RIOT: Civil Unrest Review

Video gaming can be a riot sometimes; but never literally. At least, not until now, with the release of Merge Games’ Riot: Civil Unrest as it marches a release onto the Nintendo Switch. Primarily a real-time strategy game, you get to experience a series of crowd-gathering riots that are based on real-world events in a variety of locales and countries. However, although not a western, this is a game that contains many elements that can be found within a rioting scene; namely the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

The game presents a variety of objective-based scenarios that can range from protecting tents that have been illegally erected to protesting against a proposed high-speed rail line; all the way up to large uprisings that are gathering outside political institutions. Each of the levels are presented by country, each one containing a variety of varying riot types; both in densities and objective types. There’s no real campaign, or story-mode here, although there is a limited narrative on the background on each of the riots. Although based on real-world events, the game does a good job of avoiding political stances.

Each of the scenarios on offer vary in difficulty and give a choice of sides you wish to play. This is a nice little touch, allowing you to play the part of the protesters or the law-enforcers; giving you an insight into both sides of the divide. Once your chosen group is selected, you can then choose various items of equipment with which to arm your squads. These can range from a number of white flags to defensive and offensive gear. Depending on how you outfit your crowds, produces a variance on the numbers, or size, of the crowd. There’s a good deal of options here that add a strategic level which is based on what your objectives may be.

Once you have decided on what side you wish to take and what equipment you may need, you are then presented a miniature-pixellated recreation of your chosen scenario. Each of the locales and effects within them look beautifully stunning; especially when playing on the Switch’s portable screen. The aesthetics here, create an ambience that really captures the oppression of the area with some really effective audio qualities that provide an immersive experience in terms of the tension between the two warring factions. From here, you begin to issue orders, through a series of sub-menu’s and options that are bound to the D-Pad and buttons of each joy-pad.

An on-screen display highlights which key presses activate what function from waving white flags to throwing firecrackers, spraying aerosols to using a megaphone to rally the troops. In terms of gameplay mechanics, it sounds like a simple control scheme which should allow for accurate direction and for the most part, especially during the early objectives, it becomes a control scheme that does work; albeit, in a rather limited fashion. Although the graphical depictions on-screen are nicely detailed, they can also be rather small, which in turn can become a bit messy when things begin to hot up. Your groups are usually divided up into sub-groupings which can be cycled through to give specific instruction to each group. However, as the crowds begin to gather, your sub-groupings can easily become amalgamated into one huge, messy mash-up that soon becomes difficult to control.

Everything becomes fiddly and almost complicated; causing you to lose control of what is happening and it’s here where the main problems of the game lie. As the on-screen action begins to heighten, along with the size of your groups and the landscape around them, it becomes difficult to work out what needs to be done; an issue that is severely hampered with some mechanics that simply feel as if they don’t work. I couldn’t help but feel that on many occasions, my groupings didn’t take on-board my instructions as they all shambled along aimlessly; causing me to feel as if I had totally lost control and the pixellated characters were actually rioting against me.

It was also difficult to see what effects my commands were having too; leading to mish-mash of factions who were rioting with no idea of leadership or control. It all adds to create a level of gameplay that simply isn’t enjoyable and feels more random than anything else. In fact, the historical aspects and background stories, told through a series of newspaper clippings and cut-scenes that are displayed after each skirmish, were more interesting to me than the playthrough of each level. Despite its misfortunes, this was a title that I really wanted to try and get the most out of through repeated play. It contains a certain charm that makes you want to play, but the more I rioted, the more lost I felt. I can only hope that this is a title whose mechanics become more friendly over further, extended play and in more time.

Overall, Riot: Civil Unrest is a game of two sides; each one battling against the other. The game looks and feels fantastic, with a high level of immersion through its graphical and audio qualities. However, when it plays, the mechanics of the game simply feel like they don’t work; causing you to lose your grip on the on-screen action until the display fills with a fuzzy mess of undisciplined crowds who are all rioting without any sense of direction. I guess you could say that it could be faithful recreation of a real-life riot; but I doubt that this is the way the developers intended to portray this. It would be easier for me to say that this game simply isn’t any fun, but the truth is, there are some elements of the game that are genuinely fun to play; it’s just some of its mechanics get in the way of that. Its only saving grace is that, in time, this is a title that becomes easier once you have figured out exactly how everything plays and you can control everything that is happening to a tee and I, for one, do believe that time will come. If just a question of when, or if ever at all.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to

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RIOT: Civil Unrest Review
  • Gameplay - 6/10
  • Graphics - 6/10
  • Sound - 6/10
  • Replay Value - 6/10
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A game that uprises against authority, but at the same time, also fights against you too.