By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
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By Inkoo Kang
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By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Long before Peter Benchley, the popular novelist who wrote Jaws, died earlier this year, he had changed him mind about Great White Sharks. In fact, with a great deal of passion, he told a group at the Smithsonian, "Today I could not, for instance, portray the shark as a villain, especially not as a mindless omnivore that attacks boats and humans with reckless abandon. No, the shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim, for, world-wide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.
Benchley backed up his opinions, saying, "Every year, more than a hundred million sharks are slaughtered by man. It has been estimated that for every human life taken by a shark, 4.5 million sharks are killed by humans. And rarely for a useful purpose." I know what he means. A few years ago, I flew into South Africa's Cape Town. After driving for about three hours in a cheap, three-cylinder Kia, I boarded a weak-looking 20-foot boat with two Great White Shark researchers. After about a half hour, we got to Dyer Island, populated by thousands of smelly seals, the white shark's favorite food. One of the researchers threw whale blood into the clear blue ocean near the island. Soon, four or five sharks circled about. Donning a thick wet suit and a 30-minute air tank, I went down in a cage. Into the cold waters. As they nudged the cage, I could see they were powerful creatures. They could be scary, sure. But they also had a grace, a beauty that only someone who's been down in the cage can understand. It is a magnificence that should be preserved.
I mention all this because I know just a little more about Great Whites than most folks who watch the Discovery Channel documentaries. So, when I cracked open JAWS UNLEASHED, a new game based on the classic Steven Spielberg movie, I had my doubts about authenticity. After all, the last Jaws offering, released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, was pretty darn crappy. Almost two decades later, would the new game do the shark right? Would the sea look real or simply like a big aquarium?
Although the game's been trashed elsewhere, I really enjoyed Jaws Unleashedwith a few major exceptions. First off, you play from the perspective of the shark. That's right, you are the giant, prehistoric-looking beast, feeding on seals and fish, even a killer whale. And you wreak havoc upon any human in a boat or in a cage. Yes, you chomp up people like they were Starburst fruit chews (that's why the game is rated M for Mature).
The environments in which the white shark moves are complex and beautiful. They're a little too crystal clear and light-filled than the real deals, but they're fairly close to what you'd see down in the deep. The idea behind Jaws Unleashed is that, as a shark, you want your environment free of the uncaring humans and creatures who want to pollute and invade your home. In the eleven missions presented here, you'll even eliminate a giant squid.
Most of the missions let you go where you want to go in the undersea world. As long as you eat enough undersea creatures and diving humans (accomplished by repeatedly squeezing the right trigger in the Xbox version), you'll be able to roam freely to explore the deep. Plus, there are 'prizes.' If you consume four tin cans in a level, you'll open a clip from the original movie. If you chomp all the treasure chests you come across, you'll enable a mode in which you're indestructible (which is good because, in this game, smaller fishes like to take bites out of your body, causing a loss of health). Once you gain experience in the game, you'll be armed with extra moves that will permit attacks like dive bombing and kills with just one bite.
Jaws Unleashed isn't perfect, not at all. A real Carcharodon carcharias moves more quickly and lithely and is more accurate in targeting prey than the giant in this game. There's no way that a White would get stuck in the ruins of a boat, for instance, as he can do in this game. Also, while the camera angles aren't abysmal in the game, they could be a lot better. If you're in an area that's like a thin tunnel, you'll probably get stuck. You'll waste precious time and energy just trying to get out of these kinds of pickles. Remember, if you don't eat every few minutes, you'll die. Developers should never have allowed this kind of trap to occur repeatedly.
But what's great about this Great White Shark game is that it feels new and different. Innovation is really lacking in the game industry these days. So a game like Jaws Unleashed, in which you play one of the world's most feared and most misunderstood creatures, is a welcome break from the plethora of first person shooters that are constantly foisted upon the market. If only they had fixed the bugs and camera angles, Jaws Unleashed would have been one of the year's best games.
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