The old maxim goes – “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.” And then there are places like Crisis City – the chaotically out-of-control burg at the center of Codemaster’s new Wii release, Emergency Mayhem. The question is – would you want to play there?
With a name like Crisis City, you know mayhem is on order. Within the city’s four precincts – unlocked as you progress further in the game – all manner of crimes and misdemeanors crop up for the player to get under control. Still, despite the open world gameplay and the ability to tear through the streets in a variety of emergency vehicles, this is no Grand Theft Auto clone. Rather, Emergency Mayhem owes a lot of its inspiration to SEGA’s old arcade hit, Crazy Taxi.
Emergency Mayhem tasks the player with selecting one of three emergency vehicles – a police cruiser, a fire truck or an ambulance – and then sets them loose in the city to hunt down role specific events. In the corner of your screen rests a Mayhem Meter. As the player completes missions, they help restore order to the Mayhem Meter. Once the player fills in approximately 85% of the meter, they are granted a promotion and thus access to the next precinct on the map. Bear in mind, that all of this is played out against a persistent timer that counts down to zero. If you fail to raise the mayhem meter to the level target before the clock runs out, you’ll lose the mission and be forced to start over, adding a stressful race-against-time dynamic to the proceedings.
While the bulk of the game is played behind the wheel as the player navigates the bustling cityscape, the various missions often take the form of a minigame, which in true Wii form, often involves some form of waggle gimmick. So, players will be called upon to mime a tire pump while helping stranded motorists, turn a crank to release water pressure from a hydrant, and perform some simple surgical operations to extract foreign objects from stricken civilians, among other tasks. The developers boast that the game contains 30 different minigames but in reality, some of these minigames are variations on similar themes.
Police missions often involve criminal pursuits, delivery missions (you are often charged with transporting felons from one part of the city to the next) or some simple puzzle solving (i.e. rewiring short-circuited traffic lights).
The fire fighter missions don’t deviate much from the police missions – although instead of aiding motorists and engaging in hot pursuits, you’ll often be charged with racing across the city to put out fires in time, delivering water from one part of the city to the next or manipulating a safety net to catch plummeting fire victims.
The paramedic (ambulance) missions toss a curve in applying some surgical operations into the mix (a la Trauma Center). Some of these foreign object extractions can prove to be the most challenging missions in the game as the act of guiding the object through a maze of bodily passages requires a deft touch and a lot of patience.
The single player campaign will take approximately 8-10 hours to complete. Players can then replay missions to best their completion times and thus increase their score.
The game also provides full multiplayer support with many of the minigames available in a party mode for up to 4 people to enjoy. In multiplayer mode, players can choose from their favorite minigames or engage in survival mode where players compete to be the last one standing.
So how does Emergency Mayhem rate?
Emergency Mayhem originally began development for the Playstation 2 several years ago and it shows with the city, its characters and the vehicles constructed out of very few polygons. Everything has a very bulky appearance and lacks complex texturing – with the various civilians appearing woefully anemic. That said, the game does have a vibrant color scheme and I can see this appealing to younger gamers. Also, the lack of detailed graphics does provide a boost to the game’s performance – with the action running at a crisp 60 frames-per-second.
Emergency Mayhem’s major fault is that it’s too repetitive. With the solo campaign charging the player with driving small distances from Point A to Point B just to unlock another repetetive minigame, game sessions are best kept to small doses before tedium sets in. While the paramedic missions provide some variety through the “surgical extraction” missions, the player will find themselves performing the same actions over and over. The entire campaign will take about 8 – 10 hours to complete but I can see most players growing weary of it very quickly. With that said, given its easy pick-up-and-play control mechanics and simple gameplay design, I think this would be a good title for younger children. In fact, the open world city and vehicular mayhem is probably as close to Grand Theft Auto as children should get so this might make a decent title for parents looking to distract their children from Liberty City lust.
The game controls well, for the most part. Driving utilizes the Wiimote and Nunchuck and the vehicles, while a little too weightless for my tastes, navigate with ease. The game is pretty easy to pick up and play in that regard. Where control issues surface is with some of the minigames. The IR-based games (i.e. shooting balloons, grabbing wires) work fairly well but some of the motion-based games (turning cranks, pumping tires) are a bit touchy and require overly exaggerated actions. A little of this goes a long way and the game seems to work overtime to prompt carpal tunnel emergency mayhem.
Most of the sounds are fairly generic yet unobtrusive – with the various vehicles displaying simplistic sounds to simulate traffic noise. The game makes nice use of the Wiimote’s built in speaker – with your dispatcher’s alerts coming through the controller – but the canned orders and “snarky” trash-talk remarks can get tiresome and repetitive. That voice really grates after awhile. It’s nice to see the functionality employed but after awhile you’ll be grateful that your palm often muffles the sounds emanating from the speaker.
Emergency Mayhem features some high energy tunes that do their job – they serve to keep the adrenaline flowing much better than the actual gameplay does. As with the sound effects, the music can get repetitive with the same tracks looping over and over. Word of warning – this music will get stuck in your head.
This is a fairly easy game with easy to learn controls – so for the most part, the difficulty is pitched at the Wii’s predominant casual audience. The difficulty does peak in some of the minigames – specifically the paramedic missions.
The multiplayer mode is what you would expect on the Wii – with the minigames made available for up to 4 players to compete in. As these games are more ‘micro’ than ‘mini’ games – there’s similarities to the Wario-ware titles of which the quality of these games just can’t compete. Minigame collections are overrunning the Wii and those featured on this disk only add to the clutter.
This is a very mixed review for me. While the game is ultimately much too repetitive and simplistic for my tastes, I do see children getting some mileage out of it. The title is family friendly and thus might make a perfect tonic for those families trying to avoid the GTA deluge. As a rabid Wii fan, I do get discouraged by the large volume of shovelware ported from the PS2. Emergency Mayhem shares some of that pedigree but does just enough right to break free – albeit slightly. That said, I can’t endorse this title for serious gamers but for the casual crowd or fans of Crazy Taxi’s hectic driving gameplay, this might make a decent pick. That $39.99 retail price is a little too steep for the title though. These budget titles really need to stick to budget pricing.