Maybe it was just the Haterade talking, but Jack White—flat-chested half of indie rock duo the White Stripes—recently told The New York Times Magazine, “It’s sad to see young kids today—they’re sitting around listening to hip-hop or new metal, with a Sony PlayStation, a bong of marijuana.” (If only they watched more MTV, where White Stripes videos are aired.) And in December, rabid entertainment watchdog MediaWise gave the gaming industry an “F” on its seventh annual “Video Game Report Card,” citing the “extreme violence” of titles like Vice City and BloodRayne. Whether you’re a Wise-ass, Jack-ass, or EverQuest obsessive, please be advised that this new column will grade games—for GameCube, PS2, and Xbox, on a one-to-10 scale—with bong hits and bullets in mind.
Developer Studio Soho
“This isn’t a game, Hammond!” insists call-girl-turned-assassin Yasmin, as the two of you prepare to shoot your way out of a tear-gassed police station. Whoever wrote that line was only playin’, but The Getaway is indeed all about keepin’ it real. As reformed gangster Mark Hammond, and later, vigilante cop Frank Carter, you crash through London’s meticulously mapped streets in licensed vehicles from a Lexus to a double-decker bus, making stops for gratuitously violent rampages, all in service of an only mildly outlandish action-flick plot. The Grand Theft Auto series obviously serves as the model, but where GTA‘s creators brilliantly interpret realism as the ability to simply do what you want—that is, revel in taboos and interact destructively with almost every aspect of your environment—The Getaway‘s authors try to replicate cinema, not life.
The Getaway‘s most valuable filmic aspect is its clean screen. You follow your car’s blinkers and rest when you’re stumbling and bloody; there are no distracting gauges or arrows. This also drives home your lonesome task: As Hammond, you must perform a number of bloody errands for mob boss Charlie Jolson, who’s holding your son hostage. (Wifey got fragged during the kidnapping, and the filth think you’re the one who killed her.) In one impressively detailed episode, you must seize a drug-filled statue that sits in a Hyde Park art gallery, showing Basquiat and Rothko, from Chinese-speaking thugs. Using various clubs, dual pistols, a shotgun, AK-47, the blazing MP5, or your own two hands to snap necks, you must also burn down a restaurant, take out an inspector in the police station, and raid a filthy crack house. The unrelentingly linear narrative is not helped by Frank Carter’s dull missions or the monotonous difficulty of the drives, nor does “stealth mode,” where you sneak along walls and fire through doorways either blindly or by jumping out, make up for the many frustrating camera angles and deeply flawed close combat. Like the man says: You should be able to play the game, not let the game play you.
PANZER DRAGOON ORTA
In the future, dragons will have lasers. (Unlike those crappy fire-breathing dragons we got now.) This “rail-shooter” revival of the fondly remembered late-’90s franchise calls these big-ass bats “lonely captives in the prison of time.” Poetically enough, a dragon plucks the heroine we inhabit—Orta, a smidgen of a slight young thing with a hip, white ‘do—from a cell where she is alluringly bound by chains. Orta mounts Puff the Magic you-know-what, and they set about defeating the post-apocalyptic Empire.
Orta’s flying friend, who follows a pre-set path and allows her a 360-degree firing range, morphs into three different forms on command: the spry glide wing, the powerful but clumsier heavy wing, and the well-balanced base wing. Using your gun with the dragon’s lock-on laser and visually dazzling “berserk attack,” you swoop through brown-smudged wastes, rainbow-foliaged river valleys, and a kaleidoscope of other landscapes, fending off flurries of humongous butterflies, luminescent green single-cells, and Star Wars spaceship rejects, and attacking bosses like twin spazzing centipedes, a leaping robo-monster, and a pollen-spitting river-flower with exploding bulbs. Though tedious in spots, no true playa could ever hate Panzer Dragoon Orta.
Funny—after seeing xXx for Game Boy Advance, we were hoping he’d hang it up: Vin Diesel claims to be creating a company to develop games, promising in Electronic Gaming Monthly that “every one of them will be off the hook.”