Within the first few minutes of playing Bad Day L.A., an old southern coot greets you with the expression "hot Jesus on toast." But this action/adventure/satire/disaster game is not creamy, buttery Jesus on a crisp slice of fresh sourdough. It's not even "I Can't Believe It's Not Jesus." No, Bad Day L.A. is more like rancid snack cakes baked by Satan himself, and it will make you want to vomit.
And what a sneaky Devil Dog it is. Bad Day L.A. came to us disguised as a satire of America's fear-mongering, ignorance-spreading culture. It offered us sanctuary from the countless copycat-manufactured videogame worlds where we regularly perform mass genocide of goblins and aliens, and would have proved to a scornful public that games can be a meaningful art form, a tool to distribute knowledge of dire importance. And if people didn't get it, at the very least, it was supposed to be fun. We're heartbroken (and angry) to report the game is none of what it promised it would be.
It begins with terrorists crashing a plane filled with toxic gas into the Santa Monica Freeway. The chemical explosion spreads green poisonous clouds across Los Angeles, transforming humans into frenzied zombies. Then the city spirals into a state of constant riot, as an earthquake, a tsunami, a gang war and a meteor shower all strike consecutively. You play reluctant, homeless hero Anthony Williams, romping through the wreckage with a crew that includes a Mexican day laborer with a chainsaw and a sick young boy who pukes toxic waste at your enemies. Classy.
Bad Day L.A. is about as sexy as a power-walking grandpa - and the gameplay shuffles along at the same pace. See Anthony jog. Jog Anthony jog. Jog through your drab generic version of Los Angeles. Ogle at your sparse city of squiggly lines and blocky shapes (and if you were thinking you could provide some semblance of beauty by turning up the resolution, sorry, PC users, you can't). Observe how the people and objects move like herky-jerky dancers. Listen to the soundtrack of limp Hawaiian tunes and watered-down hip hop.
Hey! Stop the negativity. Remember that you've got a nice long series of linear missions to accomplish. You're not only jogging through the city of blah, you're also forever shackled to a task, usually killing terrorists or saving civilians. You've got a shotgun, machine gun, or sniper rifle, but they're all dinky. There's no weight behind them. It reduces the act of gunning down a gang of foes to a belch of "who cares."
And then it's civilian-saving time. Quick, spray that zombie woman with your miracle fire extinguisher. Yay, she's human again! That's it. Now do it again. Whee! Welcome to most of the game. Sometimes you'll live the glory of bashing in a fence with a crowbar, but the controls are so unresponsive and the visual and audio feedback so lackluster that even that makes us cry.
The game's environment pleads for satire, only we don't get much of it - just a few swipes at Homeland Security, George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. For instance, say you kill a bunch of innocents; a crowd comes after you ready to slaughter you for your crimes. When you pick up an American flag, you're automatically considered a patriotic good ole' boy, and they leave you alone.
The other power-ups are gimmicks. Find a porno mag or malt liquor and your health increases. Smear dog poo over yourself and your enemies run from you. Most of the game's humor follows this vibe, with uninspired jokes showcased in cut-scenes where Anthony drop-kicks an infant, spits pick-up lines of cheese and croons Michael Jackson hits. The worst offense is that it's just not funny.
And if a main point of Bad Day L.A. was to mock our culture of fear and ignorance, why does the game devolve into lame dialogue like this:
“Damn woman! This baby smells like a dirty butt plug.”
“Get back crackers! Kung Fu time.”
“That honky’s jacked on some crazy s**t, yo!”
“Die, you American mud man.”
“F**k you, young whipper snappers!”
We really wanted Bad Day L.A. to live up to its potential, which makes its suckitude feel even more than just bad; it's like a betrayal. With more time and thought, maybe this could have been a breakthrough event that stabbed a big syringe of social consciousness into gaming. Instead, it failed on all levels, proving neither insightful nor fun. So take your disasters and burn, Bad Day L.A. Burn, then break off and sink into the ocean, never to be played again.