Desert of the Unreal

Michel Marriot of The New York Times recently took Joysticks' lead and wrote about lady characters kicking ass—and getting their asses kicked—in video games like Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus. "I love having images in popular culture and these games that include women as fighters," feminist author Jennifer Baumgardner told the newspaper of record. Academic bell hooks disagreed: "Now women can be killing machines but adolescent about everything else." I take it Ms. hooks missed out on Britney's Dance Beat. (Meanwhile, noted Times scribe Jayson Blair just filed a report from a matriarchal planet describing that society's emerging games-for-men market. I could've sworn some quotes were lifted from an old episode of Star Trek, but what do I know?)


CONFLICT: DESERT STORM
Developer SCI
Publisher Gotham
For GameCube (review copy), PC, PS2, Xbox
Rating 6 (out of 10)

Fly girl: Niobe in Enter the Matrix
image: Courtesy Atari
Fly girl: Niobe in Enter the Matrix

Just released on GameCube, the controversial Conflict: Desert Storm re-enacts the liberation of Kuwait. You can switch between any soldier in the four-person British SAS or American Delta Force units, firing all manner of weapons at surprisingly well-coordinated Iraqi forces (not civilians), blowing up bridges (not mosques), and rescuing P.O.W.'s (not Jessica Lynch).

Unless your kid watches Al-Jazeera or, I dunno, the BBC, he probably hasn't been exposed to many images of Iraqis maimed or killed in Gulf War II. Meanwhile, those uncomfortable with Conflict: Desert Storm clearly don't want little Timmy virtually experiencing sanitized reality. Isn't it better, after all, for Timmy to peacefully fall asleep at night knowing only that our greatest enemies—Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Uday "Disco Stu" Hussein—were spared their lives by the gentle and forgiving United States?


ENTER THE MATRIX
Developer Shiny
Publisher Atari
For GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox (review copy)
Rating 6

The Voice's chief film critic, J. Hoberman, mused that The Matrix Reloaded "is perhaps a trailer for the video game Enter the Matrix." That's the name of the game: You too can jack into Hollywood's hypervirtual dystopia. Watch the movie, live the all-encompassing dream—as pop theorists hot for Hume and Baudrillard conveniently imagine. Meanwhile, Adam Gopnik—apparently unaware that he could confirm Enter the Matrix's existence within 0.46 seconds on Google—whined in The New Yorker that "a long freeway sequence [in Reloaded] has the buzzing predictability of the video game it will doubtless become." Throwaway references notwithstanding, Enter the Matrix simulates the movie, not the other way around.

But this is not Neo and Trinity's excellent adventure. Written and directed, like the movies, by the Wachowski brothers, the game features an hour of so-so new film footage that expands on the known story line and stars minor Matrix characters—Niobe and Ghost, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith and Anthony Wong. You pick one, and "collaborate" with the other. While Niobe searches for a package at the post office (what will they think of next!), Ghost cruises around the block or something; as Niobe drives the package to its destination, Ghost shoots at cop cars off-camera. He's ghost!

While you also get to pilot the Logos hovercraft, it's the chop socky—overseen, as in the movie, by Master Yuen Wo Ping—that flips directly out of the Matrix script. As bogus as much of the game's journey might be, you will experience Oneness merely by activating "Focus": While fighting or shooting, the press of a button allows you to go syrup-slow, running along walls and leaping and cartwheeling through space, throwing punches, dodging bullets, or spilling opponents' green-code blood with your dual pistols, M16, or shotgun. Nerds may activate two-player mode using the DOS-throwback "hacking gameplay element." If any of you figure out how to boff Trinity during a rave, please e-mail me.


The New York Post: The newspaper of record, if by record you mean an LP literally composed of braying jackasses (although this guy makes a good point)

Columnist Phil Mushnick recently decried the practice of putting "2004" in the titles of new sports games: "Unsuspecting shoppers will think that two editions of the game—this year's and last year's—are current versions."

 
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