If you're the kind of person who suffers from Seasonally Adjusted Depression (or SAD as boffins have been know to call it), it may be advisable to stay away from Urban Chaos. Purely and simply because the whole way through Eidos' new beat 'em up action adventure it does nothing but piss down with rain. In fact, the weather in this game is some of the worst we've ever seen in a computer game... Rain, leaves, fog, puddles, soggy newspapers, more rain... It's enough to make you curl into a ball and hibernate.
Let It Rain, Baby Rain
Urban Chaos is what you would call a stylised simulation of modern day 'cops and robbers'. Bullfrog offshoot Mucky Foot (the developers) have bent over backwards, snapping their spines almost in half, to bring us a fully working 3D city with cars, pedestrians and realistic weather, and they should be commended for what they've pulled off. For starters, the place is huge (and we're not just talking about wide here, this city is high as well), and is densely populated with polygonal citizens and all manner of moving vehicles. At night car headlights refract crystalline shapes in the rain, the moon reflects in rippling puddles and volumetric fog moves out of your way as you walk through it... In short, the streets of Urban Chaos are incredibly atmospheric (and are also home to the best rendition of a nightclub so far seen in a computer game), and a pleasure to explore from the outset.
You play D'Arcy Stern, a bad-named police officer whose current 'shift' is about to coincide with the turn of the new millennium. As expected, the entire city is in bedlam and you're sent out to keep the peace. And, this being the turn of the new millennium, there are some naughty goings-on with a sinister cult to investigate. As if everything else wasn't enough.
Control of D'Arcy is very much similar to that of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider- she can run, punch, jump, kick, climb, swing, slide, drive and arrest her way through all manner of obstacles and is subject to the same tile-based platforming laws as Ms Croft, which makes Urban Chaos a relatively pick-up-and-playable affair. The combat, perhaps too heavily relied upon in the game, is initially satisfying but quite repetitive in the long run. Access to bigger and better weapons does help, but general targeting/viewing problems can often cause untimely deaths, and therefore much frustration.
Being a single-player only experience, Urban Chaos has to rely heavily on its storyline to keep things interesting and, in places, it works very well. As levels are completed and the plot unfolds, new areas of the city are unlocked with new missions, making the game seem well dealt out. Early on, you are given the chance to cause a bit of urban chaos yourself by playing as one of the bad guys. Overall, though, it has to be said that we've seen far better before - Urban Chaos? cliched cop/cult/ bent politician storyline seems dull and unimaginative next to the likes of System Shock 2 and Half-Life.
Despite all this hammyness, Urban Chaos does have its moments. Driving around the city is fun (and yes, you can run over peds, but it'll cost you penalty points), as is leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper, sliding down a 100-foot rope onto an unwitting pedestrian's head, or getting run over for the first time. In fact, Urban Chaos does have a very high 'novelty' factor -as you'd expect with a large, 'working' city to explore - but its long-term qualities are unfortunately questionable.
Download Urban Chaos
Developer Mucky Foot is made up of a bunch of ex-Bullfrog guys, and the head-honcho on the project, Mike Diskett is the man who brought the world Syndicate Wars. A hefty pedigree to live up to indeed, but Urban Chaos looks like it might be something special. A 3D action adventure title with a difference, what really sets the game apart is the graphics engine. There is an inordinate amount of detail in the way the thing looks. You'll be surprised it's running on a PlayStation. From Eidos this fall.
If I judged this game on the first half hour I played it, it'd get a l.o. The required tutorials at the beginning are frustrating and ridiculously useless (they don't teach you how to use any advanced techniques). The actual game is like GTA, only you're on the side of the law. Control is incredibly jerky and the game locks onto baddies automatically (you can switch around, but it's difficult to tell who you've switched to). If you're up against a group of any more than two enemies and any of them have guns--you're screwed. Controlling vehicles in UC is like driving a bumper car. The graphics are nothing to write home about either. Ambient garbage blowing around is nice to look at, but it would've been better to see more detailed environments. What city has catwalks on top of buildings over streets? One good thing is that the level and mission design are topnotch--lots of 'em and a wide variety. Plus you can retry missions for time--a nice touch. It's cool that you can go anywhere you want to explore a level, but Mucky Foot did little to create a presentation that's at all compelling. There's no music to speak of, the characters are plain, dialogue appears as lines of text at the top of the screen (very "PC-ish"), characters are stereotypes, and there's little reward or visible outcome after completing missions except "good work, Stern!" UC has some good things going for it, but they're hidden under its clunky interface.
Outside of the sloppy controls and the first generation graphics, Urban Chaos isn't all bad. The hard part is getting past the crap to find the good stuff. The positives include a good overall theme (hunting down criminals in a free-roaming environment) and some entertaining scenarios. Even though I hated the control (especially when using the vehicles) I kept running around looking for more baddies. It's sort of addictive that way. Even so, I encountered a lot of things I didn't like. For instance, many of the clues are vague and confusing. Plus it would've been nice to have a mission reminder menu. The best I can recommend for Urban Chaos is a one-night rental.
Whenever publishers ship a title before sending us a review copy like this it usually means the game is total crap, and Urban Chaos certainly has its share of problems. The graphics are piss-poor--blocky and glitch-o-rific, with noticeable draw-in, and the stiff controls aren't much better. But it's not all bad; the game design (mixing driving, fighting, and Tomb Raider-style action/exploration) is a fresh variation on the stale 3D action formula, and the adult story is definitely a nice change. There's some really cool missions you are sent on too. It's just too bad that the game's look and feel aren't up to the same level as the exciting gameplay ideas.