You might think that a game that features a drunken homeless hero battling terrorists, surviving earthquakes, witnessing meteor strikes and dealing with zombies would be a lot of fun. You might think that a game that spoofs homeland security, current events and silly disaster movies would be ripe for satire. But judging by the muddled mess that is Bad Day L.A. you would be very, very wrong.
American McGee's Bad Day L.A. has a lot of good ideas to work with. The idea of having a Grand Theft Auto-style third-person action game in the middle of one disaster after another seems like a pretty solid game. With the media trying to scare us 24 hours a day, it's not hard to imagine a pretty entertaining video game spoof. But Bad Day L.A. is not that spoof; instead we are met with an action game that is short, painful to play and no fun what so ever.
In Bad Day L.A. you play Anthony, a homeless man minding his own business on the busy city freeway until all of a sudden, with no warning at all, he is witness to a terrorists attack on Los Angeles. Within the first few minutes of starting Bad Day L.A. you are privy to airliner crashing on the freeway and unleashing some kind of weird chemical weapon. From this moment on Anthony knows that he's in for one heck of a wild ride. In fact, this chemical attack is just the beginning of his terrible day, a day that will throw just about every terrible scenario his way.
On the surface this sounds like a great premise to a game, natural (and human) disasters are great fodder for video games, yet somehow Bad Day L.A. fails to capitalize on the fun of a meteor strike or a horrific flood. The biggest problem with this game is that it all feels like a chore. No matter what disaster you're dealing with, you just get the sense that there are better things you could be doing, it just seems like you have to work in order to have a good time.
While the game will be compared to the Grand Theft Auto series, Bad Day L.A. is really nothing like Rockstar's crime simulator. You don't have free reign of the city, you can't drive stolen cars, and you won't be playing a bunch of mindless (yet fun) mini-games. Instead of being an open-ended sandbox game, Bad Day L.A. is a linear action game that only allows you to interact in a small area. If you stray too far from the mission you will get a short animation that tells you to turn around. You can still shoot innocent civilians on the street, but even that isn't as satisfying as it should be.
The game is split up into a number of different levels, each taking you to a different part of the city. You can expect to visit just about every major hotspot in the Los Angeles area, including the Hollywood walk of fame, Beverly Hills, LAX and Inglewood. With each new location comes a new disaster to deal with, from navigating through an earthquake, saving people in burning houses, swimming through a flooded downtown or dodging meteors on Hollywood Blvd.
Even though there are different scenarios in each level, you will find that you are asked to repeat the same kinds of missions over and over. In almost every level you will have to heal a certain amount of people (by throwing bandages on them, no less), kill a bunch of zombies/terrorists, and extinguish people that are on fire. Regardless of the location, in almost every level you will be asked to do one of those missions, which tends to give this game a repetitive feel.
One of the biggest reasons why these missions aren't fun is because of gun system found in Bad Day L.A. Throughout the game Anthony picks up a number of different weapons, including an AK-47, shotgun and sniper rifle. Towards the end of the game you will also find a bazooka and a flame thrower, making it easier to cut down on big crowds of zombies (or terrorists).
But the biggest issue with the guns is not the lack of variety; it's how ineffective they are. Shooting people seems to take off a random amount of damage. Shooting somebody in the head at point blank range with a shotgun takes off the same amount of health as if I were to stand back a ways and shoot them in the legs. This is especially troubling since it takes several shotgun blasts to take down your average bad guy, this is both unrealistic and time consuming.
To make matters worse, with all the action going on around you, it's sometimes hard to make out whether or not your gun is even firing. Too many times I spent time shooting at a terrorist, only to realize that not one single bullet was coming out of my gun. Is it too much to ask for your weapon to automatically change when you run out of bullets?
Thankfully you aren't alone in this battle to save Los Angeles. Along the way Anthony will run into four computer-controlled characters that will run around killing zombies and doing their best to help you. The supporting cast includes a sick kid, Juan the Mexican yard worker, Beverly of Beverly Hills and the Sergeant (which is a mix of George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger). None of these characters are very interesting; most of them are reduced to nothing more than bad stereotypes. They also can't be killed, even though they have a life meter, it never seems to matter how much heath they have left. It's also quite difficult to use them to your advantage, since you can't order them around. There are times where you may be happy to have somebody helping you, but most of the time you won't even notice they are there.
You control your character much like you would a first-person shooter, running and gunning your way to safety with the aid of the keyboard and mouse. This works well enough, but the game never requires you to do anything interesting so it's hard to care much about how the game plays. From time to time you will be asked to jump on far away platforms, but most of the time you will just be running around and trying to avoid all of the chaos around you.
Speaking of chaos, the game has this funny way of blaming you for all of the bad things that are going on. Instead of having a wanted meter (like in Grand Theft Auto), Bad Day L.A. gives you a threat meter, similar to the color-coded system the Homeland Security Department uses. As you tour Los Angeles you will need to use your fire extinguisher to help people that are on fire and save zombified civilians who have a cloud of chemicals around their heads. If you do not save these people in time your threat meter goes up. As that meter increases you will have a much tougher time dealing with people on the street, since they will be throwing things at you and generally getting in your way. I understand what the developers were going for with this kind of set-up, but there's no reason you should be blamed when somebody is burned to death.
Bad Day L.A. has a unique look going for it. Instead of going for a realistic tone, the developers have wisely opted for something that looks like a comic book. Unfortunately even this cartoon look disappoints. It's easy to get into the artwork in the early levels; it has a cool hand-drawn quality to it that is fun to look at. But as you progress through the game you will notice all of the corners the developers cut in order to get the product out the door. There are only a few different character models, so you will end up seeing repeating civilians more than you would like. There are also a lot of small graphical glitches that take you right out of the action. The game doesn't look bad, but it has a somewhat dated look that doesn't stay interesting the entire way through.
But the real problem with this game doesn't come in the way of ho-hum controls, boring level designs and repetitive missions; instead Bad Day L.A.'s biggest crime is that it's just not very funny. With its outlandish characters and over-the-top situations you would expect it to be a laugh riot, but the game fails at every attempt to be humorous. The jokes are about as subtle as an earthquake and too many of them rely on bad stereotypes and low-brow humor. I enjoyed what they were trying to do, but I didn't find myself laughing at much in Bad Day L.A.
Bad Day L.A. is a game I really want to enjoy. I went into the game expecting to enjoy all of the crazy disasters, but I quickly found that there wasn't that much to love. Bad Day L.A. had the potential to be a really exciting take on the action genre, but instead it lingers a little too long in pit of low-brow jokes and stereotypes. As an action game it's merely average, but as a comedy it fails on every level. You may think that Anthony is having a terrible day, but you will quickly discover that the real bad day comes when you're stuck at home playing Bad Day L.A.
Bad Day L.A. has all of the ingredients to become a memorable action game, but somewhere along the way the developers mixed in something sour to create one of the most disappointing games of the year.