RIOT: Civil Unrest should be arresting, captivating even. The idea of a "riot simulator" alone is enough to perk the interest of the more politically adventurous gamer. It does however immediately raise some concerns in regards to the developers approach to a difficult and nuanced subject manner. Unfortunately, RIOT is so frustrating from a design perspective that only those players willing to endure hours this buggy sim will discover the intentions or meaning behind the narrative.
From a small team of creators based in Italy, RIOT is global game about global conflict. After a successful round of crowdfunding and an Alpha on Steam, the full release is finally here. But unless a Day One patch is right around the corner, the game has seen little improvement over its initial launch. The 2-D physics based gameplay is almost ludicrously bad, featuring literal mobs moving like amoebas throughout tiny stages. The lack of any tutorial to explain the confusing mechanics only creates further chaos. Players will likely spend the first few stages mindlessly attempting to complete objectives without really understanding the impact their actions have on the events unfolding.
RIOT features two different approaches to a campaign: a traditional "Story" mode and a "Global" mode. Each one features many levels and the option to play as both rebels or police in infamous conflicts throughout history. There's the Arab Spring riot in Tahrir Square and the Keratea riot of Greece, among others. The levels comes with unique pix-elated rioters, law enforcement, and weapons. The objectives of the groups range from protecting key members to destroying barricades. The actions are very surface level, and come off about as impressively political as the latest Far Cry game (that is to say, not at all).
The game is relatively low on violence, with police throwing tear gas to disperse crowds, often making the rebels seem like the more aggressive of the two parties. There's never a real demonstration of the power of protest or the horror that often follows these mass groups of civilian unrest. The levels only offer a brief paragraph of context as to the events leading up to the riots; certainly not enough to grasp the gravity of the situation. Because each level plays out more or less the same, the impact is lost.
RIOT features a versus mode that is better left un-played. A player and their friend each command one side (police or rebels) and enter the fray. With the glitchy real-time mechanics dialed up to a 10, it's hard to have any fun here. It speaks to a larger problem with the game where the developers seem to have emphasized the realistic movement of the AI over a cohesive and unique approach to controlling them. All actions feel like they take eons to begin, and special abilities like "rallying" initially only provide additional shouting over the already turbulent game audio.
Making a game about civil unrest was a difficult task, one that a small team from Italy seems unprepared to have tackled. Their final product feels incomplete, with buggy and slowly-paced gameplay and a brief story lacking cohesion. But perhaps RIOT: Civil Unrest's greatest weakness is it's missing political bite. For a game with such a polarizing subject, RIOT barely scratches the surface as to why these global hardships occur and what we as a people can do to work towards peaceful solutions.
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RIOT: Civil Unrest is out now on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.