American McGee's Bad Day L.A. hands-on

With the Apocalypse happening all around poor Anthony, we gave up his ramshackle grocery cart and attempted to steer our way through the fray of zombie-making gas clouds and flaming cars. As in other third-person action games, the camerafloats above and behind Anthony's shoulder, handy because we were constantly jumping around tangled, burning wreckage trying to get the hell out of dodge.

We made some unlikely friends along the way. The first one was the Sick Kid - a little zombie freak who shares his lunch - in the not-so-nice way - with everyone he meets, spreading sickness. This actually helped us stay alive: it confused the incensed businessmenhucking cell phones at our head and distracted terrorist gunmen who were setting up shop on every street corner.

Making the most of items we found along the way helped us survive, too. Fire extinguishers and bandages were our most crucial tools for when we played "nice Anthony"; dousing flaming victims and wrapping up their wounds. This gave us "smilies", and decreased our threat level. This was important to keeping a lid on the constant chaos around us - running through the levels aggressively with a shotgun is a sure-fire way to incite a riot. We were tasked with taking out terrorists, but that's nearly impossible when we had an angry mob of brick-lobbing citizens, rabid attack dogs and vomiting zombies chasing after us.

While it's clear that Bad Day L.A. wants to encourage discussion about the social problems in America today, the ludicrouspremise - of a homeless-by-choice character so disrespectful he'd get kicked out of a GTA game - is a high hurdle. The single demo level is full of fun and free-wheeling gameplay, but weighed down by humor that many gamers will find socially irresponsible. That said, we have a feeling we'llbe willing to overlookthat bad tastewhen we gather the other nine episodes that will come with the whole enchilada, because of the promising and uniquely drawn game underneath.

American McGee's Bad Day L.A. hits retail on August 29, 2006.