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Riot Police

Jason Thompson

So many games these days feature the authorities often portrayed as the bad guys as much as the criminals are. And I suppose the same could be said for this title.

Publisher: Activision Value
Price: $19.99
Multimedia: Riot Police
Platforms: PC
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Zono
US release date: 2007-07

The PC has always been funny when it comes to games. That is, in terms of game quality. Unlike the consoles, which have budget priced games brought out after the machines have had a couple years' worth of existence, it seems that the PC is always faced with an uninterrupted flow of cheap-to-reasonably-priced games. Some of these titles can be pure gold, but most days any new titles that are tossed out at a bargain price are usually less than stellar. It's a shame, really, because I'm often attracted to a $19.99 price tag more than a $49.99 one. Hell, who isn't?

And so it was that thrifty instinct that struck me while I was browsing through the gaming section of a local store and came across Riot Police. Not only was the game budget priced, but published on a specific budget line from Activision called Activision Value. Knowing the company's past track record for creating some of the best games out there, I figured I didn't have much to lose with this title. However, the end result was nothing more than a mediocre time killer that didn't actually have me frothing at the mouth and wanting to play it as much as I could.

In Riot Police you are the thin blue line itself. So many games these days feature the authorities often portrayed as the bad guys as much as the criminals are. And I suppose considering one's point of view, the same could be said for this title. But Riot Police seems deliberately light on any deeper socio-political and/or psychological meanings and merely heavy on the action and humor. That would all be fine if the game was truly thrilling, but more often than not it just boils down into a long, dragged out mouse clicking fest.

The premise of the game is to keep various rioters and protestors at bay with your small armies of riot police. Some of the situations are amusing, while others take on a grimmer tone. However, the attempts at more serious fare fail for a number of reasons. One of the biggest is that whoever did the voice acting on this game pretty much did all the voice acting. So hearing the same guy try to do different voices the first time you play this game is painfully funny, but after a while it just simply becomes painful. Add to that a general sameness and repetitiousness from level to level and Riot Police becomes more of a mild amusement than a serious gaming experience.

Granted, skill and tact are required in the later stages of the game. The first level finds the player trying to keep the peace outside of a football stadium that is just letting out after a big game. Various thugs come out with baseball bats and try to incite the other folks leaving the game by shouting things and eventually beating up the parked cars nearby and trying to set buildings on fire. At this stage, the player only has the basic riot police squad with billy clubs. You can choose to either "beat down" or arrest the thugs with some of the force while the rest can be used to clear out the scene or guard certain areas. Some of the thugs will run away and leave the scene, but most will either have to be beaten or arrested. There seems to be an unending flow of the goons, so even this first level can seemingly take forever.

The second part is a bit more amusing with various protestors from a local college surrounding City Hall waving their signs and chanting about vegetables and other stereotypically protested things. On this stage, the player now has not only the standard riot police, but also a set that comes equipped with shields whose only main action is to beat down the rioters. After a while, there's a ton of bodies piled up all around City Hall thanks to the player's firm action. Hell, who wants to just merely arrest someone when there's real bludgeoning to be done?

But again, the action never catches fire here. The core of the game engine is to merely point and click on the police you want to move and then click on the people you either want to arrest or beat or clear out. There's a whole sub-mapping option of assigning various groups of police to certain keys and such, but the game just didn't seem like it needed that much control depth. It's impressive that such options were thought out for a budget line game, but in the end they hinder the play more than help it.

Getting back to the whole "stereotypical" thing about the game, it seems that Riot Police is content to turn out the same old clich├ęs about cops here. From the lame "Eat doughnuts" post-it shown on one of the setup screens to the stale dialogue like "Say hello to billy!", this game quickly becomes a one note joke, and one that wasn't very funny to begin with. It's a shame because perhaps given a little more time and/or budget, this title could have been both a humorous adventure and a very satisfying tactical game. Yet Riot Police can't decide whether or not it wants to be S.W.A.T. or Police Academy and winds up being a confused mess.

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