Monday, February 4

Review: RIOT - Civil Unrest [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I find that games that are trying to convey a message tend to be much tougher to review. In part this is because they often eschew traditional gameplay in some way to stick with their theme, but also because ultimately I think the reviewer needs to take a look at how successful they were in meeting their goal. In the case of RIOT: Civil Unrest, a sort of RTS experience where you’ll manage either crowds of protesters or the police trying to contain them, there’s a fair amount of political speech and thoughts shared but I don’t find that the play experience ultimately manages to make any helpful points.


With political hotbeds from around the world acting as the backdrop you will take “control” of one side of the conflict or the other. The police tend to work in smaller and tighter squads with more formally-defined roles ranging from aggressive to defensive. Armed with crowd control gear you’ll be able to do things like shoot tear gas into the crowd to help break things up, but you’ll need to be aware of the potential political costs to doing so since too much aggression tends to get into the papers.


On the civilian side of the equation for the most part the action is similar but while you’ll have a much larger pool of people to work with in general they’re not as responsive. You can try to motivate people to behave passively, using non-violent tactics, but you’ll also be able to employ more violent means like throwing rocks, molotov cocktails, and more. Whether the goal is to hold your ground or advance on a wall of police your motivations on this side of the coin tend to be a bit more varied.


Where the gameplay falls apart in some ways is just about everywhere. I suppose you could argue that the lack of more control in a riot situation is more realistic but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating watching the randomness of it all play out despite your attempts to reign things in. People meander around the edges, units seem to have minds of their own, and making use of thrown objects is plainly a mess as you can’t tell where the unit that will make the throw is specifically and aiming is janky so it can be hard to put anything where you want it. The net result is a writhing mass of pixels that you’re trying to throw commands into the best you can and hoping for the best… not terribly satisfying.


Perhaps worse than the gameplay shortcomings the game has I’d say the game’s message is ultimately muddy at best. If somehow the goal was to demonstrate that victory on either side is more often viable through the use of some violence, despite the “political costs”, I suppose mission accomplished but you could guess as much and that’s not helping anyone. To its credit I’d say neither side is portrayed in any more positive a light ultimately, but that also ultimately lets to take your convictions and let the game play them out for you. Again, not very helpful. Honestly with such a muddy message I would have liked it going much further in an unrealistic direction and let things truly get out of hand, then it could at least be twisted fun. Both tethered by the real world and painting it with a generally depressing brush, unless the goal was to just make you frustrated I’m not sure what this game’s ultimate goal was.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • If the thought of a riot simulator excites you, dig in
  • Full of great quotes from the leaders of great resistance movements of the world

Cons:
  • For all of its stated philosophy the gameplay really fails to convey its spirit
  • In general any control is muddy and the game mechanics aren’t clearly defined at all
  • Not violent or silly enough to entertain, too morally ambiguous to inform or educate