Game publishers like Rockstar should be more than thankful the courts don't apply the "bad tendency" test too often. The "bad tendency" test basically says this: Anything perceived as a potential threat to the safety of society and the security of establishment falls outside the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and can therefore be subject to punishment. Given Rockstar's recent list of titles (Grand Theft Auto III, Max Payne and Smuggler's Run 2) and its latest PlayStation 2 venture, State Of Emergency, the company could be accused of poisoning the minds of young generations with videogames focusing on criminal and deviant behavior. While it may not be subject to legal "bad tendency," State Of Emergency outlines another kind of bad tendency among game developers: the tendency to stick over-the-top violence into videogames, for lack of more creative concepts.
The game is a veritable riot simulator, where the player takes control of a character in the middle of all-out mayhem, with hundreds of other rioters smashing and looting objects all over the place. The action happens in four modest size areas, from a shopping mall to the downtown sector of the city. Players take on legions of a corporate police force, utilizing a limited number of "beat-'em-up" street fighting moves and a wider array of melee and assault weapons. State Of Emergency is essentially a 3D version of the old side-scrolling fighting games some may remember playing in the arcade or on past videogame consoles.
State Of Emergency represents a watermark in gameplay, as it successfully runs over a hundred characters on screen at the same time without taxing the PlayStation 2's power. This means the game never suffers from the common malady of "slowdown," where the speed at which a game moves decreases visibly to a lesser or greater degree. It really affects a player's sense of place, making the person really feel like he or she is caught in the middle of an out-of-control situation. Somehow, though, it seems disappointing for all this revolutionary gameplay to boil down to a simple "beat-'em-up."
State Of Emergency does stand out from the genre in one aspect. It stands out because it contains a ridiculous amount of blood and gore. Players use pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, grenades, swords, hatchets and human appendages to shoot, blow-up, stab, decapitate and disembowel people on the screen. It doesn't contain the most realistic violence; rather, it presents the carnage in a cartoonish, masochistic light, which makes it a bit more disturbing. Unfortunately, the game is violent for the sake of being violent. The developers seemed to focus only on how many ways a player can brutally eliminate an adversary or an innocent bystander. This is unfortunate on two levels. One, it creates the impression to outsiders of the gaming culture that videogames are a medium through which people act out their gory, violent fantasies. Second, the kind of revolutionary technology State Of Emergency implements is hampered by its limited audience, namely those over age 17.
The one-track-mind game developing also seriously affects State Of Emergency's fun factor. The main story mode, or "Revolution," is a prime example. The background story, set in the near future when all government has collapsed and a big business corporation has taken control, seems prepared to make a poignant statement that could truly apply to today's conglomerate-influenced society. The story never makes its obvious point, as the game quickly degenerates into a series of repetitive and tedious mission objectives. Most of the missions either involve escorting and protecting someone to sabotage something, or chasing down someone and killing them to obtain a particular item. Plus, all mission objectives are conveyed through uninspired, hard-to-read text boxes that pop up on the screen. Worse yet, the story mode represents the deepest part of the gameplay in State Of Emergency, as the few other modes focus on causing as much havoc and bloodshed as possible within a limited amount of time. In other words, it is a showcase for the amount of violence developers can put into the game.
It is more than a little disappointing that so much technical video gaming success was put into a title that has no point and only stays interesting for fifteen minutes. I'm sure that, somewhere out in the world, a small and scattered sect of the gaming community wants to see more games like State Of Emergency in production. However, I'm not willing to believe that those few individuals speak for the majority population. Since videogames are often blamed for breeding violence into younger generations (especially by politicians), why give them an "Exhibit A" to fuel their argument? As the videogame industry makes its way into the mainstream, it will no doubt be under more scrutiny and more criticism from the higher-ups in society. They will likely consider (as I am inclined to agree) games like State Of Emergency not only to be bad tendency but also bad form.