Danger Zone


First we had to fight ’em in the Wolfenstein series. Now the Germans are combating the distribution of Command & Conquer Generals, a war game in which U.S. forces attack terrorists in Baghdad. According to The New York Times, because of the game’s violent content—the fictional Global Liberation Army drops anthrax-laden bombs on civilians, American soldiers shock and awe GLA members by killing them—German retailers aren’t allowed to promote the title, but can only sell it to adults upon request. This policy also applies to other games and even books, but coming so soon after our defiance of the Security Council, Command & Conquer Generals obviously struck an exposed nerve. So don’t accuse the Germans of not having any!

Aero Elite Combat Academy

For PS2

Developer Sega-AM2

Publisher Sega

Rating 7 (out of 10)

Once upon a time—before East Villagers ironically donned aviator sunglasses and the frequency of blatantly homoerotic moments in Top Gun inspired a drinking game—Americans innocently romanticized cocky flyboys and their missile-laden jets. Today, it’s difficult to imagine Black Hawk Down arousing unconflicted patriotic feeling or passing into kitsch. The timely Aero Elite Combat Academy lands somewhere between the playground and the war zone. While cheesy flight simulation goes back to the original PC, this incarnation’s technical detail brings CNN’s gee-whiz graphics-and-stats fighter plane descriptions—indicative of our fascination with death from above—to life.

With Kenny Loggins’s career in the “danger zone” and suits afraid of offending the Germans by hiring the band Berlin, the game’s soundtrack relies on generic ’80s-pop-metal instrumentals. The swooping guitar solos and pounding rhythms blare as you inspect your true-to-life birds in the hangar, taxi and take off, then engage the enemy in the air, on the ground, or at sea. Just don’t skip training mode: Your heads-up display monitors 15 vitals, and even basic maneuvers require, in addition to a deft hand, knowledge of the numbers. A typical instruction on piloting the helicopter: “Careful adjustment to pitch, roll and the main motor output is necessary to maintain consistent altitude, speed and turn.” Don’t forget attitude!

So what do you get to blow up, and how? There are 60 unlockable aircraft (including the British AV-8B with vertical takeoff, the navy favorite F14B, and the AH-Apache), a variety of arms (the GAU-12 25mm machine gun, heat-seeking missiles), and a handful of landscapes and weather conditions (“a European City where historical buildings remain”—don’t tell the Germans!—and a desert setting, sans sandstorms). In other words, planes and military installations at the press of many buttons. Beats watching it on CNN.

Red Faction II

For GameCube, PC; PS2, Xbox (review version)

Developer Volition

Publisher THQ

Rating 7

Who knew this sequel to the beloved first-person shooter would include the perfect weapon for America’s Top Gun, George W. Bush? That’s right: the W.A.S.P. This stands for “Wide Area Saturation Projectile,” but White Anglo-Saxon Protestant obviously springs to mind. Plus, W.A.S.P. can “launch a swarm of destruction that will seek out and strike its target”—just like W.! Although Red Faction II isn’t modeled on the current geopolitical climate—it’s set on Mars, over 150 years in the future—the plot echoes today’s issues. Abusing nano-technology, mustachioed Chancellor Sopot rose to power, then attempted to wipe out his too-powerful genetically modified soldiers. Your character (the nano-enhanced Alias) and his five remaining freak-o buddies subsequently join the Red Faction rebels, attempt to defeat Sopot, etc.

As you go about your missions—splattering guards’ brains against walls with your assault rifle, setting them alight with incendiary grenades (they scream and run around like chickens with their heads cut off lit on fire), planting satchel charges on bridges, dodging regenerating robots, piloting a mini-submarine through homing mines, sniping at enemies from afar, peering through walls with your magnetic rail driver scope, or blasting your own doorways into them—you learn not to rely on your allies and to avoid killing civilians. The latter raises your “heroics” status—acceptable collateral damage is not specified. Fans of the original will notice the drastically reduced “geo-mod” function—no more digging tunnels or indiscriminate destruction. Bet the Germans would like that.

We Read It for the Game Reviews . . .
Playboy on Red Faction II: “Its 15 weapons and destructible environments make for an explosive battle to take down a Mars dictator.”

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2003

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