The other day, I sent an email to all the game company PR people. My question? What are you going to do about helping the Hurricane Katrina victims? It’s not an outlandish question. By most accounts, this is a $10-billion-a-year industry. They do give money. They gave right away after 9-11. And more than a few of their top guns are triple-digit millionaires (Unfathomable, yet true). At first, there was nothing. By deadline, I got a copy of an internal note from Atari asking its employees to donate to the Red Cross. There’s Nintendo’s pledge of 600 Game Boy Advances and games. Vivendi Universal is giving $50,000 to the Red Cross. Ubisoft, LucasArts, and Activision are matching employee donations, dollar for dollar. Sony will pony up $500,000, match employee gifts up to $1 million and donate $25,000 more at a PSP event during New York’s Fashion Week. That’s definitely something good. But it’s not enough. As of this deadline, there was no response from Microsoft games, biggie Electronic Arts, and others. My only explanation is that they’re doing the molasses-slow corporate thing: Trying to figure things out before responding to a dork spammer such as myself. The other thing that can be done is for game companies to link to the usual suspect-charities on their web sites. But no one’s done it—yet.
There’s street cred and then there’s street cred. 50 Cent arguably had more cred with Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ than with The Massacre—simply because he got rich and didn’t have to die tryin’. But then there’s the desperate try for cred. 187 RIDE OR DIE is an urban racing game with a lot of shooting of AK-47’s. For bling, the makers added some story elements by Straight Outta Brooklyn director Matty Rich. The story? Regain turf captured by a rival gang. The game’s mainly just racing and shooting, like the makers were on some sort of OCD kick and couldn’t do anything else but race and shoot, race and shoot.
Then, there’s BEAT DOWN: FISTS OF VENGEANCE with these too-pretty characters who’ve been framed by the local mob. They seek redemption via vengeance. Here, the story’s intense and varied, but there’s a problem with everything from camera angles to the repetitive fighting and the interrogations, which become banal and stupid. It should have been called “Beat Down: Fists of the Dense.”
Finally, there’s GLIMMERATI for the N-Gage phone, a racing game full of beautiful, rich people. Remember the triple-digit millionaires I mentioned? You’re one of them. In Glimmerati, there’s no more money to be gained to increase your snivelling power over people and things. It’s just racing in super-pimped vehicles for pride (its own kind of power). Because the game is almost old school, I like it. When the words “Your Engine Has Been Tampered With” appear on the screen, I’m pissed off and want to win races. It’s kind of like Racing With the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The Finnish-makers only mistake: Where’s that Lizzie Grubman and her crazy SUV?
Developer: Sammy Studios
For: PS2, Xbox
Cowboys and vampires? Alright, it’s been done before, as far back as 1959 in the movie Curse of the Undead. But it hasn’t been done much in video games, and that’s part of what makes DARKWATCH a hoot to play. The gamemakers actually create suspense really well, when they’re not throwing so many monsters on the screen that the tension gets a little lost. As outlaw Jericho Cross (cheesy Biblical reference here for the Pat Robertson in you) you’ve got to stop the various vampires before they wreak havoc on Jericho’s Western world. And Jericho thought he was going to retire from the world of crime and ride into the sunset? Well, ride he does. But you know what sunset means, don’t you? It means vampires up the wazoo.
Dungeon Siege II
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Usually, the thought of clicking through an role-playing game holds about as much allure for me as drinking the floodwaters of the Katrina-ridden French Quarter. But DUNGEON SIEGE II is fairly different. Sure, it’s full of magic, monsters, and fantasy, the usual suspects. However, the varied allies, including pets that become warrior-tough, are really engaging. And the graphics, especially during spell-casting, are so lurid and imaginative, you feel you’re some old-ass psychedelics-ingesting hippie. What a trip. Did the ghost of Jerry Garcia work on this game?
Developer: Backbone Entertaiment
Sanguine, I head into the post-Labor Day doldrums because the most wonderful time of the year, Halloween, is near. Believing the early Grim Reaper catches the worm, Konami released the first of the Halloween games, DEATH JR., and I played it with alacrity. It showed early, great promise as the opening movie showcased a kind of Nightmare Before Christmas meets Addams Family feel. Your creepy friends are in turmoil, thanks to Death Jr.‘s Pandora’s Box jones, and DJ’s gotta fix it. The limited edition I was sent looked cool, with a soundtrack and a comic book on a separate disc. DJ even moves with personality, as if his scythe is just a bit too heavy for this skull-faced little tyke. But after all that, the thing becomes a not-that-compelling Ratchet & Clank meets Devil May Cry. It plays without a lot of story and DJ doesn’t even talk. This is a slightly above average game that, with some more work, could have been a great game for the PSP. Instead, after a dozen hours of play, Death Jr. heads to the scariest of graveyards, the used game pile. Too bad.
Who let the dogs out? Nintendo, Nintendo. If the company can get the new Pokemon generation on board, NINTENDOGS, the latest in virtual pets, could be the killer app for the DS. After all, this thing sold 700,000 copies in its first three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. Not only are these cute critters close to the real thing in a photorealistic sense; the mind says they feel real. That’s because you can pet them on the DS touchscreen. When you do they squint and almost smile, bark and look at you Stepford-ly, like Katie gazes at Tom. (Which is not to say Katie’s a dog or a Nintendogs’s a Holmes.) Because the Nintendo DS has a microphone, you can name your dog, call him and teach him tricks. Nintendogs won’t help keep you warm on a three dog night, but you won’t sneeze, either. These are hypoallergenic dogs, you see.