25 to Life
"The life of man," wrote English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1651, "[is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Oddly enough, that Renaissance-era quote from The Leviathan is a perfect picture of how Hollywood, hip-hop and (more recently) video games have romanticized drug-dealing, gun-toting urban warriors. Invariably, these inner-city fables delve into the dreams that drive drug dealers whose lives are indeed "brutish." For reasons that often remain unclear, we're supposed to identify with the plight of these outlaws—never mind that most of us have never dealt kilos of coke or capped rivals in the skull with a Gat.
But if the numbers are anything to go by, this thug-life narrative has captivated the imagination of a broad audience. The latest video game about survival in the 'hood, 25 to Life, has been one of the most popular rentals in America since its mid-January release—despite the fact that secular video game reviewers have panned it.
Escape From New York
Predictably, 25 to Life rehashes a clichéd story line that assaults players with a barrage of profanity and bloodshed. Andre "Freeze" Francis wants to get out of the 'hood for the sake of his girlfriend and their son—the game's only positive message. But escaping from (what appears to be) New York requires Freeze to sever ties with gang leader Shaun Calderon, whose telling motto is "M.O.B." (Money Over B--ches). Thus, Calderon has no intention of letting Freeze and his family slip quietly out of town. Two police officers, straight-laced Lester Williams and the corrupt Maria Mendoza, are bent on "arresting" Freeze's progress as well.
Four chapters (each with three levels) put players in the shoes of Freeze, Williams and Calderon as they pursue their agendas. The first and fourth chapters focus on Freeze's attempt to blast his way out of the city, which results in the bloody deaths of hundreds of police officers and gang members. Chapter Two advances the story from Lester Williams' point of view, while the third segment finds Shaun Calderon assuming a Godfather-like mantle as he ruthlessly hijacks the operation of a Mexican drug lord.
With more than 50 weapons at characters' disposal, point-and-shoot is the name of the game. One of the most problematic elements in this already blood-stained contest is that players are required to shoot enemies in the head as a mission objective—a task made more disturbing by the fact that some enemies' noggins can withstand several shots before finally exploding. The game also necessitates using innocent bystanders as human shields. Harsh profanity, especially the f-word, is a constant element in the game's vulgar verbal landscape. And when the main characters aren't swearing, hip-hop mainstays such as Tupac, Public Enemy, DMX and Xzibit pick up the profanity "slack" in the soundtrack's 27 songs.
25 to Life is not the first video to glamorize cop killing. Nevertheless, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found this title's content so egregious that it began circulating a petition imploring retailers not to stock it. "It is absolutely unconscionable that game makers are enabling young people—or anyone—to dramatize shooting and killing as a form of entertainment while officers and innocent people are dying in real life on our streets every day," the petition says. "There is really nothing good that can be said about this game. The images are wrong. The messages are wrong. And stocking it in U.S. stores is wrong."
For once, concerned law-enforcement officials may have unlikely allies in the video game press. 1up.com reviewer Andrew Pfister disses, "It takes much more than killing cops (which itself has sadly become clichéd and accepted) to generate the proper 'anti-hero' attitude 25 to Life is obviously trying for." Ign.com contributor Charles Onyett is equally dismissive: "25 to Life is another gritty, gory title with plenty of foul language and pointless killing. ... In the end, [it] turns out to be a flimsy product that feels tacked together strictly for the purposes of producing a 'gangster' game, which apparently sells copies." Another 1up.com writer, Jane Pinckard, says simply, "If [law-enforcement officials] want a boycott, that should be easy."
Andrew Pfister succinctly sums up my overall response: "It's not that 25 to Life is offensively bad (which it assuredly is), it's that one would be pressed to think of a recent game that is more unnecessary."