A blast from the past: Urban Chaos (1999)
There’s a legit chance that this game went under your radar, since it was released 15 years ago without much fanfare, and it’s not like people are making Let’s Play’s about it nowadays. Other than a hilariously outdated IGN review and a few half-assed videos on YouTube, there’s not much you can find about it on the Internet. So why should you care about this game now, in anno domini 2014? Well, here’s the thing: you shouldn’t. But I’m gonna make you.
Urban Chaos is the debut video game of English developer Mucky Foot Productions, who you might know as the developers of Startopia, a Douglas Adamasque space-station builder with loads of British humor thrown into the mix and Blade II, a movie licensed game which sucked big time and you should forget I ever mentioned. Sadly, their games sold poorly and after a long period of unsuccessfully wrestling with publishers to get funding for their new projects, the company shut its doors in 2003.
The storyline involves the millennium (remember, it came out in 1999) and a group of crazy criminals called the Wildcats, who are bent on taking over the city through any means necessary. Obviously, everybody is oblivious to the real danger that they pose. As you progress further into the game, you eventually find out that these extremely dangerous street gangs are mere pawns that serve as a distraction for the populace while an evil cult of warlocks are lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to fulfil an ancient prophecy of the apocalypse. Well, this is an… interesting twist to the standard cop story.
You play as D’arci Stern, a sassy African-American woman fresh out of the police academy who’s eager to prove herself and avenge her father, who was killed on the job sometime before the events of the game, presumably due to a mexican stand-off, Reservoir Dogs style. After a basic tutorial level, you’re thrown into the filthy streets of Union City to fight gang bangers, solve murders, tackle petty crimes, rescue hostages, stop people from committing suicide and cause the occasional mayhem on your way to serve justice by running over pedestrians with your car or beating the shit of them. Granted, since this is not GTA and you’re on the other side of the law, it’s not recommended to casually abuse civilians. But nobody’s stopping you from doing so – except the Chief of Police himself, who’ll force you to repeat the mission if too many people have fallen victims to your shenanigans.
Urban Chaos is a semi-open-world hub based game; the levels are small, but they’re very detailed, with a heap of side missions to complete and a lot of indoor areas that you can access. Nearly every building, fire escape and platform in the game can be accessed via improvised parkour moves, where you’ll usually be compensated for your trouble with an ammo stache or a stat boost. Even though the controls are dodgy at best and the fall damage is ridiculous, it’s well worth the risk if you’re a completionist. Most of the primary and secondary missions, if not all, are related to D’arcie’s field of work – you’ll find yourself busting drug deals, solving domestic cases, fighting tens of gang members at once and so on and so forth. Sounds like too much responsibility for a rookie cop, but don’t worry, D’arci is perfectly apt for the job and is able to handle the pressures of policing quite well. The game utilizes a rather complex (for the time) fighting system, incorporating punches, kicks, throws and sliding tackles, as well as two melee weapons (knives and baseball bats) and your standard handguns, shotguns machine guns and grenades. Now, here’s the thing: you can also shackle and frisk criminals, which will make the populace more friendly towards you. In fact, you can shackle every damn NPC in this game, including your fellow police officers (if you can make them fall on the ground, that is; a car explosion or a grenade will usually do it) with little to no consequences. So you can either be a good cop and do everything by the law, a mass-murderous, slide-tackling NPC-arresting maniac, or both. But be weary of what you do, because there’s no saving during missions in this game – one slight fuck up and you’ll have to start over.
The city feels authentic and alive. Much love and care went into creating this flourishing and detailed virtual replica of New York City – it’s dirty, depressing and dangerous. The streets are filthy, with rotten leaves and rumpled newspapers scattered all over the place; criminals are lurking behind corners, waiting for the perfect moment to mug an innocent civilian; dark, trashy alleyways where hobos retreat to shoot heroin, and so on. And it always rains, for some reason, I don’t know why. Maybe they were going for a gritty setting or something.
If you thought that the original Witcher lacked character models, wait until you play this thing, Excluding the main characters, there’s six models for the civilians (four of them reserved only for side-missions), three for the gang members, and one (1) for the cops. Yes, all of them look like a drunken, middle aged Irish police officer from the 20’s, which is even more hilarious when you hear some of them talking with a Harlem African-American accent. The game is also laden with stereotypes, from the trashy New Yawk accent to the way that the characters act and interact with each other. You got your hysterical Jewish woman, drunken Irish cop, sassy black woman, greasy Italian-American, slick, cool black dude, New Jersey bimbos who came to New York to party, white people trying to act black and I’m gonna stop here, because I feel guilty for laughing at this. Suffice to say, if you want to write a study on stereotypes, play this game, because there’s plenty of material to choose from.
Urban Chaos was my first true open-world experience. The game has not aged well, but it’s a nice blast from the past and you should definitely give it a shot, at least for its campy story and the detailed environment. As far as cop games go, it’s pretty decent.