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My review would end here if Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror was not such an interesting (and troubling) game conceptually...
A French literary theorist came up with the term paratexuality. When describing books Gerard Genette explained that the text? is the words that make up the story. Everything else, the cover of a book, the picture on a cover, the font the words are written in, the size of a book are all paratexual.? One of Genette's reasons for investigating paratexuality was to theorize how paratextual elements reinforce or subvert textual ones. One of the interesting aspects of paratexual and textual elements are how they blend together and blur the distinction (for instance, the font of the words in a book is paratexual because the font type affects how the text looks. However, the font type is also, literally, the text itself).
In videogames the distinction between textual and paratextual is equally complicated. Are the cinematic sequences one watches part of the game (i.e. texual) or a part of the complete game that is outside the gaming event (i.e. paratextual)? For the purposes of this review I will deem everything that is outside actual gameplay as paratexual. Why this English Lit. crash course? Because, even though Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror is a terrible game that warrants little to no comment, the paratextual elements of the game are intriguing and (at times) disheartening.
Your Run-of-the-Mill Save-the-World-from-Terrorism Game
Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror doesn't exist in a bubble. When an audience reads the words War on Terror? specific and recent images, persons, and emotions are brought to the surface: The Twin Towers destruction; Osama Bin Laden; Sadam Hussain; Afghanistan, anger, fear, suspicion and Black Ops' game hopes to capitalize on those contemporary connections. The game itself though fails to push the proper buttons.
The player controls Jake Seaver a former Navy SEAL who now works for CIFR (the Criminal Interdiction and Fugitive Recovery task force) and hops from place to place (Florida, Utah, the Caribbean, France, and Afghanistan) capturing the world's most wanted criminals. Each level revolves around one of the eleven (Bin Laden is the bonus criminal!) most wanted men (all of whom are terrorists and/or are linked, sometimes indirectly, to terrorism) in the world.
Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror is a less-than mediocre first person shooter with a mini-game thrown in at the end of each level. After completing the prescribed objectives (your usual: 1) find evidence 2) locate suspect 3) capture suspect) the player makes his or her way towards the end of the level where the boss waits for you. When the player meets him, the player must shoot him once (to disarm him) and then bumrush em. Once this occurs the game switches into a third person fighting game where the player, as Jake Seaver, gets to beat up one of the most wanted men, subdue him, and then arrest him; thus, making the world a safer place and your wallet that much fatter.
The bad guys are so numerous it is ridiculous. The first level takes place in Miami and you're running around with grenade launchers and uzis shooting at people jumping out of garbage cans. Wouldn't the cops arrive at some point? Where are all the innocent bystanders? At one point you pick up an invulnerability icon and can kill with impunity and without remorse. Although the action is very fast paced, the shooting is weak. Bottles explode when bullets hit them. Sometimes skulls in the desert levels yield hidden ammo caches when shot. When Jake Seaver delivers a head shot does something particularly damaging he mumbles something snide in the vain of the Duke. I am still supposed to be impressed with that kind of stuff?
The hand-to-hand combat is button mashing at its worst. The opponents taunt each other during scuffle. You can do a super-move to a bad guy if you press the right buttons in the right order. Simply put, this is just like everything else you'll find on the market. There's absolutely nothing that separates Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror's gameplay from any other really bad FPS that's available today (or five years ago for that matter). Although the game itself (the text?) is sad and pathetic all the paratextual elements are strangely and scarily patriotic.?
The game opens with Will Lyman's voice. It is a voice that has that odd universal quality that every documentary narrator's voice has. He's telling you about the creation of CIFR as the screen flashes pictures of the U.S.S. Cole, destroyed buildings, terrorist camps, people in bio-hazard suits, and I think, (although I may be mistaken) a wall of pictures of missing people after the Twin Towers bombing.
CIFR isn't real though. Although after listening to Lyman's voice you wouldn't think it. What is so interesting about this game is that so much energy was spent making the paratextual elements as real as possible (to the point where its hard to discern between fact and fiction) and yet the gameplay is so unrealistic.
Another element that has a strange realism is on the pause screen. Whenever paused the game runs a news stream similar to the one utilized by CNN and other news channels. The ticker on the bottom of the screen reads telegraphically and makes statements about Bin Laden's known whereabouts, new government reports, and that the economy is on the rise etc.
As for the ten most wanted criminals, just having Osama Bin Laden at the top lends credence to the list; however, everyone else is fake. You wouldn't know it though if you didn't check the FBI's website or listen to the game designers admit it. With Will Lyman narrating, each criminal sounds believable (from Casey Webber, a gang banger, to Hostinec Drobek, a money launderer with connections to Al Queda). What is ironic is that the game designers used people that they knew (co-workers and even someone's dad) as the models for the terrorists. This had a peculiar resonance when our president tells us to remain vigilant because anyone (even a neighbor!) can be terrorist. Using everyday people as the face of international terrorism has a strange McCarthy-era quality to it that didn't sit well with me. The other extreme of stereotyping was utilized as well. In the first and final levels which take place on the Afghan/Pakistani border all of the bad guys are dressed in saris and carry rocket launchers or sport machine guns. Dealing with such a sensitive issue and not falling into ridiculous stereotypes requires finesse that the developers of Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror lack.
Hail to the Chief
One of the game developers in the hidden video? that accompanies the game (paratextual) talks of the team's response to the September 11th attacks. He says that for a three or so week period of time (after 9/11) there was thought that the game might be scrapped. However, the company heeded President Bush's urging that life go on as usual and that we could not let terrorists control our lives with fear. So Black Ops' (in a beautifully patriotic move) continued to make the game. It is supposed to be an empowering moment. Seconds later, that same developer tells his viewers that if they want to burn terrorists with flamethrowers or blow them up with rockets than Fugitive Hunter is the game for them. Two sad things emerge from this interview though that need addressing:
1) During the interview the game developer claims that when Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror began it was not so interested in terrorism. He claims that at the time of September 11th terrorism played a small part in this game. The finished product, as the title would allude to, centers around terrorism. This leads me to believe (and I'll admit it is quite a cynical take on the interview) that the game was changed after 9/11 to include more terrorists in hopes that the game would sell more.
And 2) the same game designer talks about all of the research that went into making Fugitive Hunter and how, for years prior to 9/11 (as he was conducting research for the game) he was reading about terrorist activities that mirrored the 9/11 attacks. He lists eight or more terrorist actions against international targets and then plainly states that when he heard that the Twin Towers were struck he knew it was Osama Bin Laden finishing the job he had started.? There's not a hint of surprise in his voice when he makes that claim. It's as if he knew it would happen. Why didn't our government?
A Post-Script for a Post-Saddam Iraq
Each level ends with you, as Jake Seaver, beating up a terrorist who viciously fights back. It's just about as Hollywood as you get. Good guy versus bad guy. White hat versus black hat. When the player corners Bin Laden, Osama fights back tooth-and-nail. With the recent capture of Sadam we know that life doesn't always mirror the movies. Instead of the traditional last boss guy? being the strongest of foes why not model him after a character like Gollum or the King on a chess board. Crafty but weak. Dangerous but elusively so. What if during the game Jake Seaver met with resistance by women and children armed with machine guns? Or by terrorists who used women and children as human shields? And how would a player react to the last boss? being found hiding in a hole pleading for mercy like a despicable wretch?
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