Wait, They Made That?! is a new series on The Jolly Gamers with the goal of delving into the history of gaming’s biggest studios amongst the backdrop of one of their lesser-known titles.
Four years have passed since Rocksteady Studios released their last game, a VR experience set in the Arkham universe, and many wait patiently for a glimpse of what the studio has been working on over the last couple of years. Known predominantly for their work on the Arkham series featuring the one and only Batman – which is no surprise given that four out of the five games that the studio has released since it was founded have been based in Gotham – Rocksteady has firmly established itself as one of the most well-respected, prominent and influential studios in the industry. It is a surprise, then, that many have never heard of Rocksteady’s first game. It is even more of a surprise that their first game was a first-person shooter.
The origin story of Rocksteady Studios can be traced back to 2004 when the collapse of Argonaut Software placed Sefton Hill and Jamie Walker in a precarious situation. Faced with the realities of unemployment they made the decision to found Rocksteady, leasing out a small temporary office close to where they lived and taking a few of their colleagues along with them, and began to work on their first game. Known by the working title of Roll Call, a project that originally started at Argonaut, it would later be known as Urban Chaos: Riot Response. Released in 2006 for the Playstation 2 and Xbox and published by Eidos Interactive, Urban Chaos lets you play as Nick Manson, a rugged police officer and member of the T-Zero task force which was set up to tackle the growing concern with gangs rioting in the city. A live-action news report shown before each level frames the current events that are unfolding around the city and sets the tone adequately for you to serve your unique brand of justice. Interestingly, for a game that was never intended to be a serious take on what being a police officer was about – described by Paul Saunders (Senior Designer) as a “Hollywood blockbuster” – there is an underlying narrative throughout that poses serious questions. As the game progresses, Lani York of Channel 7 News questions the powers afforded to the T-Zero task force and their actions, which certainly affords some comparison to current political affairs.
Arguably, alongside Black, Urban Chaos offered a brief glimpse of the direction that first-person shooters were moving towards with the introduction of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. In an era of floaty, fast-paced shooters Urban Chaos provides weight to the combat. Manson has a riot shield at his disposal, a necessity to protect himself against the saw-wielding rioters, and using it provided a grounded, visceral feel that at release was noticeably absent from most titles. Over the course of a level your shield would get increasingly scarred from the altercations which is a really nice feature for a late sixth generation title. A medal system was present encouraging levels to be replayed by scoring players on their ability to take down assailants non-lethally, getting headshots and the like which offered rewards such as weapon upgrades.
After the launch of Urban Chaos: Riot Response, Eidos Interactive would approach Rocksteady with the opportunity to pitch their vision for what a game based on the core Batman licence should be, and this would set the course of the studio for the next decade. Going back to Urban Chaos today feels like a significant departure from what is known of Rocksteady Studios now. However, whilst the caped crusader is notably absent, there are examples of thoughtful game design throughout – of small touches that set it apart in what was then, and still is now, a heavily saturated market – giving a small nod to what was to come. Is it sacrilegious to hope that Rocksteady Studios next game is a reimagining of the Urban Chaos universe? One can dream.
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