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Bad Day L.A.

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

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PC Review - 'Bad Day L.A.'

by Lee Berlik on Sept. 20, 2006 @ 1:07 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: September 6, 2006

Consider the following excerpt from the user manual of Bad Day L.A., which explains what you should do upon encountering dog droppings: "When the player grabs it, the main character appears to smear dog poo all over his body. Other characters will run the other way when the player approaches. At times they even vomit and get confused, which makes them easier to attack." Sound funny? Then perhaps this game is for you. But I doubt it.

Bad Day L.A. is based on a reasonably amusing premise. In the span of a single otherwise-pleasant day in the City of Angels, the metropolis is repeatedly hit by one calamity after another, including a biological terror attack, earthquake, meteor shower, tsunami, and more. An innocent homeless man must defend himself and find a way to survive as the situation around him becomes increasingly preposterous.

It certainly starts off well enough; the opening cut scene whets the appetite with exciting action sequences set to a pulsating urban soundtrack. I was pumped to get to the action!

Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. The central character is a stereotypical black man with a fondness for racial epithets, toilet humor, and recreational drug use. As he goes about his business of saving the city from multitudes of crudely rendered zombies, terrorists, looters, and assorted other bad guys, he whines incessantly in a voice that sounds like a cross between Chris Tucker and Jar-Jar Binks.

At first, the graphics appear to have a sort of comic-book charm to them. The characters and backgrounds look like they were hand-drawn in colored pencil and watercolor, often reminiscent of Mike Judge's work in "Beavis and Butt-head." This particular style looks just fine in the cut scenes, but due to poor in-game animation and an apparently low polygon count, it does not translate well into actual gameplay.

Bad Day L.A. has the look and feel of an outdated, bargain-bin console game. Some of the surfaces you will encounter have virtually no texture to them whatsoever. In implicit recognition of the title's visual limitations, no custom video resolutions or detail settings are offered. It's as if the designers forgot to include "medium" and "high" settings in the video options, forcing you to play at low settings. You also stumble upon occasional graphical glitches, like floating cars and clouds of toxic fumes that somehow became separated from their intended zombie-head hosts.

The soundscape is similarly lacking. In fact, at times it is completely lacking, leaving you in total silence until you approach the next screaming civilian or moaning zombie. When you do hear these sounds, however, they quickly become repetitive. There are only a handful of catchphrases in the game, and you will hear them over and over. Other than the quite-good theme song by music production company The Lodge, the audio experience here is unremarkable.

As for gameplay, it is mostly awkward and frustrating. The level design is so linear that a big yellow arrow will tell you which way you need to go. If you try to explore and deviate from the required path, you won't just hit a dead end but will be forced to watch an (albeit short) cut scene in which your character wonders aloud why he has chosen to proceed in the wrong direction. Sometimes this will happen in unexpected places with invisible boundaries, like in the middle of a street. You learn quickly not to explore but to follow the one and only permissible path.

If the big yellow arrow isn't enough to remove your sense of adventure, the specific printed instructions will be. They tell you precisely what to do and often how to do it. For example: "kill terrorists," "use tire iron to smash beams," and "kill snipers on top of building." Don't worry about identifying the terrorists; they drive trucks that read "terrorists" in red, capital letters.

Sometimes, events must occur in a specific order. The first time you encounter a person engulfed in flames, for example, you won't be able to do anything about it unless you have first spoken to a nearby NPC, who tells you to grab a fire extinguisher that then (and only then) appears magically in a nearby area.

For a title with such a violent premise, the combat in Bad Day L.A. is notably unsatisfying. The shotgun, normally associated with short-range, one-shot kills, delivers nothing of the sort here. It might take four or five shotgun blasts to the face to put down an unarmed senior citizen. The sniper rifle is similarly impotent, requiring several shots to kill an enemy. It doesn't seem to matter if you aim for the head or the foot. In fact, it doesn't seem to matter if you aim at all. I realized about halfway through the game that looking down the sniper scope is unnecessary. Just point the sniper rifle in the enemy's general direction, and more often than not, you will hit your target.

I also found that I died more often from agitated civilians hurling cans at me than from terrorists shooting me with their AK-47s. As far as I could tell, getting hit in the shoulder with a tin can generated about the same amount of damage as getting shot between the eyes with a bullet. You will quickly learn the importance of keeping down the terror threat level by doing good deeds such as extinguishing burning civilians, applying bandages, and stopping looters. The more good deeds you do, the less likely the population is to become hostile to your presence. When the denizens are hostile, the game can become very difficult, especially since there is no indicator to convey the direction from which you are being attacked.

The A.I. is terrible. Enemy snipers will stay in one place, raising their head every couple of seconds into your line of fire. They're human but will respawn alien style, as was so common in the old days of video gaming. Sometimes they will stand two inches in front of you and look you in the face, yet somehow, it won't compute that they're supposed to be shooting you. Other times, they will turn around and face a brick wall despite all of the commotion going on behind them, just waiting for you to shoot them in the back.

The "weapon" you will likely use most often is the fire extinguisher. Dousing burning civilians lowers the terror threat level, and spraying zombies will turn them back into regular humans. Running around each map putting out fires gets tedious very quickly, and you'll have to do a lot of it.

For all its initial promise, Bad Day L.A. just isn't much fun in the final analysis. The humor is lowbrow and, at times, downright mean-spirited. (A scene in which the lead character rescues an infant by kicking him out of the building to his distraught mother comes to mind). The game is most likely to appeal to those who enjoy this brand of humor (you know who you are!) and who don't insist on immersive sound, attractive visuals, or polished gameplay.

Score: 5.0/10


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