Review by MrLipid
Ponder this: If, by precisely replicating the aim and timing of
an alleged presidential assassin, you could, without actually hurting
anyone, win up to $100,000, would you do it?
Glasgow-based game developer Traffic Management Limited is hoping
enough folks will say "yes" (and back up that "yes"
with $9.99) to fill the prize coffer before it comes time for Traffic
to hand over the big check to the winning contestant on February
21, 2005. And if the prize coffer is not filled? A close reading
of the website reveals that the promised prize amount is not actually
$100,000 but up to $100,000. At the moment, the prize fund
contains at least $10,000. "Up to"? "At
least"? One can only hope the physics model of JFK Reloaded
is more precise than the promises about the prize money.
So what, exactly, is JFK Reloaded?
As a piece of software, it's a simulation. As a contest, it's a
game of skill (the skill turns out to be mimicry) funded like a
lottery. As an exercise in marketing, it's a trip to the midway.
As an example of questionable taste, it's beyond satire. Let's pull
on our best CSI latex gloves, break out our scalpels and
retractors and see if we can tease apart all of the disparate bits
that make up this oddity.
JFK Reloaded, as a simulation, recreates the passage of
the presidential motorcade through Dealy Plaza at on November 22,
1963. The only missing element in the simulation is a visual representation
of the crowd. The crowd is heard but not seen. This creates the
bizarre effect of a simulated JFK waving to empty sidewalks and
greenspaces. And, of course, grassy knolls.
Once the simulation begins, assuming no shots are fired, it runs
for about fifty seconds. While the simulation is running, the player
views the scene from the sixth-floor perspective of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Once the simulation ends, it is possible to examine it frame by
frame from a variety of preset vantage points and focal lengths.
Zoom in, zoom out, roll the replay back and forth. Ride a bullet
to its final destination, no matter what that destination is or
what the bullet must pass through to get there.
When one has seen enough of the effects of one's shots, it's time
to go to analysis mode. Green lines show the path of each slug,
and terse captions detail the damage done by each. The presidential
limousine can be rotated in space to allow careful scrutiny of each
point of impact.
If JFK Reloaded consisted of nothing but the aforementioned
simulation (with a less gaudy title), it would be difficult to fault
its educational value. Leaving aside for a moment the identity of
the target of the assassination being simulated, the techniques
on display provide players with an opportunity to experience how
investigators sift through the chaos of a shooting to build a case.
Alas, JFK Reloaded consists of more than just a simulation.
And it is at this point that the education stops and the exploitation
Remember that big check? That big check goes to the contestant
who can most closely replicate the damage described by the Warren
Commission Report. A single head shot is not good enough. There
have to be three shots, no more, no less, and one of the shots has
to miss the limo altogether. The point of the exercise is to prove
that the Warren Commission Report's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald
acted alone is plausible.
And how does one know how well one is doing? Through the scoring
screen. Points are awarded for damage that corresponds to the Warren
Commission Report findings, and points are taken off for damage
that doesn't. Accidentally shoot the first lady? Or the governor?
Or his wife? Or the limo driver? Or one of the motorcycle escort?
Oops. Don't even bother submitting your results.
That's the contest portion. Your $9.99 buys you the software and
ten chances to submit your best attempts to mimic what the Warren
Commission Report claims Lee Harvey Oswald did. Should you desire
more chances, you can buy them from Traffic. Which is where the
contest ends and the lottery begins. If enough people buy the title
and do badly enough at it that they need to purchase more tokens,
maybe, just maybe, the pot will indeed edge up to $100,000.
The folks at Traffic make serious noises about their motives for
creating this title. On the website, they put it this way: "A
familiar component of modern police detective work is to reconstruct
the crime in order to establish the most likely course of eventsand
with JFK Reloaded, you can be part of a forensic investigation
reaching back over 40 years."
When quoted in the New York Daily News, Kirk Ewing, Traffic's
managing director, put the best face he could on the whole enterprise:
"This new form of interactive entertainment brings history
to life and will stimulate a younger generation of players to take
an interest in this fascinating episode of American history. We've
created the game with the belief that Oswald was the only person
that fired the shots on that day, although this re-creation proves
how immensely difficult his task was."
Actually, the software demonstrates how relatively easy it would
have been to assassinate anyone in the motorcade. The "immense
difficulty" comes in doing it in such a way as to coincide
with the findings of the Warren Commission Report. The question
posed is not "Could it be done?" but "Could it be
And, for a company that claims to want to put to rest conspiracy
theories about the assassination, why is there no effort to demonstrate,
using the title's impressive simulation tools, exactly what the
Warren Commission Report claims happened? Just because folks can
see where the slugs came from and where they went doesn't mean it
would be any easier for contestants to match the timing and the
Even if one were tempted to give the folks at Traffic the benefit
of the doubt on the question of their sincerity, the words on their
website and the words within the software (along with a title that
is both ghastly and stale) give the lie to their claims.
What is one to make of this: "By entering our prize contest,
you can help to establish the facts of what happened on November
22nd, 1963and win up to $100,000 in the process!"
Or this: "Why can't I see Lee Harvey Oswald? You canbut
you will need to set the Display Quality option (in the Options
section, accessible from the main menu) to 'Best'. You will then
see Oswald through his window, and you can even place the camera
right on the window-ledge and watch him during action replay!"
Or this: "Take your shots. Replay them. Analyse the Stats.
When you're ready ... KILL JFK and win up to $100,000."
It's the cry of the barker on the midway. Step right this way!
Take your shots! It is at this point that the marketing push ties
its own shoelaces together and falls headlong into a pit somewhere
And now for the biggest surprise. Strip away the marketing and
the contest and the shooting and something near art remains. A dreamlike
simulation of what might have been had no shots been fired that
day. A slow procession around a sharp corner, a youthful president
and his wife, waving to empty streets, streets echoing with the
sounds of absent crowds. And the player, choosing not to act as
the procession passes by, contemplating how different the world
might have been.
Why a Not Very Good rather than a Super Stinker? The simulation,
viewed on its own, is quite compelling. Offered in a different context,
its analytical depth would reward hours of study. Unfortunately,
Traffic has framed it with all of the taste and restraint of a tatty
traveling shooting gallery.
For additional academic (and some not-so-academic) discussion of
this and other provocative titles, I recommend a peek at Water
Traffic, in describing the specs for this title, fails to mention
that it is an online-only title. Try firing it up without a live
internet connection and you will discover that you no longer have
access to the full version. If your copy cannot get through to Traffic's
server, the version on your system, the version you thought you
owned, reverts back to the demo until a link to Traffic's server
is reestablished. And, while Traffic has not commented on this,
it seems safe to assume that once the contest is over, their servers
will go offline, leaving buyers of the software with nothing more
than the demo version.