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JFK Reloaded (PC) artwork

JFK Reloaded (PC) review


"Here's a buzzphrase we are all familiar with: "Murder Simulator". Remember all the political hubbub and the general brouhaha surrounding video games in America's tender Post-Columbine period? This phrase in particular was thrown around more than the others to show soccer moms how depraved little Billy's games have gotten lately. Games haven't gotten any cleaner, and poverty-row developers haven't gotten tired of deliberately courting controversy to secure free widespread ad campaigns for the..."



Here's a buzzphrase we are all familiar with: "Murder Simulator". Remember all the political hubbub and the general brouhaha surrounding video games in America's tender Post-Columbine period? This phrase in particular was thrown around more than the others to show soccer moms how depraved little Billy's games have gotten lately. Games haven't gotten any cleaner, and poverty-row developers haven't gotten tired of deliberately courting controversy to secure free widespread ad campaigns for their latest crapfests. The tragedy here is that it works, wholesomeness be damned. All one must do to ensure a hit is to release a barebones demo of a game with touchy subject matter, and the self-appointed moral watchdogs will do the rest. I will now facetiously dub this phenomenon "The Postal Effect".

This sad little game, which I had the misfortune of acquiring long ago, is another textbook example of "no such thing as bad publicity". All the gushing praise from game rags can't come close to a real-life quote from Senator Ted Kennedy concerning JFK Reloaded:

"Despicable."

True, the object of the game is to kill Senator Kennedy's brother, preferably with a nice juicy headshot. This is the only genuine honest-to-God Murder Simulator I know of. You're Lee Harvey Oswald, sitting in a lonely room in the sixth story of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. The crowd's abuzz, the birds are singing, your rifle gleams in the sunlight, a song is in your heart. The song in particular is a joyous, lilting sugary-sweet funeral dirge played over the menu. It'll be a day to remember.

From your window, you are surrounded by boxes which have "BOOKS" written all over them, because, you know, developer Traffic Management strove for historical accuracy. It is also a well-known fact that Oswald was a parapalegic who fashioned wooden legs for himself during his tenure in the Russian Navy. Strange wood splinters recovered from the floorboards in the Book Depository confirm this. Oswald cannot move from his roost, but that's okay because his ancient bolt-action rifle has a bottomless clip, as is also supported by forensic evidence. Recent re-analysis of the Zapruder film -- the only recorded document of the JFK assassination -- shows that there were no crowds at all during the parade, and there was in fact no Presidential motorcade whatsoever! JFK Reloaded reflects these new findings in the interest of realism.

Realism is what a simulation is all about. Downtown Dallas, or at least a handful of buildings and a Grassy Knoll, are rendered here with almost photo-realistic detail, down to the jagged horizon and surrounding smog layer making the cityscape one massive gaudy blur. The smog naturally being lingering aftereffects of the Bulgarian Laughing Gas attack at the annual rodeo the previous week. As the lone vehicle in the motorcade makes its fatal turn from Houston onto Elm, here's where things get genuinely chilling. The President, First Lady, Governor Connally, Ms. Connally, and JFK's two invisible Secret Service bodyguards in the front seat (affectionately known as The Twins) are all there, in the flesh. JFK's got the single constipated look he was known for, hence earning the nickname "The Barbituate President" to precede Reagan's Teflon President. Jackie Kennedy has her cute pink flight attendant uniform on after serving drinks aboard Air Force One.

Through your rifle scope you can discern even subtle nuances in their behavior. JFK's signature erratic hand motions, for instance, and the way Jackie thrusts her odd banana-shaped breasts at the crowd, which of course was not really there. It's easy to get worked up into a sweat when there's this much activity onscreen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. If Oswald had spent too much time peeping at Ms. Kennedy, he would not have been a viable patsy for the Mafia or the Freemasons or Castro. And here is the only interaction you must make with JFK Reloaded: pulling the trigger.

