Monday, April 28, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV: A Whole New Level In Gaming Experience

After months and months of delays, today finally marked the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. The game is glorious and filled with the usual aspects that make the franchise one of the greatest; sports cars, AK-47s, prostitutes, and marijuana usage.

For years, Rockstar Games and its GTA franchise have been the focal point for critics that fear violence in video games warps the minds of young players and turns them into real-world thugs or killers. So-called "experts" such as Jack Thompson firmly believe that violence in games can directly be associated with violence and aggression in adolescents. Both sides of the debate can be seen below, as Dr. Paul Levinson, a professor of mine at Fordham University, tries to instill some reason and sensibility into Mr. Thompson.

To put it simply, those critics who truly believe this notion are idiots. They are morons who most likely have never touched a video game and are bitter that they grew up in an era void of such amazing entertainment.

In fact, there is little evidence to prove the link between violent video games and aggressive behavior in youths even exists. On the contrary, there have been several studies composed by universities and credited scientists that say otherwise.

Rockstar is predicting to sell at least 6 million copies of GTA IV in its first week alone. If Thompson's assertions are even slightly true, that means we are in store for a massive wave of crime and violence some time in the near future. I sure hope he's wrong.

As for the game itself, the newest installment in the GTA series is nothing short of brilliant.

To start, the landscape is breathtaking. Liberty City (an almost perfect knock-off of New York City) looks amazing. You almost feel as if you are walking the streets of Manhattan as you stroll down a sidewalk, searching for pedestrians to mug or cars to steal.

The cars are equally as amazing. The attention to detail mimics that of the Grand Turismo series. And since GTA IV takes place in a modern day metropolis, you will see cars that look very familiar (Porches, Chrysler 300s, Range Rovers), all with different names, of course. You'll also see older model cars, such as t-top Firebirds and old Monte Carlos.

The rag-doll technology used for characters in GTA IV adds to the games realism. Running down Liberty City citizens is fun to do and watch. Their movement in the air as they strike the pavement or other cars or lamp posts is unbelievable. The game is loaded with realistic detail. For example, if you shoot a motorist while they are driving, blood will splatter on the windshield and the limp body of the ill-fated driver may set off the blinker or rest on the horn.

My friends and I were particularly amused during a free roaming session in which I wreaked serious havoc upon unsuspecting civilians. In one instance, I ran down one poor guy who ended up resting on my windshield and holding on for dear life as I sped up and then suddenly slammed on my brakes. The civilian went flying through the air and we watched in complete joy as his head splattered on the pavement.

After that, I decided to change vehicles and carjacked another unsuspecting victim who attempted to reenter his stolen car as I was pulling away. In a valiant effort, the man maintained a grip on his car's door handle as I raced down the street. Seeing an opportunity, I swung the car swiftly toward a parked car and the swinging body of the civilian smashed into it (which just so happened to be a police car).

Doing these things brought about feelings of rage and aggression in me and I felt a need to get in my car and start running people down on the streets of my town. Just kidding. Of course it didn't.

It's this extreme realism, coupled with a story line that resembles an award-winning drama that makes Grand Theft Auto IV the game of the year, without question.

As for the critics and naysayers, in the end, there lies a simple solution for parents that feel a game of this nature is not suitable for their children: Do Not Buy Your Kids The Game. The ESRB rates thousands of games a year, and obviously GTA has a M (mature) rating. Thus, only kids 17 and older are allowed to purchase it. If you, as a parent, feel that your 9 or even 16 year old should not be exposed to the same sort of violence, sex, and drug use that is ubiquitous on television, film, and the internet, then feel free to buy them Madden 2009 or Mario Kart Wii.

As for everyone else, enjoy the game.

2008 NFL Draft Thoughts

So, the NFL draft weekend is finally over. It was a rather uneventful draft, the top picks went as predicted and all six players in the green room were drafted as planned, 1-6. For the first time in quite a while, fans did not have the pleasure of seeing a top rated player squirm, a la Brady Quinn in 2007, as he slips further and further into the first round. Here are some points of note from the 2008 draft:

In the third round, the Giants selected Mario Mannigham out of Michigan, a talented wide receiver with big play ability and a Pacmanesque knack for getting into trouble. GM Jerry Reese worked wonders in last year's draft, selecting players like Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, Aaron Ross, Steve Smith, and Jay Alford, all who contributed to the Giants championship run. So, Giants fans have to trust that Reese did his homework with Manningham, who many feel may be the biggest steal in the draft.

