Riot: Civil Unrest is the sort of game to get a lot of press for its subject matter. In truth, it offers little in the way of politics and not much more in gameplay.
One thing Riot does do is provide an original take on the RTS genre. This is a far cry from your Command and Conquers, it’s all about crowd control in both the physical sense and in terms of the goal. The game attempts to portray famous riots around the world from places like Greece, Egypt and Spain, including such famous events as the Arab Spring anti-government protests. It’s a neat idea that’s just a little bit of a political powder-keg considering how some of these events are still driving unrest even today but offers plenty of scope in terms of gameplay while offering something to say about human nature.
Or, at least, it would if it worked as a game. The problem with simulating a crowd of irate people is that there is no one element of control in a riot and this translates to a lack of actual control in the game. While you can choose and push a group towards an area, it’s an in-precise and sluggish set of commands that just lead to some parts of the crowd, or police force, very slowly plodding towards a goal. This is far removed from the usual quick and easy grabbing of troops and sending them off to do a job while you focus elsewhere found in most RTS games.
This isn’t helped by the highly pixelated people that blend together in a sea of indistinguishable mess that slowly winds its way across the screen, trying to split the other side up bit by bit. There are goals to achieve and these are often more interesting playing as the protesters as you protect areas and try to split up the police forces so they become less effective and easier to fit back against.
There are some interesting aspects the game does well. The police get some interesting choice of weapons and equipment which can help turn the tide of a battle while protesters can fall away if they find the riot getting too dangerous. There are, likewise, little glints of some great ideas within the strategy of moving groups around in order to manage a riot on either side. If only the game was good enough to allow these to work it would be far easier to like Riot.
As it is, Riot: Civil Unrest is an interesting idea with bad execution. I hope it doesn’t put the developers off trying again with a better sequel because I think a game like this has something interesting to say and would be a welcome addition to the RTS genre. Unfortunately, it’s currently lost in the crowd.