RIOT: Civil Unrest had potential in spades. It's an RTS where you can take control of rioters or police and recreate violent unrest based on famous altercations that take place around the world. The whole thing is built around eye-catching pixelart graphics, and it comes with lots of novel ideas. Sadly, for all its potential, the delivery wasn't quite there.
On paper, it sounds great, if not a little controversial. There is even a message from the developers telling you they tried to be unbiased, asking you to research and come to your own opinion about each event depicted in the game. You head into events based on world history such as the Arab Spring, and environmental issues in Greece and Italy. The game affords you the chance to take control of a group of protesters as they make their feelings known and stick it to the man. Alternatively, you can even be the man to whom it gets stuck!
There are three different modes - Global, Story and Versus - along with three difficulty settings ranging from Too Easy to Lawless. We initially jumped into Story mode and played as the protestors. Before we went to stand up for our rights, we got to pick what equipment and armour we would use. The more aggressive the prepared equipment, the lower the turnout of protesters. This element of strategic planning added a nice balancing element to our preparations.
After a stunning pixelated cutscene about anger against a new train being built, we were thrust into our first showdown, where we had to stand our ground and stop the police from crushing our tents. Speaking of graphics, the whole game is built in a pixelart style, and for anyone who is not a fan of this type of thing, walk away now. The actual gameplay looked okay, but it was very hard to know what was going on. Sure, a riot is supposed to out of control, but it was hard to see what was happening at times.
The first level threw us in at the deep-end. We had four different mobs to take charge of, and we found ourselves learning how to do things by pressing things at random. Up in the top left-hand corner, there were four icons that were assigned to each of the face buttons. Upon pressing one of them, it did give you a little advice as to what it did, but even then, it wasn't overly clear. Moving the groups with the stick felt sluggish and almost out of your control. Then there was throwing things like firecrackers, which were quite difficult to aim. It led us to the assessment that RIOT: Civil Unrest is probably best played with a mouse and a keyboard than it was a controller (we reviewed the game on PS4).
During the battle, there were a series of tweets or texts that told us things like someone had been hurt, or that it was getting too frantic, but we had no idea where these things were happening. And then suddenly, we won. Sure, we had it on the easiest difficulty setting in this playthrough, but even then we weren't exactly sure how we'd won. Naturally, if you put it on the hardest setting, it's more of a struggle.
In the levels that followed, we were instructed to do things like hold a bridge, or blow up generators. We found that moving our groups toward the objective was sluggish and often we'd just let the game do its thing. We never totally felt in control, which ripped a lot of the fun out of it for us.
Next, we had a bash at being the police. Before the fight, we got to choose from a range of different troops such as ballistic officers and some with riot shields. Again, it was still confusing as to what was going on as you selected groups of cops and marched them into harm's way. There's was a bit of difference between the two sides, though, with the police moving in more organised groups. Moreover, the different units types offered a bit more scope in terms of tactics. In fact, that increased variety meant that we preferred playing as the long arm of the law.
With each level you compete, new gear, levels or characters are opened up, which does give you some sense of progression. You can make your rioters more aggressive with Molotov cocktails and more violent activists. There were lots of interesting decisions to make, it just didn't work that well in practice. Sure, as time went on and as you learnt more about what each thing did, it got better, and it became easier to aim and understand what you had to do, however, the main control issues persisted.
The other modes offered some variety. Global mode saw us choosing a side and then going through the levels one by one. The difference is that public opinion affects difficulty. If you're too violent, the tide will turn against you and make things too hard. That said, in one match-up, we had lots of support yet still got kicked out of an area and lost for some unknown reason.
Finally, you have the versus mode which was actually local and you could have between two and four players. This was a nice little addition to the game, and there were many more unlockable maps to play on such as ones in Brazil and Chile, so at least those who are drawn in will find plenty to amuse themselves over time.
The last thing we have to talk about is the presentation. In the pre-battle screens the soundtrack was pumping, but as soon as the riots began, it was just the sounds of screams and shouts. It felt alright, but maybe more time could have been spent on developing an engaging in-game soundtrack. Moreover, the game references activists as rebels, protesters and rioters as if they were one and the same thing, which annoyed us a little.
All in all, RIOT: Civil Unrest had the potential to be something great, but the control system, along with the general confusion that we felt while playing let it down. There was quite a bit to unlock and it looked great, but it never quite hit the mark we were hoping for. Sure, it became more fun as we got to grips with things, but the whole experience was let down by the issues we've highlighted and the game sadly never managed to live up to its undeniable potential.