First-person shooters (known as "FPSs" in geekese) rank just below platformers (known as "stupid games where cutesy characters jump" in non-geekese) in the stale genre department. There just aren't that many new ways to spin them. For every dash of brilliance and originality (Half-Life 2, Halo) there's a dustbin brimming with lackluster titles like Killzone and Pariah and Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. (World War II games are particularly over-represented; soon there'll be more titles than were scrimmages in the entire conflict.)
Urban Chaos: Riot Response attempts to blaze new ground for FPSs. The plot is predictably disposable—some garbage about terrorists attacking a city, which in turn unleashes gang warfare in the streets (it's all very politically dubious)—but developer Rocksteady has at least made an effort to elevate matters beyond simple running and gunning. As an officer in the controversial (or so the Fox News–like interludes tell us) elite police squad known, perplexingly, as T-Zero, you're given much to do on every given mission. Objective 1: Kill the bad guys. Objectives 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7: collect evidence, put out fires, diffuse hostage situations, stun-gun gang leaders, set a new record for marksmanship, and finally, escort a paramedic and/or fireman and/or civilian to safety. Whew.
Assisting you on your many (many) missions is an arsenal to make any SWAT jackboot giddy, including but not limited to handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, Tasers, Molotov cocktails, and, for those intimate moments, cleavers. Each weapon handles well, but none is particularly memorable, and as you play through the game's repetitive levels you'll find little use for any of them beyond your standard-issue sidearm—an egregious error that exposes major flaws in the game's enemy artificial intelligence. FSPs live and die by the quality of their villains, but Urban Chaos's baddies muster very little thought. If they ain't smart enough to duck for cover, what's the fun in killing them?
Still, slow-witted targets aside, there are a handful of interesting kinks to be found in the game, particularly in the use of a riot shield. Easily accessed via the left trigger, the shield blocks nearly every shot, and comes in handy during the game's (too few) hostage situations. Marching toward a panicked gang member with bullets ricocheting off your shield is a tense and satisfyingly visceral experience. Unfortunately, it also hints at the type of innovative gameplay Rocksteady attempted, but otherwise failed, to create.
By no means a terrible game, Urban Chaos is nonetheless mired by belonging to a genre that seems to pop out new members each and every week; there's not enough to set the game apart from the blur of FPSs currently stocking shelves. Half-Life 2, the king of the genre, has the ingenious Gravity Gun. Halo 2 owns the multiplayer experience. And even marginal titles like Black let you level entire buildings. Urban Chaos, in contrast, can only give you a neat shield and an elaborate shooting range, and it just ain't enough.