In case you’ve missed the hubbub in recent weeks, the self-appointed moral police all but stormed Rockstar Game’s corporate office with pitchforks and torches after the discovery of a hidden sex-based minigame in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Never mind that the so-called “hardcore sex” scene is fully clothed and vaguely reminiscent of the comically over-the-top puppet love scene in Team America, it was still apparently reprehensible enough to prompt Hillary Clinton to call for a $90 million study about the dangerous effects of video games on kids. And never mind that the game was already rated Mature, limiting it to those who are 17-plus—our politicians and do-gooders quivered with enough moral outrage until the ESRB changed the rating to Adults Only (18+), therefore effectively keeping our 17-year-olds safe from corruption. Well, temporarily at least.
Riding the coattails of the now more popular than ever San Andreas, a whole new wave of gun-toting, cuss-spewing, Mature-rated, thug-life titles are coming to a video game system near you and it may mean the end of Western Civilization as we know it. Or so says Clinton and her followers.
But truly, if Ubisoft’s new 187 Ride or Die is any indication, the latest batch of GTA clones will be nothing more than a whole lot of poorly executed driving and shooting games dressed up in laughably bad urban gear.
You are Buck, an up-and-coming thug living out every diamond-studded, booty-shakin rap video cliché. There is, of course, one problem. Your mentor, Dupree (an “original gangster” as the game insists), wants you to take down rival gang leader Cortez. The reward for getting mixed up in this black-on-Hispanic gang war is simple: if you don’t do so, Dupree says he’ll kill you himself. Hence the Harley-Davidson-esque “ride or die” slogan.
If you haven’t noticed so far, Ride or Die wears its gangsta ambitions on its sleeve. Before and after each stage you are treated to a mini-monologue from Dupree that tries to serve as plot advancement, but instead it feels like the writers were playing a bizarre game of hip-hop Mad Libs. For example, Dupree gives these instructions before one stage: “My big dog G-gangsta Buck, dog! You blaze down the streets and show them that I’m the real street O.G. Ya heard?”
It’s almost as cringe-inducing and contrived as Sean Connery’s infamous “You’re the man now, dog!” The voice acting is competent, C-lister Larenz Tate (Ray, Crash) plays Buck, while rapper Guerilla Black (who also performs on the soundtrack) is Dupree. But with a script this terrible—Buck’s lines mostly consist of “I’m gonna flip yo’ wig back” and “Drive! Drive!”—it’s probably a red mark on the corresponding IMDB page. So with the story inconsequential at best, one must look at gameplay for any hope of finding a saving grace.
Ride or Die does a good job at keeping the racing simple, fast, and fun. In contrast to super-simulations like those in the Gran Turismo line, driving is very loose and has a distinctly arcade feel. Turning sharp corners and skidding to boost your nitrous meter is easy. Slam down on the nitro button and the screen blurs as your car rips through the streets, giving you an extra sense of speed. Your basic weapon is slow-firing and light-hitting, so you quickly cruise over weapon icons to upgrade from pistols (which of course you are required to fire sideways) to machine guns. In the end, however, you ultimately get the sense that all this has been done before. And it has… in much better games to boot.
Buck and his scantily clad lady friends take turns driving and poking their heads out of the sunroof to shoot at rival cars with the hope of eventually passing them by or blowing them up. With the game’s auto-aim feature, there’s little skill involved when it comes to shooting, but because the AI cheats (cars that are behind “rubber band” to catch up) it’s a constant battle. There are several different kinds of stages, basic street racing, death races (in which you must finish first and kill a few dozen people along the way), death matches, escort missions, and “po-po chases” (in which you must evade the men in blue).
Despite its street-tough attitude and longing to generate GTA-like hype, there’s nothing even mildly controversial here. Once the constant barrage of profanities and faux urban atmosphere have been stripped away, 187 Ride or Die is no more harmful than a commercial featuring Snoop Dogg and Lee Iacocca. Of course, Senator Clinton will surely find something to soapbox about.