Several trailers of note over the past week: Aragorn continues his History of Violence and returns to the unsettling world of Cronenberg in the new trailer for Eastern Promises, also with Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Shopgirl Natalie Portman looks adorable facing up against stiff-suit Jason Bateman in the otherwise cloying trailer for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, also with Dustin Hoffman as Willy Wonka, uh, Magorium. Nicole Kidman tries to stop her sister (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) from marrying Jack Black in this look at Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding. (Not usually my bag, and Jason-Leigh can be a huge red flag, but Baumbach has earned a look after Squid & the Whale.) A bit-player in the Russian mob and a recent emigre to Liberty City (you) tries to move up the ranks of his organization in two new trailers for Rockstar’s eagerly-awaited Grand Theft Auto IV. (I may have to break down and get a 360, just for this game.) And, finally, a Kramerfied, really poor quality version of may very well be the teaser for Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight has emerged online. (I’ll reserve judgment until a higher quality version emerges, but for now I like the laugh.)
World of Demcraft? In a review of Stephen Duncombe’s intriguing new Dream, Slate‘s Joshua Glenn argues that progressives need to liven up their image, perhaps by taking a cue from games like Grand Theft Auto: “‘If a game offers power, excitement, and the room to explore, people will play evening after evening after evening, almost regardless of the results,’ he writes. ‘Perhaps the problem is not that people don’t want to get involved in politics, but rather that they don’t want to take part in a professionalized politics so interested in efficiency that there is no space for them, or they don’t want to spend time in a political world so cramped that there’s no freedom to explore and discover, to know or master.’“
“The disturbing material in Grand Theft Auto and other games like it is stealing the innocence of our children and it’s making the difficult job of being a parent even harder.” It’s Dem Mods v. dem mods as Senators Hillary Clinton and (surprise, surprise) Joe Lieberman decide to sic the FTC on Rockstar Games for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, namely for the “Hot Coffee” PC mod which may or may not have been included in the original source code. (FYI, you can see the controversial game-clip here — It’s not safe for work, but it’s basically two pixellated characters having explicit sex in various positions, a la the puppets in Team America.)
As with most PMRC, V-Chip, and/or anti-Hollywood-style scapegoating for easy moderate bonus points, I don’t particularly think this type of sophomoric tomfoolery in an M-rated (17 and over) game is the central reason for the Decline and Fall of America’s Wayward Children. (And several wry Slashdotters have already pointed out the ridiculousness of the argument being made about GTA here: “I don’t care if my child carjacks a senior…[or] if he takes a golf club and starts clubbing to death pedestrians. But he may never, over my dead body, have adult on adult, consensual sex!“) But Sen. Clinton’s proposed remedy — adding teeth to the ratings system by potentially fining stores who sell M or AO-games to minors — doesn’t sound like the end of the world either. Update: Rockstar fesses up. Update 2: “Maybe she’d be wiser to focus on issues that matter to these people — say, the fighting and dying in Iraq — than on the fighting and the dying in the fake, fun world of ‘Grand Theft Auto.’” Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo calls out Clinton.
In a nod to her husband’s V-Chip triangulation strategy of 1996, Senator Hillary Clinton joins perennial bluenoses Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) in calling for a new ratings system for television, video games, and the like. Ok, fine, if this helps Sen. Clinton gain cred with Bush-leaning soccer moms, so be it…a uniform ratings system isn’t the end of the world. But I’d be more heartened if Hillary spent less time trying on the moralistic protective camouflage of the GOP and more time articulating the differences between the Democratic and GOP conceptions of “moral values.”
For example, Republicans love to throw the Bible around. Well, last I checked, the New Testament has more to say about compassion, tolerance, the hypocrisy of self-appointed moral arbiters, and the excesses of the wealthy than it does to recommend the small-minded bigotry and pro-corporate, devil-take-the-hindmost avarice of today’s Republican party. The Dems would do well in 2006 and beyond to draw attention to these huge shortfalls in GOP “values,” rather than rush to appropriate their shallow, scapegoating dramaturgy. (In fact, perhaps they should take a page from groups like the surging evangelical-environmental movement.)
