Urban Chaos (DC) - Steven Wrangell - 7/10

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Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20051225042211/http://gamestyle.net/retro.php?retro=272

Urban Chaos Format: PAL Developer: Mucky Foot Platform: Dreamcast Genre: Adventure Year: 1999 game score: 7

How does one recognise a sleeper hit? Paradoxically, for a game to be considered a dormant success, of sorts, it needs to have suffered miserably at retail - having missed its mark the first time around. Such a case could be made for Urban Chaos, a rampantly playable yet commercially-capsized first effort from Guildford development outfit, Mucky Foot (also responsible for the underperforming Blade 2).

Gone but not forgotten, it was the gritty premise of Chaos that attracted the interest - and development dollars - of US giant Activision, who contracted Mucky Foot for its Blade 2 game. And although separated by three years of planning betwixt the two, it's disconcerting to find that both products fundamentally fall down on their 'flawed' combat models. It's almost as if despite the developers' best intentions close-quarter fisticuffs (aka combat melee) just refuses to work for them. Which is highly lamentable, given the many sleeping strengths of Urban Chaos. Because Mucky Foot undeniably revel in creating miniaturised worlds and have a thoroughly ergonomic understanding of such working parts.

And yet, as if to ride roughshod over the (players') best intentions to actually make a 'fist' of the gritty world that lays waiting in Urban Chaos, there is a compulsory Combat Tutorial, wherein every broken mechanic conspires to draw enthusiasm from its no doubt soporific recruits. As rookie cop, D'arci Stern, combatting fear, unrest and a particularly bad strain of street brawlers who all look alike (aka the Wild Cats) in turn-of-the-century Union City, you must first satisfy a prescribed set of training goals. These comprise of physical agility, driving and combat skills (adjusted through Bronze, Silver and Gold degrees of proficiency), but the episodic nature of levels means that story progression is linked with your ability to clear these goals - or missions - as they arise.

The problem isn't with finding a suitable control scheme (there are four presets and a custom config), nor is it with provisional camera angles, it's moreover a stubborn reliance that D'arci remain locked in combat when surrounded by foes. Despite exemplary analogue precision in the free-roaming (ie, urban-themed) sections, once cornered by thugs the analogue control goes all 'jittery'. It's almost as if your character is anchored to the spot; your best recourse to flail about wildly, persistently jamming on punch, kick or arrest buttons until the threat is neutralised (or, more typically, until THEY neutralise you). And presumably it's the reason that Urban Chaos failed to find its feet (pun intended) on its maiden outing.

Again, a tantamount shame, but nothing that a strong-willed gamer can't overcome. Besides, nothing quite confers hardened resolve - or the will to win - than a well-executed stab at Combat Gold. Yes, it may have taken you untold hours (and several tufts of hair) to finally beat it, but you've passed. Similarly, this 'skill-is-everything' ethos extends to your time in the field. Missions are crafted around improvisational learning patterns (ie, trial and error) and you'll certainly be saying hello to the reload screen on more than one occasion. What's more, there are no save facilities as such. Once on duty, you're expected to perform well and there are ample provisions of medikits, ammo, and identical goons (who can separately be searched for weapons and other concealables) stacked around the levels.

D'arci's lot may be a battle of attrition, but she is aided and abetted by an extremely handy radar display. Mission markers and nearby enemies are seen as coloured blips, and it's extremely satisfying to track a target as it makes a bee-line for your bullet. Another excellent visual assist is the Virtua Cop-styled lock-on device that alerts you of baddies with guns. When (you're) the target, a bull's-eye closes in around you, leaving just enough time to scamper (or return fire). It's a brilliant gameplay concession, and placates the oft-deployed 'cheap' tactic of enemies sniping you from off-screen.

Moreover, campaigns don't actively wear you down. Such is the finely-graded and comedic nature of scenarios, you'll typically be itching to replay them. Indeed, there's even a laundry list of mission statistics that flash before you once a level's done. Through criminals killed, arrested, or still remaining, to Bonuses found (one supposes that these are inclusive of hidden, stat-enhancing pick ups, ie relative to D'arci's Constitution, Stamina, Strength and Reflexes, which steadily improve your wherewithal throughout the game) and Time Taken, there is plenty of incentive here to keep a scorecard. In fact, Mucky Foot's testers have even included their own best times into the mission breakdown (this reviewer is particularly pleased with his incidental time of 7m 41s for Urban Shakedown, against Mucky's own record of 6:04).

On the downside, there's no denying that Urban Chaos has been technically compromised. Originally written to PSone and PC standards, circa 1999, the resultant (WinCE) port to Dreamcast is little more than an afterthought. And yes, it may lack the 'infinite' polygon engine of its contemporaries - Gamestyle has not witnessed such vast blankets of draw-in since Lara Croft's embryonic days - but it does possess something truly more valued to an enlightened audience: a molten core of Gameplay. When D'arci Stern hits the mean streets of Union City, she's at large and in charge. Unholster her standard-issue Beretta and she issues a 'stern' (geddit?) warning to the stultified citizens: "Stop Police!" One cap fired in the direction of an approaching vehicle and the occupant flees, leaving D'arci free to commandeer it. Perps (and civvies) can be flattened, fire hydrants popped, incidental damage incurred.

In the end, Urban Chaos is a beggar's banquet where good breeding (note: Mucky Foot is a splinter group borne of ex-Bullfrog employees) and redoubtable gameplay sit tastefully at the head of the table. The quintessential 'sleeper' hit, it seeks to deliver just enough bang for your discounted dollar. Bon appetit!

Game Score: 7/10 Review by Steven Wrangell