RIOT: Civil Unrest deserves respect and some recognition for tackling a sensitive and controversial topic. Inspired by real life protests, the developer actually witnessed one of these riots first-hand and decided to make a game about it.
This riot-sim is a loose mixture of genres that sort of create something all its own. At its core, it is an RTS but that doesn’t fully fit the bill since there is no path finding or resource gathering. Instead, the player takes turns controlling a protesting mob or the peace keeping police. Each of the four included scenarios can be played from each perspective and both have pros and cons. As a protester, for example, the goal might be to occupy a specific area of the map for X amount of time, destroy some power generators, or reach the other end of the map. As the police, it is your job to control the crowd by using smoke bombs and different types of riot gear loadouts. The end of each stage grades the player if the mission object was completed and how much violence was caused.
Since gameplay is rather different, you might want to check out my stream embedded below. Here I demonstration both sides of the conflict, trying to explain what exactly is happening:
Although built around a serious topic, gameplay is never really fun. In fact, there is a rather confusing learning curve as the game never explains what exactly is happening and what the player should be doing. Using a strange control scheme, the player has access to certain “abilities” via the face buttons which can be activated once a cool down timer expires. For example, the protesters can cheer to temporality raise moral (even though I could never tell the difference), raise their hands to indicate they don’t want to fight, or tap another button to sit to stand their ground. Thing is, none of this is ever explained to the player making the entire experience trial and error, especially during the first several campaign missions. Although I completed the mission object of occupying a space for a certain amount of time, I still failed the mission. It wasn’t until I realized that my tactics were declared as too violent in the scoring screen which essentially gave me a game over but without telling me why or what I needed to do differently.
The control scheme is rather strange. Only after experimenting did I realize the player as access to individual mobs through use of the shoulder buttons. It is possible to cycle through groups using the right analog stick but this is random at best. Further, the player controls each mob directly; there are no waypoints to set like a typical RTS game. This direct control makes it challenging since you can’t multitask while one group is heading towards a certain point on the map. Things also get weird when all the rioters and police get mashed together.
Some stages are questionably challenging but then others are boringly simple. One stage, for example, requires the police to form a blockage and not let anyone enter. Once I stockpiled my troops, I literally put the controller down for the remaining minutes until the mission was won. This same mission, when playing as the protesters, I was able to Zerg-rush the police and the stage was completed in under a minute. There are a few different difficulty settings via the main menu but perhaps playing with another human player might provide the best challenge should you be looking for one.
Graphically, everything looks like an Atari 2600 game but with some impressive lighting effects. When zoomed out, it looks like you are looking at a moving jpg file from your first digital camera you bought in 1999. But when zoomed in, the graphics are highly pixelated on purpose to provide a unique presentation. Upon completing a level, the player is treated with some cutscenes that easily stand as the highlighting feature of the game coupled with some surprisingly good rock music during the end credits.
RIOT: Civil Unrest is a solid definition of a mixed bag. It covers an interesting topic but gameplay is never entertaining as it is experimental. The visuals are heavily pixelated for stylistic purposes but suffer when viewed closely. The interface and tutorial are unique but require a great deal of experimentation to understand. For each step forward, there is one step back. This game was built by a small team and the heart felt passion is easily displayed but just because it is a unique doesn’t mean it will captivate you with addictive and entertaining gameplay.
Also available on PS4, Switch, and PC. The PC version has a riot editor but is unavailable in this Xbox One version.
Better Than: being in a violent protest
Also Try: getting civil distress in any Civilization game
Wait For It: Pikmin 4