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by Rockstar

SOEimage29-copy.jpg (7954 bytes)State of Emergency made a big showing at E3 last year, and I’ve been waiting to get my hands on the final version ever since. It isn’t so much the graphics that make SOE a blast to play—they’re good but not great; and it isn’t the novel gameplay that make it so fun to play—SOE is, at its heart, just an arcade brawler; the real appeal is actually much simpler than that; kicking ass on the Man is fun, and I’ll pay a lot of money for that satisfaction any time. An evil Corporation has seized control of the country and has begun to oppress the people. Unlike real life, this wasn’t done with billions of dollars of "campaign contributions" to buy influence in government; instead, the Corporation has amassed enough wealth and power to simply dismiss the government altogether; martial law has been imposed and freedom eliminated. The people have taken to the streets determined to tear down the Corporation, blow shit up, and lay a beat down on the evil goon squads. This time the revolution will be televised.

SOEimage139-copy.jpg (8323 bytes)SOE does a fantastic job of putting you, the gamer, into the action. Surrounding your character are as many as two hundred characters participating in the mad riot, and this does a lot for atmosphere; the mass of humanity weaves through the madness like a frenzied school of fish. The looters are particularly enjoyable as people are constantly running by you with TV’s and, well, just about everything else you can think of. The action is crazy, decadent and fun. In a pre Grand Theft Auto III world SOE would have been without precedent, but the legendary GTA III has blunted the edge of SOE—though the first time you turn your mini-gun on thirty or forty goons and, in the space of a couple of seconds, blow their heads off (literally, every single head--every last one of them), and because of poor aim, accidentally decapitate an additional ten or twenty rioters, you may wonder how blunt that edge really is. Though the cartoon like graphics moderate the effect, blood and gore are still present. A poorly placed hand grenade (or a well-placed one if you want to feel evil for a while) in the midst of a mob will splatter chunks of the unlucky people onto the lucky ones, running and screaming to get away.

SOEimage124-copy.jpg (8782 bytes)The environments are suitably interactive; everything that isn’t bolted down is a potential weapon: trashcans, TVs, and barrels, for example, make good weapons. Conventional weapons are also abundant--a variety of machine guns, flamethrower, clubs, and several explosive devices, to name a few. In a pinch you can even pick up a remnant limb or rib cage and use it as a club.

SOEimage100-copy.jpg (9679 bytes)If developers have learned anything from the smashing success of GTA III it should be that decent games take you on a roller coaster ride, but great games build you an amusement park and set you free to have fun—without sacrificing a narrative. SOE is marginally successful at creating an interactive playground, though to a much lesser extent than GTA III. Gameplay is divided into two modes: Kaos and Revolution. Revolution is the primary game mode. Action is propelled forward by completing various missions in the struggle to liberate a section of the city from corporate domination. Revolution leaders order you to perform a variety of tasks including demolish buildings, assassinate evil-doers, save allies and protect buildings. Additional characters are unlocked in Revolution mode—there are two initially selectable and three others can be unlocked. Revolution mode serves as a well-placed reminder that the difference between terrorist and freedom fighter is one of perspective, though many may dislike the suggestion.

BullexplosionSOEimage8_3.jpg (5619 bytes)In Kaos, players earn points for joining the riot and causing wanton destruction on, well, everything. Extra time is earned for waxing corporate goons, and periodically extra points can be earned for destroying specific targets such as cars, buildings, and so on. Clearing a stage in Kaos mode unlocks additional areas of the city. The action in Kaos mode is very free form; the point is to destroy stuff in a good old-fashioned riot, but how you do so is entirely up to you.

SOEimage5.jpg (5312 bytes)While there are only four stages, they’re all pretty long and there’s a lot of replay value, particularly in Kaos mode. Tragically, all modes are single player only. The absence of cooperative play (no splitscreen!) in a game like this is, if you will indulge me for a moment, a load of crap. The entire game screams for multiplayer co-op action: join the riot together and throw down tag team style with the evil-doers. Multiplayer is—ought to be—considered standard for a brawler and its exclusion is difficult for me to ignore. My enjoyment, as well as the replay value, could have increased exponentially with a decent co-op mode.

SOEimage20.jpg (6156 bytes)There are other problems with SOE as well. For starters, the camera is troublesome. It doesn’t adjust fast enough and requires constant help positioning behind your character. It is especially troublesome to deal with corners as you’ll frequently run around a corner and be blindsided before you can reposition the camera—though this annoyance doesn’t keep the game from being fun. The missions can become repetitive, although as you get into a brawler mentality, you might not notice or even care. Revolution mode has an autosave after each mission, and a manual save--though there’s a bizzare kicker here. Saving during a mission doesn’t save current progress; it only saves your position at the start of the mission (where you must start over anyway), so the manual save is basically useless. I don’t mean just useless as in not very helpful. I mean it is totally 100% completely and utterly redundant. As near as I can tell, it is not possible to use it, even theoretically, to accomplish anything whatsoever. It would have been nice to save during a mission, and the uselessness of the save option isn’t necessarily a drawback as much as it is a bizarre omission.

CrowdhighSOEimage3_5.jpg (7410 bytes)These issues aside, SOE is a fun game to play. This should be self evident, but SOE is not for children--or for those with distaste for violent games. Rockstar is cementing their two-fold gamer’s niche--making adult oriented games about criminals gone good (to one degree or another), and making games that rock, which will make them all stars.

Jeff Luther   (04/02/2002)


Ups: Insane gameplay; all those people in the crowd; mayhem and chaos; sticking it to da man; cool visual style.

Downs: A bit too arcade-y to be very deep; spawns a new barrage of complaints from whiney parents and stuffed shirts concerned with the well-being of the children that we will have to sit through.

Platform: PlayStation 2