A murder simulator without a realistic bullet physics engine is like a pedophile without a van full of Tootsie Pops. It is in this respect that the developers showed any amount of work: the ballistics. Line up the crosshairs just so, somewhere above the bridge of JFK's nose ... and the wind speed and distance will combine to make your bullet miss by a good yard or so. The bullet will strike scenery and cause realistic damage, that is to say there is a hole that does not disappear. The sound of your shot echoes through Dealey Plaza, but is it the Presidential Limo backfiring or something more dastardly? Load in another round (Oswald will do this automatically, so you don't have to worry about pressing more than two mouse buttons) and try again. This time your round goes into the limo, causing the Stetson-toting governor to jerk somewhat, and JFK kind of leans over and holds his crotch. Jackie instantly recognizes this as his hernia coming on again, and she sort of touches his shoulder reassuringly. After round 3 causes his skull to burst open with a wet splash of gore, with his gray matter popping out like a grotesque jack-in-the-box, Jackie is still rubbing Johnny Boy's shoulder, cooing "it's okay about the hernia" until the limo speeds off under the nearby overpass.

And that's the game. No, seriously. You've beaten it already. I've spoiled the ending and all.

You can watch a replay of the previous 10 seconds' action from a variety of angles, including the patented ZapruderCam™ and even from within the limo. Any thoughts of editing together a thrilling montage of the assassination to the timeless strains of Godsmack came to a halt when I discovered you cannot save the results. This is not where the (murder) simulation aspect comes into play.

Oswald's After-Action Report, the "Ballistics" debriefing, shows you, in anally retentive detail, exactly where every shot landed in relation to the Presidential Limo and its passengers. A fully 3D model of the limo can be rotated and zoomed in on a whim (close scrutiny reveals it is a Lincoln Controversial ... oh, you Traffic Management cards!). You'll see the path of the bullet, which body parts it has blasted through, every surface off which it has ricocheted into the sky. Text written in the same font as a coroner's autopsy report fills the upper part of the screen. This is vital if one is ever interested in truly "winning" JFK Reloaded.

See, before their website went down, Traffic Management stressed, repeatedly, that the game is a tool for gamers and/or sadists to gauge whether the assassination, as per the Warren Commission report, would be theoretically possible. After the Ballistics Report, there's a point tally in which making anything over 400 out of a possible 1000 points is nearly inconcievable. The goal is to duplicate the official findings down to the exact time, exact bullet impacts, exact after-effects. Anyone familiar with the widespread conspiracy theories floating around out there will know that this involves firing a Magic Bullet which somehow enters Connally's wrist, then passes through his torso into the backseat into JFK's stomach and out the back of the car. The jack-in-the-box kill shot must also enter Kennedy's skull from a frontwards-and-to-the-right angle at the exact instant the limo turns and makes such a shot impossible from Oswald's vantage point. Then you will have truly won the murder simulation.

Back and to the left. Back and to the left. There were two shooters.

At least that is what the skeptical gamer is supposed to surmise from the mountains of simulated evidence. It was a coup-de-etat with LBJ waiting in the wings so he could mount a widespread offensive in Vietnam to stop the scourge of Communism, of course. It could have easily been Cubans or Viet Cong or Marilyn Monroe, for that matter. That is all irrelevant in this game. Since you cannot enter the shoes of this second shooter, JFK Reloaded is impossible to win in the traditional sense. As a gimmick, Traffic Management offered a substantial reward to those who were able to get a perfect 1000 points, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of the incident could figure this task to be a fool's errand. Their site folded sometime last year. All that is left is a cryptic message: "Long live the JFK Legacy".

How ironic that the only thing that can be done with a free quasi-legal abandonware copy of JFK Reloaded is to mess with the ballistics engine in search of the perfect M-M-M-MULTIKILL or try to shoot Connally's hat or shoot JFK in the groin. But this grows tiring as the same audio clips of actual recordings of police dispatches shortly after the assassination are reused endlessly, and besides, you're replaying a game that is impossible to win and takes 10 seconds to complete.

The poorly recorded funeral march over the title menu reminds me why even thinking about this game conjures up images of exploitative hustlers making a quick buck from very real human tragedy and murder. Noble intentions my ass, Traffic Management is no better than the hucksters who sell bootleg Faces of Death videos.

Ted Kennedy's single-word PR quote couldn't be more apt.

Rating: 1/10

johnny_cairo's avatar
Community review by johnny_cairo (February 04, 2006)

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