September 13, 2006

Game Dork

Political Ammunition

Oh, no. It's an election year. And here is "Saint's Row" to rev up the politicians. Pimps. Prostitutes. Gang wars. Racial slurs. "Saint's Row" has everything candidates for public office object to about video games, except there's no sex. Well, not really.

You play as a regular Joe who gets involved with a gang called the Saints. Your mission over the next 20 hours, or longer, is to score cash and street respect. To do this, you carjack, pilfer from stores and shoot rival gang members. Missions in which you steal prostitutes from competing pimps are named "Snatch."

When one of your fellow gang members becomes fatally wounded, you snap him back to life by pouring beer over his body.

"Saint's Row" doesn't bother my sensibilities. Not because I'm a jerk. I'm a big boy. All this mayhem probably sounds insane to those who don't actually play games and get desensitized by them. Certainly, politicians don't get their game on, unless they're keeping that information to themselves.

To this voting non-politician, "Saint's Row" is fun for what it is a shoot-'em-up, drive-over-people, "Grand Theft Auto"-style rip-off/homage. Movie scenes feature bad acting, campy dialogue and stylized cityscapes of beaches, graffiti bridges and swanky boulevards. It's so broad; it's hard to take seriously as a transgression of taste.

Some twists are better than in "GTA" games. Maps are perfectly readable. And cops aren't constantly firing shotguns at you. In one zippy mission, you shoot from a turret at rival cars while riding in a peace sign-painted van driven by a shirtless, hippie drug dealer.

"Are you looking for work?" the hippie asks you at your job interview, right after you witness him shooting an employee to death. Once you get the hang of killing and robbing, you can take your skills online to play against other gamers around the world.

What's lacking is the feeling of urgency ensconced in "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," but then, very few games measure up to that classic.

"Saint's Row" does entice with fresh ideas. A physician signs you up to commit insurance fraud. You stand on streets and try to get run over by cars. On the flip side of vehicular manslaughter, when you smash a car into another vehicle, victims go flying out windshields. And pedestrians on sidewalk gripe at you, "I'm gonna sue!"

The adventure begins with your choosing your own heritage. You play as a dude who is Caucasian, Hispanic, African American or Asian American. It's all fun and games until someone slings a racial slur at you. Are slurs really needed in a game chockablock with conflict already? No.

The game makers draw political parallels to these slurs by adding a talk radio station to the cars you drive. The radio dials up hip-hop, rock and classical music, but there's also a talk show host who huffs, "What do you do about these illegal immigrants? We are inundated with these people who aren't from here!"

The message is neither citizens or celebrities are setting pro-diversity examples. Whatever. There are also no Harleys to steal. No planes to fly. Missions can get repetitive after a while. If I were a politician, those would be my primary complaints. Also, a rocket launcher costs $3,000. That price is excessive. Yes, that's the excessive thing about "Saint's Row."

("Saint's Row" for Xbox 360 — Plays fun, though it may disturb sensitive gamers. Looks great. Moderately challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs, use of tobacco and/or use of alcohol, partial nudity, intense violence. Three stars out of four.)

New To You — Used Game of the Week

"Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" is a well-reviewed children's adventure based on the popular cartoon movie, and it stars the voices of actors from the film. It's selling in used stores for $20 and cheaper.

Ray Romano, Dennis Leary and John Leguizamo sound out the dialogue of the mammoth, tiger and sloth, and much of the action centers around Scrat. It's available for Xbox, PS 2, GCube and DS. It's rated "E 10+" for mild cartoon violence and crude humor.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

New and Coming Soon

"NHL '07" is this year's Electronic Arts-updated hockey title. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360; $30 for Xbox and PS 2; $40 for PSP. It's rated "E 10+" for mild violence.

"NHL 2K7" is Take Two's annual hockey update. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360; $20 for Xbox and PS 2. It's rated "E 10+" for mild lyrics and mild violence.

"Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy" is a cute, quirky action-adventure that recreates "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" with Legos who look like Princess Leia and company. The Sept. 12 release retails for $50 for Xbox 360; $40 for Xbox, PS 2, GCube and PSP; $30 for Nintendo DS. It's rated "E 10+" for cartoon violence and crude humor.

"One Piece: Pirates Carnival" is another arcade puzzle game based on the anime series, billed for its "antics" and mini-games. The Sept. 12 release retails for $30 for PS 2 and GCube. It's rated "E" for cartoon violence.

"Rule of Rose" is a cinematic horror game meant to be eerie and creepy, with a girl orphan from the 1930s who, with her puppy, survives a scary house by figuring out puzzling ways to accomplish goals. The Sept. 12 release retails for $50 for PS 2. It's rated "M" for blood, intense violence and suggestive themes.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

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