Bad Day LA

We're used to gradual evolutions in gaming, be they in technical, graphical, even artistic fields. And you might have expected the same as gaming explores other new horizons, such as politics, current affairs, satire.

But with Bad Day LA, American McGee has taken a tradition that had long since become dormant (in mainstream games at least), and has pushed it from a standing start to a racing finish.

Taking on fistfuls of current taboos - terrorist attacks, immigration, obesity, tsunamis - it paints a venomous, if hilarious, picture of an America under siege not from real dangers, but from a state-imposed culture of fear.

Nor is paint the wrong word. Bad Day LA's art style has been defined by a duo of collaborative artists known as Kozyndan. Long feted for their bunny-based pastiches of Japanese art, as well as their densely dramatic cityscapes, they proved a perfect fit for McGee's vision, not least because of their flair for humour.

It's a game that clearly carries the risk of causing substantial offence, and Kozydan's instinct for incidental detail and their softening abstraction of real-world scenes undercuts the horror of the situations the game depicts.

McGee cues up a litany of disasters to befall an unsuspecting LA, one after another - terrorist attack, zombie outbreak, earthquake and Mexican invasion - and leaves it up to a voluntarily homeless beatnik (whose lack of material wealth makes him the only person in LA with nothing to lose, and therefore nothing to fear) called Anthony to save the city.

As he moves through the game he'll have to keep a lid on the level of chaos he encounters - extinguishing burning babies, taking out looters, fighting off zombies - as he pursues his ultimate goals.

McGee has been very open about the fact that the structure of the gameplay is something that only evolved as the game developed, rather than being the framework around which the look and story of the game were fitted.

It's inevitably the fundamentals of the gameplay which represent the biggest unknown in Bad Day LA. If it works well, the contrast between juggling individual human needs and the bigger story of the game could prove as refreshing as its controversial stance.