Well, thankfully the expected post-Christmas gaming binge only lasted one month instead of two — I can now look upon the promise of February with nary a high-end gaming product to keep me from my academic business, pleasure reading, blogging, and/or other pursuits. (Well, that is until Day of Defeat Source or, God forbid, Civilization IV rear their heads. I also hear good things about World of Warcraft, but am too fearful of the egregious time-suck that would undoubtedly occur if I started getting into a well-done MMORPG.) A quick roundup:
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: As clever and immersive as GTA III and Vice City, but I thought San Andreas suffered in some ways from slight overkill (particularly in the food/clothing/weight-room character maintenance and the drawn-out travel times between cities.) That being said, having recently replayed the first two forays on XBox, I think my San Andreas experience was hindered by the graphics capability of the PS2, which made the scenery look muddy or devoid of color at certain times of day. (The fact that puppy Berkeley had long ago chewed my PS2 controller joysticks into jagged, thumb-wounding sculpture probably didn’t help either.) San Andreas is undoubtedly amazing, but I’d probably recommend Vice City first to GTA newbies, at least until the XBox port comes out.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: I spent the first week of 2004 doing very little but playing KotOR I, and the first week of 2005 followed the pattern. The game play hadn’t changed much — ok, the game play hadn’t changed at all — but both KotORs traverse the divide between puzzle-based RPG and action-game nicely, so I actually quite enjoyed this second installment. Obviously, I’m also a sucker for the Star Wars bent to these games — At the very least, they’re more fun (and often better-written) than the prequels. Now if only LucasArts would bring back Sam and Max…
Halo 2: As noted everywhere, the multiplayer is really something else — even if I have yet to figure out how not to get endlessly slaughtered by trigger-happy 12-year-olds. Yet, I actually found the single-player campaign both somewhat dull and hard-to-follow. As this Slate article suggested, the Covenant storyline seemed pretty intricate, but damned if I could figure out what was going on half the time. To be honest, I think I prefer my FPS’s on the PC anyway, since, unlike in games like Call of Duty or Day of Defeat, I rarely feel I have any sense of the hitbox on Halo 2…I’m just blasting away and hoping I’m doing damage. Which leads me to…
Halflife 2: Now this is a first-person shooter. HL2 benefited from being the first game I played after procuring a mid-level Radeon graphics card, but still…while I never got around to the recent Doom 3, I can’t remember being this amazed by game graphics in a very long time. (I may have to go back to the original Prince of Persia from 1989.) With HL2, it really seems that game-makers are starting to find their way through the Uncanny Valley. And, while the single-player is on the short side, the 1984 meets Pink Floyd The Wall storyline is great fun, and the physics of the gravity gun really expand the boundaries for environment interaction in these sorts of games. In short, Halflife 2 was worth the wait.
“More pointedly yet, the aliens refer to their defeat in the first game as ‘The Atrocity at Halo.’ Who wrote this thing, Noam Chomsky?” Slate‘s gaming writer Clive Thompson speculates on the political economy of Halo 2. I’m still traipsing about San Andreas at the moment (finished all storyline missions and only 65% complete), but, to no gamer’s surprise, I expect either this or Halflife 2 will be my next time-suck of choice.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the single best PlayStation 2 title I have ever played.” Six — SIX — times bigger than Vice City, and featuring an all-star vocal cast running from Samuel L. to Axl, it’s finally here. So I’m off to San Andreas in what moments of free time I have these days, and I don’t expect I shall return. In fact, I mean not to!
Rockstar updates its site for GTA: San Andreas (due out Tuesday) with a new trailer and an interactive map of Las Venturas (Las Vegas), the third of the game’s major cities. In case you missed them, Los Santos/LA and San Fierro/San Fran are also worth a gander.