Mucky Foot Productions' Urban Chaos is an attempt to meld a side-scrolling arcade beat-'em-up such as Double Dragon or Final Fight with a modern third-person action game. All the standard ingredients are intact: a trek across a metropolitan dystopia, baseball bats, evil gang members, scantily clad karate prostitutes, punching, and lifebars. Unfortunately, perhaps in a misguided attempt to make Urban Chaos more realistic, the developers have replaced retro-gaming's universal health power-up, the big-boned hunk of meat, with a generic medical kit. But Mucky Foot can be forgiven for this oversight, because it's one of the game's only significant missteps. Urban Chaos is a great looking and ingenious reinvention of a classic genre.
Union City is a town in crisis. The end of the 20th century is approaching fast, and a gang of thugs called the Wildcats runs rampant through the streets. Worse yet, their brand of chaos seems to extend past mere delinquency to also include more sinister millennial cult activities. As rookie cop D'arci Stern, you must first prove yourself to your superiors then take on the tougher-than-their-name-implies Wildcats by uncovering their wicked plans and stopping them.
Your task of defeating the Wildcats takes the form of a series of assignments that occur at various locations across a map of Union City. Often there will be more than one mission available at a given time, and specific locations within the city are generally used for more than one assignment. The several dozen missions offer a variety of unusual and engaging tasks. One early level requires you to sneak up on a suicidal man and talk him out of leaping off a building into the gawking crowd below. Another has you rescuing a hostage, who then fights alongside you as you battle your way back to safety.
Although every level has one specific goal, there is generally no time limit in which you must accomplish that goal. Each area is a fully rendered 3D representation of a section of Union City that can usually be explored at your leisure before actually finishing the mission. Exploration will uncover lots of little side tasks that can be completed for skills-building bonuses. The side tasks add a huge amount of replay value, as they're often as complex and unusual as the primary goals themselves. For instance, the suicide prevention level contains a completely optional assignment wherein you help a fellow officer whose squad car has been stolen. You must interview the prostitute who witnessed the theft, then locate and retrieve the vehicle.Retrieving the vehicle means climbing into it and driving it. Along with fighting crime on foot, you are sometimes required to get behind the wheel of various vehicles. The car control is a little off and doesn't have the feel of a more fully realized city-driving game such as Driver or Midtown Madness. But it's still a nice bonus, and after chasing down and running over a fleeing thug, then jumping out of the car and slapping the cuffs on him while he's dazed on the pavement, you probably won't complain much.
Regardless of their underlying objectives, most missions involve a substantial amount of action-packed hand-to-hand combat. Urban Chaos' fighting system is simple but effective. Aside from running over her enemies, D'arci can punch, kick, grapple, and wield weapons she picks up off the ground, such as baseball bats, knives, and guns. (Later in the game, a mysterious second character called Roper also becomes playable.) The developers have created an excellent system for fighting multiple opponents in three dimensions: Combat is initiated by moving within range of an enemy. At that point, a lifebar appears above his head and you are locked facing him until one of you is subdued. If other enemies are in the vicinity, they'll join the attack. A button press will cycle you to face each combatant in the area. You can also use back kicks and side kicks so that you can beat up a thug who's creeping up to blindside you. You'll need a gamepad to control all your moves effectively, and once you get used to the system, you'll find that the melee combat is fun and also deeply satisfying thanks to the excellent sound effects.
Urban Chaos also does an admirable job of making you feel as if you're wandering around a living city. The texture work, architecture, and smoke and lighting effects are gorgeous. The streets are packed with innocent bystanders and moving traffic. Leaves and garbage swirl around your feet in an uncannily realistic way as you run down Union City's grimy alleyways. Standing on the roof of a tenement building and staring down at the bustling city below with the moon at your back actually makes you feel like a superhero watching over your city, and no game has yet produced this dramatic effect as well as Urban Chaos.
The fact that Urban Chaos is an enjoyable third-person action game with no switch flipping, box pushing, or key finding should be reason enough for you to purchase it. That it's also great looking, inventive, funny, and even a little tactical makes it a must for anyone who can appreciate stylish but relatively mindless console-style action.