Let's start at the beginning. Terrorist maniacs have flown a jet airliner into the gridlocked 105 freeway in Los Angeles, causing death and destruction on a massive scale. But it's not just the plane's impact that causes mayhem, but their toxic cargo which turns everyone into puking zombies in a matter of seconds.
No one said this had to be a serious, responsible game based on the horrifying events that unfold from a terrorist attack, so instead we've got a rather crude and curious attempt to send up the "fear culture" running rampant in the United States. Look! That dude's on fire and this other guy's still trying to get through on his mobile phone! How we laughed.
With political incorrectness at the forefront of the game's manifesto, pretty much anything goes as American McGee and co. attempt to cram in every blockbuster disaster movie into one ridiculous bad day. Seen through the eyes of a trolley-pushing, smack-talking homeless dude, you go from insulting commuters on the busy freeway to becoming some sort of unlikely anti-hero in the time it takes for a 747 to attempt to use the 105 as a landing strip.
Bad flatulence day
One green noxious cloud of flaming death later, it's third-person action game time, where zombies roam the freeway, the injured lie dying on the tarmac, looters run riot in happy panic, and fire extinguishers never run out. You basically become the "ultimate politically incorrect anti-hero", putting out flaming citizens, administering first aid, and, er, squirting your never-ending fire extinguisher to cure zombies from their frothing affliction.
Beyond the deliciously stylish opening cut-scenes (which suggest we should prepare for refreshing genius) the game's opening demo level reveals something far less impressive than the tenuous but bold and intriguing premise has been suggesting all this time. Any game that tries to parody disaster had better be bloody good, but Bad Day LA quickly reveals itself to be a major letdown on just about every level.
The demo kicks off with the central protagonist (once a successful Hollywood agent who's lost self respect, we're told) running around the wrecked freeway, performing the aforementioned basic tasks as instructed: pick up that gauze, use the first aid on that injured lady, pick up that fire extinguisher, put out that flaming guy and his car. Pick up that tyre iron, bust through the central reservation, whack that zombie. And so on.
Zom Bomb Com
You quickly realise (with some puzzlement) that it's actually far easier to deal with the zombies staggering around by simply squirting your fire extinguisher at them. It 'cures' them. You don't know why, but it does, and it's a whole lot more effective than trying to club them to death with a tyre iron. After that, you realise that your little red squirty friend recharges itself every time you stop using it, and has other uses, too, such as scaring off looters.
Eventually, though, you have to escort a sick child to an ambulance - which happens to be flanked by terrorists who laugh in the face of your squirty attack. In time-honoured videogaming fashion, though, you swiftly get a shotgun to deal with them, and the chance to pick up the machineguns that get left behind. Soon enough, you work your way around the numerous barriers of toxic gas, piled-up car wrecks, scale neighbourhood fences and end up at said ambulance - only to find that the key to it is with the other member of the crew, who's dealing with five 911 calls.
So, then you have to seek out various people caught up in the hectic nightmare; a man dangling from a window, another being savaged by dogs, not to mention a heart attack victim and some poor sod trapped under a tree. While all this is going on, you have to keep an eye on the threat level that you pose to other people. If you continually kill innocents, for example, you clock up 'frownies' which contribute to a rising threat level. As it creeps up, the randomly generated populace start to attack you indiscriminately, chipping away at your health and posing a nuisance to you progress. To get it back down again, you have to perform good deeds, such as getting the zombie count down (either by killing or curing them), putting fires out, stopping looters and so on.
It's the end of the world as we know it...
It all probably sounds quite cool, but the reality is a world away from what you initially expect. Alarmingly, within the first few minutes it's startlingly obvious that Bad Day LA is shaping up to to be little more than a standard third-person action game with a few novelty elements that stack up to very little, if we're totally honest. It's inescapably ruined by truly awful combat mechanics, unexciting environments (full of arbitrary barriers) and gameplay which appears to consist of little more than a series of perfunctory tasks. Kill X of Y, cure five zombie citizens, take the NPC from X to Y. As an opening level we expected great things from this great looking game, but came away aghast. Sure, it looks pretty cool in the gameplay clips and the screenshots, and it scores bonus points initially for its unique visual appeal, but it's let down by poor animation and a fairly bland feel. Clever cel-shading techniques can't disguise the lack of effort in some of the environments, and on a PC it's glaringly apparent.
Another issue that many will have with the demo is the standard of the audio - in particular the irritating whiny voice of the main character and the tedious one-liners he spouts. It might be a good approximation of the kind of morons you come across in LA, but it doesn't make them tolerable or humorous. It's just a grating representation of how vile certain elements of society are. Leave it be, it's not entertainment.
We're still leaving the door slightly ajar for Bad Day LA to impress us when the full game makes its way to PC and Xbox later this year, but the signs aren't very promising at this stage.