Rutgers RB Ray Rice, a New Rochelle guy, was selected in the second round by the Ravens. This was much higher than most expected, but I think he and Willis McGahee will combine for a pretty formidable RB tandem, which most teams in the NFL are implementing nowadays. As far as rookies go, RBs tend to make the biggest, most immediate impact on their team. Just look at Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson last season. I think Rice will put up solid numbers.

Perhaps the most intriguing story of the draft came late in day two during the seventh round. The Detroit Lions drafted Caleb Campbell, a safety from Army.

Campbell is attempting to become the first football player to take advantage of a recently implemented rule by the US Military Academy that allows athletes to play professional sports immediately upon graduation.

On his off day, typically Tuesday's, Campbell would be required to speak to local high schools about opportunities in the army.

The new rule has been received with mixed feelings. Some people feel it is great that cadets
graduating from Army are able to pursue a pro sports career immediately. These people also believe their required duty to recruit while playing the sport will have a great influence on high school kids, who would see the army as a legitimate opportunity to make it in the world.

Others, however, believe Campbell is doing a great disservice to his country and fellow graduates and classmates, especially those who are sent into combat. Critics contend that Campbell, who trained to be an officer, has an obligation to his Army comrades first and foremost, and is abandoning them during a time of need.

In my opinion, this is a big deal over nothing. For all we know, Campbell might not even be on the Lion's roster come the start of the season, after all, he is a seventh round pick. Plus, not all cadets necessarily go into combat after graduating from the academy. Army grads go on to serve in the military in a myriad of ways. They become engineers, consultants, doctors, and so on. Campbell is simply choosing a different path, one that still allows him to serve his country in the form of recruiting.

In the end, let's face it, the bigger story here is that Matt Millen didn't draft a WR with his first pick. Way to go, Matt.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Longest Yard Sequel ... Starring Michael Vick

According to reports, Michael Vick is playing football again. That's right, the once highly touted Atlanta Falcons quarterback is throwing around the pigskin ... in prison.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been communicating by letter with Vick, who is at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., incarcerated at the facility's minimum security satellite prison camp.

"He is staying in shape,” Blank told The Daily News. "Apparently, there was a prison football team and he played quarterback for both sides.”

This is truly an amazing story. A troubled professional quarterback goes to prison and remains in the public eye by playing quarterback for the penitentiary's football team. Sound familiar? Well it should, because it's the exact story line from The Longest Yard, a classic sports movie remade by Adam Sandler several years ago. Vick resembles Paul "Motley" Crew, a pro QB who lands in prison, and leads a rag tag team of football playing cons against a team comprised of prison guards.

In the movie, Sandler's character, Crew, wasn't lacking help in the talent department. He had speedy and shifty rapper Nelly in the backfield carrying the ball and real life criminal Michael Irvin out wide to throw the ball to.

It remains uncertain as to whether Vick is surrounded by similar talents at Leavenworth. If things keep up the way they're going lately, he may be joined by some NFL players himself. "Pacman" Jones, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry (and half his teammates) are just a few pros that may be filling up the roster alongside the dog fighting ringleader.

One thing is for sure, Vick better watch his blindside ... and his backside.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Nats Fans Boo On Opening Night ... But Not Their Team For Once

Opening day is finally upon us. Technically, the MLB season began last week, as Boston and Oakland played two games in Japan, but who was actually up to watch those games anyway?

North America's version of opening day was last night, as the Nationals took on the Braves in their brand new, beautiful ballpark.

The new stadium was christened with boos, as President Bush took the mound to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Nats manager Manny Acta. This time, Washington fans were not booing their home team, but instead, the leader of the free world and the very man who runs this country. The President's throw was a bit high, perhaps due to a lack of concentration caused by 40,000 booing citizens. Immediately after delivering the pitch, Bush bolted off the mound, evidently trying to leave the field as quickly as possible. You would too if you were being booed mercilessly.

