Since 2002, whenever I read or hear the words ‘State of Emergency’, my brain automatically triggers a little earworm of a title tune from the game of the same name released back then. It can’t be helped either, and goodness knows, I’ve tried hard not to get this song starting up in my head when those words come into eye or ear reach (I guess this video may trigger some out there? Or at least get them a case of earworms):
Back at that time, I worked in a small independent game shop here in NYC and that game was one we ran as a demo for a few weeks on and off.That attract mode is what, two minutes and nine seconds long? Imagine what that does to one if you’re watching that intro a few hours a day. Would anyone like a slice of baked earworm? It’s quite tasty and there’s more than enough to go around.
Rockstar Games (which was about a 10-15 minute walk away from the store) was coming off a rather massive 2001 with the release of DMA Designs’ popular and controversial multi-million selling Grand Theft Auto 3 and many gamers were expecting State of Emergency (and there goes that tune again in my head) to be the next big thing from the studio. It both was and wasn’t, but an explanation is in order here. By the way, I liked the game overall, warts and all.
From my conversations with customers back then, It seems a good deal of players thought it was going to be a carbon copy of GTA 3 and these folks grabbed the game at launch or during the launch window expecting to be caught up in another well written and surprisingly deep plot that happened to feature loads of violent content. Well, they certainly got that violent content part, all right. Developer VIS Entertainment’s cartoony art and some humorous animations helped elevate the title a bit, but the game’s one-note simple arcade style of play was a tad disappointing to some. As for me, I really liked the sheer audacity and goofiness on display, as it was a clear throwback to games such as River City Ransom, Final Fight, Streets of Rage and many more games of that sort, presented in a nifty polygon engine that had upwards of 200 characters onscreen*.
We sold quite a lot of copies of the game new, but we also sold a load of quickly returned used copies within a few days as some found the repetitive nature of the game a bit too much. Granted, that repetitiveness (one mode had over 180 missions!) was actually a good thing if you liked the game and wanted to try and play the total riots it presented in a few ways. The game penalized your score if civilians were killed, but it was a wryly satiric jest in that case as maps were so frantic that you’d get plenty of moments when you’d accidentally cause casualties while trying to accomplish some mission goals. For all its violence and brightly colored settings, the game was quite easy to play and kind of comical despite the subject matter. Here’s a funny – game development began about three years before, so it’s interesting to see what was initially planned and what the project went through to get it where it ended up.
Once, I went to a birthday party for a friend and he had the game on in the background for anyone to pick up and play, which led to a few hilarious moments when folks who didn’t normally play games sat down and tried it out. I recall only one person thought it was “just terrible” but everyone else who tried it thought it was hilarious to see all those people zipping about and whichever of the main characters were causing all sorts of chaos with a wide assortment of random weapons is those large timed stages in one mode. The game was only single player, but in 2003, the Xbox version arrived and included an up to four player mode and some other tweaks to the formula. The game was still repetitive, but now, more people could play together.
Flash forward three years and a sequel. State of Emergency 2 was made, started by VIS, completed by DC Studios, (no relation to the comics publisher) and published by Southpeak Games for the PS2. Gone were the hand to hand combat and any of the silly humor which were replaced by an emphasis on firearms and somewhat standard action sequences. The game also had more of a plot, but it wasn’t great and some questionable voice acting and so-so by 2006 standards visuals helped sink the game like it was a mobster wearing cement shoes. I still have my preview and review discs here. I do miss those days of game demos arriving in the mail or available at press events here in the city. Digital may be easier to deal with, but when it’s gone, proper archiving is a bit of a hellish thing to deal with if a product gets de-listed or is otherwise rendered unavailable.
*I think the record for amount of characters onscreen at one time has to go to Genki’s game Ikusagami, a Japanese PS2 game that had up to a whopping 65,535 characters on screen in one mode. Yikes. It was also released in PAL format as Demon Chaos. but sadly, never got an official US release.