One thing that immediately caught my eye with RIOT: Civil Unrest was its visuals. While it features pixel art and lots of it, it’s one of the more detailed pixel visuals I’ve seen in a while. The game also appealed to that side of me that likes to see events and conflict between good vs. evil play out. Though there is a fairly deep and real undertone to this game.
Created by an incredibly small team, RIOT: Civil Unrest is being described as a “riot simulator” however this makes the entire game seem, at least initially, like a gag. Actually, it’s a pretty hard-hitting title which lets players experience some of the more prolific real-world conflicts, like the Italian NoTav opposition or the anti-austerity protests in Spain, from both sides. So to kind of market the game as a “simulator” seems a little distasteful, though not wholly inaccurate.
As mentioned, RIOT: Civil Unrest has you pick which side you want to be on, whether it’s the rebels or law enforcement. Each scenario offers several win conditions, some of which can be achieved peacefully whereas others need a more assertive approach. Depending on whether you succeed or fail, this also has an outcome on the overall game and how easy or difficult it will be to progress as overall public opinion plays a huge factor.
Of course, diving into the game I took the opportunity to side with the rebels, because if NWA taught me anything, it was “fuck the police”, amirite? The first scenario I encounter is in Italy where a protest against a high-speed rail network was about to kick off. Playing on the Switch I found RIOT: Civil Unrest to be instantly confusing as there were no clear instructions on how to actually do anything in the game.
Fortunately, through trial and error, I discovered that the rebels were split into groups which I could control individually. This allowed me to come at the opposition from different angles, as well as stop all possible opportunities for the police to take advantage. You can also decide whether to keep the peace by standing ground and forming a human barricade, or becoming a little more aggressive and bring rocks to the party.
Throughout RIOT: Civil Unrest you’re able to read the situation and act accordingly, especially if your peaceful protest causes law enforcement to become a little antagonistic. You can either sit it out and see how far things go or start pushing back. Ultimately, depending on the outcome and if public opinion isn’t in your favor, the next few scenarios could go wrong.
One thing I did struggle to get to grips with was the scoring system at the end of each scenario. Despite meeting win conditions, the results are completely opposite to what you’d want them to be. For example, one mission saw the Military Result hit 89 and Political Result hit 15. Yet, somehow this was a win for the rebels and public opinion swung in their favor?
After a little bit of blundering around, things start to piece together a little more, however, the story of each scenario doesn’t really flow as well as the developer would like, perhaps. This game takes a more serious stance to its subject matter, it even features a warning at the beginning asking players to form their own opinion on the conflicts featured in the game, however, the developer has almost taken too much of a conservative approach to each scenario giving very little information about the conflict.
Take the high-speed railway protests for example. Why are rebels protesting? In a different scenario, it mentions that corruption lies beneath the construction of the railway but fails to actually go into detail. Now, I understand that these are all very sensitive topics, however, I feel that the developers could offer a little more detail behind each scenario without offering too much bias. Instead, they’ve played it incredibly safe meaning that, despite the real-world attributes to these conflicts, each scenario just feels empty.
In terms of gameplay, you’ll mostly be controlling different crowds or groups of units using the left thumbstick while the right thumbstick is used to select each of these groups. It seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, one of the most frustrating things in this game was how it handles cycling through these groups. Rather than having you simply flick up or down to go down the handy list on the right or left side of the screen, you instead move the stick every which way at what feels like complete random until the group you want is selected.
Once selected, the group glows a lovely green color, however, due to the nature of the game and how quickly things can change, frantically flicking between groups became frustrating, especially when the group I want is being forced out of the way or dispersing due to tear gas.
This is where I feel the gameplay likely succeeds on PC as you simply select the group you wanted to control with the mouse, rather than cycle through each group.
While the game is stunningly gloomy to look at (how about that for an oxymoron?), RIOT: Civil Unrest has a number of glaring holes which, if filled correctly, could have made this game pretty fantastic. I feel the developers choice to remove any form of bias takes away from players potentially learning more about these historical conflicts. Console controls could also be refined too, as I often gained a complete disadvantage in certain scenarios due to being unable to select a certain group.
We live in an era where saying the wrong thing or seeming like you swing the wrong way can cause a total shitstorm, I get that, but there are times where it’s acceptable to seem a little bias, especially when you’re developing a game which focuses on real-world conflicts. Why should I get invested in the rebels not wanting a high-speed railway? Why are the police acting a certain way?
The frustrating thing is that RIOT: Civil Unrest was born out of the real-life experiences of its artist and creator, Leonard Menchiari who attended the NO-TAV protests in northern Italy and saw first hand how the events unfolded. He saw how protesters acted and how the police responded, and vice-versa. This, at least to me, tells me that this game could have been a fantastic insight as to the thoughts and processes behind both sides, but sadly it just feels like an empty shell of a story too afraid to seem bias towards a certain thought, feeling, or opinion. It’s a little too “safe”.