When games take place in New York City, instead of some boring West Coast berg, I’m all over it like an all night club kid sucking up a six pack of Red Bull. THE WARRIORS begins during a Coney Island night time, with the Wonder Wheel and The Cyclone in the background. To me, this game should have more Sol Yurick’s book than Walter Hill’s movie. I mean, Yurick’s first sentence sets it all up succinctly, “Six warriors crouched in the shadow of a tomb.” The fact that the disc ain’t gang lit. is not a game killer for me, since the movie itself rocks and always will. Plus, there’s so much more to the game than the movie: you actually begin the game in tutorial mode 90 days before the frantic meeting of gangs in the park. While the tutorial seemed overly long to me, the rest of the game showcases both the adventure and the brutality of gangs—along with the necessary macho camaraderie. Beyond this, there are more prequel type things: you can go on missions that tell how each member became part of the gang. Yeh, it’s a brutal, raunchy game (and it should feel even more like New York City than it does). But as Hubert Selby said, “Sometimes we have the absolute certainty that there’s something inside us that’s so hideous and monstrous that if we ever search it out we won’t be able to stand looking at it. But it’s when we’re willing to come face to face with that demon that we face the angel.” That’s the spirit you have to have when you go fighting in “The Anabasis,” in the big city—or even in a game.
GRAND THEFT AUTO: LIBERTY CITY STORIES is the first GTA for the PSP that’s based in a fictional NYC. There’s something perfect about being able to take what’s essentially a driving game on the road with you. Not to get all Kerouac on you, but like Kerouac, the makers are trying to work in revelations, not just story. You’re Toni Ciprini, a tough introduced in GTA III, and you do the gritty bidding of Mafia warlord Salvatore Leone. That in itself isn’t revelatory. But it’s a deep gaming experience, almost as multi-faceted as the console versions, one of the best the PSP has to offer. Here, you’ve even got multiplayer action (not just single player as in the console versions). And you’ve got a system that easily locks onto your foes when you want to do them the requisite sadistic damage. All that evil on one tiny PSP disk. Pretty “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” huh?
There is a certain creepy, meticulous, lurid quality to the Spider art of Louise Bourgeois. Like, when you go to the cavernous Dia:Beacon and see “Spider,” all enclosed and adorned, you feel the hairy arachnid creeping inside you. You get that same feeling from Soul Calibur III, probably the best fighting game ever made. After you play it, it lives inside you. Now, what distinguishes the Soul Calibur III series is its artful attention to story and its careful consideration of the most minute detail. There are some games, just a few of them, that can be called art—not just tech art like some Ipod-like gizmo from Wired, not just popular art like a cartoon from Spain Rodriquez. In Soul Calibur III, the art is so rich on alls levels from gameplay to graphics, it could be displayed in the Gug.
In the latest version, the character rendering is more lurid than in past iterations. Even the darkest characters seem brighter. The newest, the pixie-ish Tira with her circular fighting sword and vivid green outfit, is a cross between the delicacy of Peter Pan combined with the hard-edged spirit of Courtney Love.
And (oh, joy) you have to be a reader to really sponge up the story in SCIII. Take time to read the odd grammar within the text that appears on the screen when each character fights through the single player mode. Here, the character’s personality unfolds. Whether it’s the sad immortality of Zasalamel, which recalls the most passionate yearning of Anne Rice’s vampires, or the almost religious purity of Sophitia, you get to know the compelling, complex nature as though they were real people.
Buy this and you’ll find it’s like a drug and literature rolled into one. As you sleep, you’ll dream about SCIII. During the day, you’ll analyze it, deconstruct it, even wonder about influence of myth upon the creators. And you’ll kick some real A when you play.
Publisher: The New Yorker
Developer: The New Yorker
The Complete New Yorker puts 8,220 jpeg thumbnails of covers in a file on your computer. It took such a long time to install its “New Yorker Viewer” files on my new Toshiba, that I wondered if every word of every issue were going onto my hard drive, or if my Pentium IV chip had reverted to an old Intel 386. When it finished taking my laptop on a one hundred yard dash, the first thing I looked up, of course, was video games.
The New Yorker is the closest thing to literature in magazines: that’s not news. But would the writers over the years treat video games as they treat any other popular art? Though the search engine took some getting used to, I finally found Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece on “Ultima Online” from 2001. It was beautifully and meticulously written, but it just did not seem to take any joy in the beauty of the game or the gaming experience itself. Is this a pattern? In December, I will continue this search through The New Yorker archives for words about video games—to let you know if they’re written with condescension or with the same adulation and appreciation that you get from a New Yorker writer, when, say, you’re reading a pop music piece about Keren Ann.
Shadow of the Colossus
Forget the Tom Wolfe crap about Masters of the Universe. They weren’t walking here in Manhattan. In fact, forget the old toys and the old TV show. Shadow of the Colossus reveals the real MOTUs. They’re big; they’re ugly, and one even looks like Dick Cheney if he were made of stone (his heart actually may be). You’re the puny braveheart trying to get the gods to revive your young maiden friend. You ride a stallion through some of the most beautiful environs ever to be seen on the PS2 and you beat up on 16 monolithic behemoths with a sword, a bow . . . and a prayer. Everything here is tastefully and carefully rendered, and there’s not a lot of bad writing to bog down the story (which is told well by the graphics alone). Overall, Shadow of the Colossus is sheer panorama; it’s adventure; it’s exotic music; it’s the zen of gaming mixed with the art of war.
Spartan Total Warrior
Developer: Creative Assembly
While Colossus is cinematic in a Days of Heaven meets Kurosawa, Spartan Total Warrior is the “Lord of the Rings” battle scenes meets HBO’s “Rome” (without, unfortunately, the rampant sex). As the ultimate Spartan, you war against everything from the Hydra to the Minotaur as you move from hero to legend. (And haven’t you always wanted to be a legend? Me, I’m happy to be a hermit.) What’s really staggering here are the battles. You’ll see 160 fighters onscreen at once, which is as awesome as games get these days. Still, there are problems, the primary one being the targeting of enemies. It’s too often not exact enough. However, if you’re waiting for that crosstown bus that comes 45 minutes late, don’t take it out the driver, the 311 operator or even with a note Bloomberg (who won’t answer you). Take it out on the gladiators and barbarians. It’s very satisfying.
Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday is milquetoast compared to Blitz: The League, and so is Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer’s brutal “Instant Replay.” The thing that those two offerings have that Blitz doesn’t, sadly, is a compelling, decently-written story. While the game play in the satirical Blitz is humorous, it’s complex enough. In fact, with repetitive cutscenes during gameplay, it can be banal. Now, here’s a game that thrives on the idea of titillation: Cheerleaders as whores and violence on the field as the golden rule. While the violence often works as good satire, the cheerleaders as ho’s thing falls apart just like the story. When THE HELL are we going to get great writing AS A STANDARD in video games?
Developer: Fuse Games
The girl’s gonna have a ball: that’s what’s great about Metroid Prime Pinball, the pinball game for the DS that stars sci-fi icon Samus Aran, who’s morphed into a ball and into our hearts for decades. Here’s a synapse-splitting game with lots of different playfields, the right ball physics and appearances by Samus (battling bosses galore between levels.) If you crave pinball in a world that just doesn’t have enough pinball machines in bars anymore, then you’ll love this one.