad to look at it, but it could sure use a lot more syrup and some jelly.
Ready your ears for some redundancy, because the sound has it in spades. Not from the music. Not from the audio bits. It's the voice-overs that tend to annoy as often as you'll be required to replay a scenario. This happens frequently. As the Hispanic-speaking fat man Spanky in one level, you'll need to interrogate a couple of Corporate thugs for information. In punching them just at the right moment by using a delicate pressurized scale, failing this exercise means you'll have to listen to the same corny quips from the computer geek who radios everyone their mission objectives, and lame nasal-voiced opinion. "Nice work, fat man!" The voicing in the game isn't the worst kind you'd want to avoid, but since it could be much better and since you do hear it again, then again, one more time, and on and on in the game's trial and error program, it just doesn't give you what you want. As for the rest of the game, the sound bytes are basically made up of your typical bullet rounds, people yelling, and explosions shattering. Nothing at all worth mentioning. Aside from this stuff, music in the game is only noticeable when heating up a dramatic enemy engagement. The synthesized heaviness of it all is more sameness for your bill.