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Monday, November 22, 2004

"Despicable" computer game reloads the JFK assassination

Nope, Electronic Arts didn't roll out The Sims Lone Gunman Expansion Pack while we weren't looking. It ain't a joke either: this is an actual screenshot that I took from JFK Reloaded a short while ago.

Available for download starting today - the 41st anniversary of the JFK assassination - the computer game from British software outfit Traffic puts you in the role of Lee Harvey Oswald at the infamous sixth-floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. The left mouse button toggles the sniper scope, while hitting the right one rains down virtual bullets from your Mannlicher-Carcano. Score points by sticking to the "findings" of the Warren Commission, but they’re deducted if you accidentally put a round through First Lady Jackie. Apart from the absence of the cheering crowds (sorry: no "Umbrella Man" or "Babushka Lady" here) you're opening fire on a VERY realistic 3D-rendered simulacrum of Dealey Plaza that Traffic assembled from the most studied motion picture footage in history: the Abraham Zapruder film. Watch the scene unfold in first-person mode, in third-person overlooking Oswald's perch, or from the "Grassy Knoll". You can download a demo of the game that's fully-functional minus being able to actually shoot (thus letting Kennedy safely ride off) or pay $9.99 online to unlock the full game so you can get "JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?"

Well, for starters paying ten bucks to register the game makes you eligible for a $100,000 prize if you're the one who comes closest to replicating Oswald's ummm... "accomplishment". And Traffic is assuming that it was Oswald and no other: "We've created the game with the belief that Oswald was the only person that fired the shots on that day," Traffic's managing editor Kirk Ewing said, "although this recreation proves how immensely difficult his task was."

Having a big cash payout for best imitation of the murder of the century is a pretty cold thing to do, in my opinion. JFK's younger brother Senator Ted Kennedy released a statement calling the game "despicable"... something that's maybe the first thing I've ever agreed 100% with him on. And thinking that a videogame like JFK Reloaded will encourage young people to become more interested in history – which Traffic claims was one of their motives in producing it - is pretty condescending. But I've got to admit: after downloading the demo and installing the optional high-resolution patch, it must be said that JFK Reloaded is an amazing marriage of historical events with modern gaming technology. Simply put, the game looks stunning, though I couldn't possibly shell out money for the full version with a clear conscience.

Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors persist that two days from now Traffic will be publishing an add-on pack to JFK Reloaded, tentatively-titled Jail Basement Transfer. Players can either act as Jack Ruby or witness his lunge forward from the perspective of "the Man in the White Hat".