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downs: Actual art didn't translate, unfinished sound effects, almost everything else

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Bad Day LA Review
game: Bad Day LA
one star
posted by: Jason Perkins
publisher: Aspyr Media
developer: Enlight Software
view related website
ESRB rating: M (Mature)
date posted: 08:46 PM Tue Nov 7th, 2006
last revision: 08:15 PM Tue Nov 7th, 2006

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Click to read.I\'ve been suckered into a lot of things in my life: relationships, third party peripherals, food processors, and even jobs. The Sunday morning infomercials, no matter how much we complain about them, aren\'t going anywhere for one big reason: They work. I\'d like to think I\'m a smart consumer who isn\'t easily duped by sparkly ads and vaudevillian con-men touting stupendous Hair Tonics, but apparently that isn\'t the case.

If you paid attention to the marketing push behind American McGee\'s latest game, you might have been interested in Bad Day L.A. If the unorthodox art style and purported free-roaming gameplay weren\'t enough to pique interest, you might have been interested in the wacky premise of simultaneous natural disasters in a big city. If you like American\'s previous work in Doom II, Alice, or even Postal, you might have seen his unusual moniker on the box and decided to play this train wreck he calls a game. The Mauretania Import Export Company describes it as \"a new action game in the style of smash hits \'Medal of Honor\' and \'Call of Duty\', Bad Day LA brings a new twist to a well established genre of games.\" A dubious claim.

The inspiration for this project apparently came to American during a trip to LA, when he spotted a billboard warning the populace of possible terrorist attacks. Complete with duct tape and a gas mask, he was assaulted by its complete absurdity and thought our fear culture paranoia would make a decent game. He magnified this ridiculousness by stacking the problems on top of each other and injecting his own twisted brand of comedy. Poop jokes, painfully obvious political satire and childish puns turn what could have been a biting commentary on the state of our country into a few hours of preteen toilet humor. The racial slurs and attempts to shock the player with punted babies and abused children fall completely flat and incite more groans than laughs.

The story begins with a plane crash, which releases a mysterious green cloud turning everyone who comes in contact with it to zombies. You assume the character of Anthony: a homeless man who sounds too much like the crackhead in Chappelle\'s Show and speaks too much like a 12 year old who just learned how to curse. The task at hand, as you might guess, is escaping the city in one piece. Along the way, you\'ll be forced to contend with looters, gang members, irate neighbors, terrorists and of course the aforementioned zombies.

One of the first lessons learned is to keep your threat rating low. Never mind the fact that a homeless man probably doesn\'t care much for the society who turned its back on him, you are encouraged to generate \"smilies\" and minimize the amount of \"frownies\". Note that these are not my terms, but those of the game. One can score smilies by extinguishing a citizen who is on fire, eliminating terrorists or other hostiles, or by neutralizing zombies.

Now, clearly American McGee hasn\'t read Max Brooks\' Zombie Survival Guide. If he had, he\'d know that no zombie, regardless of origin, can be cured with a fire extinguisher. I\'d love to take the time out to explain why this is false in the necessary detail, but maybe that can be covered in a future article.

Through these good deeds, Anthony encounters and befriends a handful of support characters who will presumably return the favor and help him escape. The band of characters by the end of the game will include a young boy who doesn\'t speak much but constantly throws up, a chainsaw-wielding Mexican, what I\'m afraid is a typical Los Angeles woman (complete with toy dog), and a grizzled, one-armed veteran. The fellowship is formed to increase your chances of escape, but in practice, your companions don\'t have any positive impact at all. They can be chosen with the F1-F4 keys and appear instantly at your side, but in their brief stay before dying from unknown reasons, they will usually just meander about, not attacking your targets or targets of their own or doing much of anything. Frankly, I\'m not even sure what the teenage girl does. On top of that, they routinely disappear altogether, after which your only recourse is to select a new sidekick.

There is a decent amount of gunplay throughout the game. You\'ll find yourself armed with more traditional weapons, like a shotgun, machine gun and a sniper rifle. Not-so- traditional offerings include a crowbar, flamethrower fashioned out of a lighter and aerosol can, and in another of American\'s failed attempts at humor, nail clippers. Capitalizing on the ridiculousness that is airport security, he decided this would be the most powerful weapon in the game. Now I don\'t usually rely on auto-aim functions, but the sluggishness forced my hand. Unfortunately, after I enabled this feature, there was no change at all. It\'s completely broken. Frustrating the player even further, the weapons don\'t have the effect you might imagine. It can take up to three bursts with a shotgun to terminate an enemy, and sometimes two headshots with a sniper rifle. The point of impact doesn\'t seem to make any difference and the amount of damage inflicted is even less reliable. It seems that the only difference between them is the rate of fire. Once you\'re granted the flamethrower, you\'ll rarely switch from it, since the ammunition is unlimited and once on fire, targets will be incapacitated until their life runs out.

The advertisements insinuated an open city in which to roam around, but the levels are, in reality, extremely linear. Proceed to the yellow objective, maybe kill a certain number of enemies on the way, repeat. Any attempts to stray from your designated path are unfailingly met with walls. The transitions from level to level are just as abrupt, and leave huge gaps in the already slipshod narrative. The writing is third-rate and incoherent, and its delivery is even worse. The normal characters sound more like zombies than the zombies do. The sound design in general appears to have been done in a bathroom and is unconvincing at best. I\'ve thankfully never experienced an earthquake firsthand, but if it sounds anything like a small handful of pebbles hitting the sidewalk, I guess they got that one right.

I could detail an entire laundry list of problems like these for another page or two, but I\'d rather not. It was enough of a struggle to have to play this game, so I\'d like to just finish it and forget it as soon as possible. Even for a budget game, a complete lack of polish like this is inexcusable. The game had a promising, almost cel-shaded art style mildly reminiscent of Katamari Damacy and a premise that would be hard to mess up. It\'s too bad that everything after that point failed miserably. American needs to take some criticism, from both journalists and fans, instead of brushing this horrible mistake off by saying \"it is what it is\".

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