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Bad Day L.A.

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Aspyr

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Xbox/PC Preview - 'Bad Day L.A.'

by Alan Butterworth on June 10, 2006 @ 2:22 a.m. PDT

Bad Day L.A. is a third-person action/adventure game with a tongue-in-cheek comedic twist. Set in modern day Los Angeles, Bad Day L.A. combines a fantastical art style, groundbreaking collaborative gameplay elements and a heavy dose of dark satire to create a truly unforgettable experience.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Supersonic / Enlight Software
Developer: Mauretania Import Export Company
Release Date: TBD

The WorthPlaying Department of Gamer Security would like to urge Americans to take steps to prepare themselves for the forthcoming release of Enlight Software's Bad Day L.A. into the mainstream gaming market. Armed with acerbic wit and a fundamental devotion to ruthless satire, this subversively humorous game has plans to severely affect your complacency infrastructure and could potentially result in devastating outbursts of laughter. Be alert, citizens.

Designer American McGee's latest outing into the gaming world features groaning zombie hordes, tsunamis, flaming meteor showers and more thrown into one day when you really should have stayed in bed. Protagonist Anthony Williams is a street-smart vagabond turned into a reluctant hero when a terrorist-hijacked plane carrying biological weapons crashes into the freeway nearby. The game follows his frantic and repeatedly frustrated attempts to escape from L.A. Along the way, his help is petitioned by frantic victims desperate for him to save babies from burning houses, round up lost children, and generally be the knight in shining armor he was never meant to be. The problem is that Anthony is totally inept at saving people. His tendency to dropkick babies and jump up and down on heart attack victims leads one ungrateful survivor to declare, "Dying is better than being saved by you!"

Bad Day L.A. plays as a riotous cartoon third-person action shooter where you charge around town, armed to the teeth with various lethal weapons, the easily overlooked-but-deadly nail clipper and a fire extinguisher. The last one is particularly useful because it turns out that when the terrorists crashed their plane into the freeway, they released clouds of noxious green gas, which turns people into zombies that stagger around happily hurling phlegm-colored vomit at the innocent. A healthy blast from your fire extinguisher is enough to cure them of their zombie ailment, though. You'll also find plenty of people running around aflame, and you can do the good deed by putting them out. When these tasks aren't keeping you busy, you'll be fighting your way through a host of bad guys intent on capitalizing on the chaos. In your efforts to get to the nearest form of transport, you'll end up encountering French terrorists, well-armed street gangs peddling drugs to school kids, an organized mob raiding the treasury, and even the invading Mexican army taking advantage of the madness to lay claim to American territory.

Like other games of the urban riot sub-genre, innocent bystanders are fair game. Whack one of them, though, and you'll generate a "frown" which raises your terror threat level, along the lines of the homeland security advisory system from a low green to a severe red. Tip the balance to the highest level, and you'll be pursued by vigilante mobs desperate to rid the country of terrorist scum like you. Beyond maiming every last one of them, you can be a good Samaritan to generate happy faces and reduce your threat level. Happy face actions include liberally doling out medicine, extinguishing screaming burn victims, stopping looters and taking out zombies. Rather than join the chaos, the game instead encourages you to help stop the spread of insanity as wave after wave of disaster rains down on L.A.

Along the way, you'll acquire various colorful sidekicks whose quirky talents you can use to help even the odds. These include a radioactive vomit-spewing kid and a chainsaw-wielding Mexican who agrees to help you just minutes after you run him down with your ambulance. You can only have one following you at any time, and although they're nice to have around in theory, it doesn't feel like they help you very much when you're getting mauled by zombies and sniped at by terrorists. This dim AI also applies to your enemies, who often don't appear to be overly anxious to avoid getting wiped out. Combat can sometimes be frustrating with terrorists spawning randomly, often right behind you in the same spot where you just killed the last one. In addition, it's sometimes hard to figure out where exactly the shots are coming from, and the gameplay difficulty veers somewhat erratically between overly easy and keyboard-smashingly hard.

Unlike similarly themed titles such as Grand Theft Auto, the game doesn't allow much freedom of movement, and the levels are designed as linear corridors, with your job being to get from A to B in one piece. However, some attempt has been made to bring variety to the design, and you'll find yourself inadvertently visiting some of L.A.'s famous landmarks and notorious neighborhoods, including the La Brea Tar Pits, Venice Beach, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Beverly Hills. The tsunami level sees you wading in waist-deep floodwater through downtown L.A. skyscrapers, defending against electric-spark flinging jellyfish and escaped convicts. In other places, you get to man vehicle-mounted turrets in first-person perspective as you zip through town, gunning down people in your path. Most of the levels end with colorful bosses obstructing the way between you and potential escape, including the gigantic airport security agent with a penchant for invasive cavity searches.

The graphics are very similar to the highly stylized cel-shaded animation of Ubisoft's XIII, with simple lines and attractive pastel shading. While they're sometimes short on detail, they're a good match to the comical mood of the game and open the door to the land of cartoon violence where enemies explode in clouds of red bubbles. The music is sparse, but when it kicks in, it is often wonderfully festive and cheery in stark and amusing contrast to the death and carnage taking place around you. It seemed that in places, the sounds effects have not been fully implemented, with some silent or quiet explosions and weak gun effects.

When the game isn't making jokes aimed at your crotch and your instinctual love for comic violence, it's busy poking fun at the current state of affairs in the U.S. war on terror. Characters wonder around saying, "Bush told us it would be like this," and posters declare: "America – with us or against us," and "Lady Liberty eats freedom fries!" In a nod to the source of much of the game's inspiration, George Bush and the Department of Homeland Security are given thanks in the closing credits. Between the crude jokes and reasonably sharp political satire, there are plenty of occasions to smile, and the cut scenes featuring highly polished cel-shade animation are very memorable.

L.A. is one of those cities where you've always got one eye on the emergency exit because it feels only one short imaginative hop away from Hollywood disaster movie madness. American McGee has made homeland security's nightmare a gaming reality in Bad Day L.A., which showcases violence so over-the-top that it becomes a hilarious parody of itself. Its simple level design and no-nonsense controls mean gameplay is easy to pick up and master and should appeal to a wider range of gamers. The somewhat-linear level design, repetitive mission goals and short overall game time (8-10 hours) mar an otherwise enjoyable experience. Without the addition of multiplayer or cooperative gameplay to help ameliorate some replayability issues, the publishers might find it hard to retail at full price. Hopefully, the developers will be able to iron out some of the gameplay kinks in time for the official release because it stands out from the competition by being politically savvy and mocking fear culture.


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