By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
First-person shooter games have been blamed for everything from Columbine to . . . well, Columbine is plenty. But just last week, the genre was vindicated. A widely reported article in the science journal Nature described a study showing that FPS gamers possess much better visual attention skills than blind people. I mean non-gamers. Players can tell the number of items they see without counting, track many different objects at once, and have sharper peripheral vision. Hardcore gamers will make much better soldiers, cab drivers, and baggage screeners. This means they don't need to graduate from college or even high school. Which, in turn, means no more Columbines!
No one's ever condemned racing games for anythingnot even cultural conservatives bother to blame Gran Turismo for parking lot peel-outs. Only the anarchy-obsessed programmers at Rockstar would make terrifying pedestrians, creating highway pileups, cruising aimlessly, and avoiding LAPD "ghetto bird" helicopters such an integral part of a genre that is usually comfortably repetitive and nuanced. And while, say, Apex reaches for a wholly unengaging storyline in which you build an "automotive empire" (just like Lee Iacocca!), Midnight Club II, like its original incarnation, is based upon a global network of urban street racing about as believable as Vin Diesel's acting in The Fast and the Furious. The only way they could make it better would be to set it in Boston, where drunks get kicked out of the bars long after the T has shut down, flooding construction-choked highways.
That said, you do get to speed around L.A., competing against opponents whose artificial intelligence sometimes resembles that of a 17-year-old weaving home from a kegger. You also blaze through the accurately mapped but inventively shortcut-strewn cities of Tokyo and Parisreleasing nitrous, catching slipstreams, going into power slides, and jumping. (Parisians, so hard to resist running over, are forever shouting "Julie tu me fais chier!""You make me want to shit!"or, simply, "Merde!"). In each you earn different cars and crotch rockets, which are generically named but based on a couple dozen real models like the Honda Civic, Aston Martin Vanquish, Yamaha YZF-R1, and Dodge Viper (known as the "Jersey XS"). Even with one car the options would seem endless: Explore the streets, create your own course, battle a friend, or bring the Midnight Club to life online. It's the merde.
RETURN TO CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN: TIDES OF WAR
All the future soldiers, cab drivers, and baggage screeners who honed their skills fragging peeps and monsters have Wolfenstein 3-D to thank for their careersthe PC game ushered in the first-person shooter genre just over 10 years ago. In another 10, what might we have discovered about the effects of Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War, the first game to truly validate Bill Gates' mission for the Xbox, in-depth online play? Only God and Gates know. I'll probably look back and realize I spent another three months straight playing Wolfenstein. (Hopefully this summer I'll get laid. In a decade, we should have the SeXbox.)
For those of you not signed up for Microsoft's online service, Xbox Live, Tides of War makes an excellent, though not quite Halo-level, FPS. As in Wolfensteins past, you play Nazi killer B.J. Blazkowiczprobably the first Jewish video game hero. (We Italian Americans get Mario the plumber.) But this time, SS-hole Heinrich Himmler's raised an army of the undead! Single-player and two-person split-screen modes are great, but this game was made to play over broadband with five friends. (Two-person head-to-head's so-so.) Teams side with the allies or axis (the game's not available on PC, so why should it be politically correct?), and individuals pick a ranksoldier, lieutenant, engineer, or medic. Each performs assigned tasks: The soldier might maintain cover for the engineer as he sets up explosives, while the medic, hanging back, plugs the injured with syringes. Hopefully by 2013, we'll have defeated the Nazis.
Yes, but can it improve your ability to see stuff?
Using a few dozen Playstation 2 consoles, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have built a supercomputer capable of a half-trillion operations per second.