Later in the game, President Bush joined Joe Morgan and Jon Miller in the ESPN booth and spent some time talking baseball. Throughout his entire stay, Bush sounded and appeared as if he did not want to be there, giving brief and shallow answers to most of the questions he was asked.

One of his few long winded comments involved the need to bring baseball to inner-city youths across the nation. These words seemed insincere and very much planned, as though the President was told to talk about it (and he probably was). The insincerity of the comments was affirmed during the very next commercial break, which included several spots for RBI, an organization predicated on spreading the sport to children living in inner cities and urban areas. Coincidence? I think not.

Another notable moment occurred when Jon Miller asked the President if he had any interests in rejoining the Rangers organization after leaving office. Bush responded by saying he would most likely focus on being a fan, and that's all. No kidding. Something tells me George is going on a long and much needed hiatus once his term is complete. The last thing he wants to do is remain in the public eye, especially in the form of running a major league baseball team, and a really bad one at that.

All in all, Opening Night wasn't too bad. The game ended up being pretty good, as the Nationals beat the Braves on a Ryan Zimmerman walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Plus, we got to see the most memorable ceremonial first pitch since Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory put on one of the worst displays of athleticism the world has ever witnessed. What a way to kick off the brand new season.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Drunken Yankee Fan

The baseball season is almost upon us ... Let's not forget what the sport is really about ... Consuming massive amounts of alcohol and being too inebriated to watch your team attempt to make a ninth inning comeback in Game 4 of the ALDS ... but ultimately fall short, again. Priceless.

(*Notice the rally cap)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Politicians And Prostitutes: It Just Sounds Right

What is it about politicians that compel them to partake in lewd, wrong, or just plain illegal acts? Is it the money? Is it the fame? Is it the power? The answer to this question very well may be all three of these things, considering many a politician have money, power, and fame and for the most part, cannot stay out of trouble. These days, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a politician that is acting in an acceptable manner and in accordance with the law. Case and point; Gov. Eliot Spitzer. While it's true the Governor made a living putting away wrong-doers as attorney general, it still comes as no surprise that Spitzer has been caught up in a prostitution ring. After all, politicians and prostitutes are like peanut butter and jelly, you can't have one without the other.

Spitzer, however, won't be the first powerful politician who could be dethroned by scandal, particularly in the Tri-State area.

The Democrat joins a list that includes politicians and officials from Rockland and Westchester counties, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut.

Who can forget the exploits of former President Bill Clinton? The Chappaqua resident saw his tenure as Commander-in-Chief severely tarnished following a fling with infamous White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton's exploits, which include allegations of adultery with other women, go back to his years as Arkansas governor.

In Rockland County, former Assemblyman Ryan Karben, D-Monsey, resigned while being accused of having improper relationships with male interns. What's more, Karben was recently arrested for driving while intoxicated. His lawyer for the DWI charge is Kenneth Gribetz, the former Rockland district attorney felled by scandal in the 1990s after more than two decades as the county's top prosecutor.

While Gribetz pleaded guilty to minor federal charges of tax invasion and misusing money in 1995 after a long corruption investigation, he was taken down by his sexual relationship with a woman.

The woman provided federal prosecutors and the media with documents and salacious photos and tape recordings involving her and Gribetz, who is married with adult daughters.

Another prosecutor smeared by scandal was former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro. Many like to blame Pirro's downfall on her husband. Al Pirro, who seemingly could not stay out of trouble during his wife's tenure as DA, boasted a laundry list of troublesome issues, including connections to organized crime, tax evasion, and driving while intoxicated. As if all this wasn't enough, Mr. Pirro also fathered a child with another woman while still married to Jeanine.

Pirro's husband certainly did not help her cause. However, he was not the entire problem, considering Pirro was not exactly a model citizen. I would know on a more personal level. When I was in high school, an otherwise normal day ended in tragedy after an inexplicable power outage forced school officials to close school early. As a result, a great deal of students with the means to leave campus went to various unsupervised houses to celebrate the impromptu day off from school. Several students, including some acquaintances and classmates of mine, attended a party hosted by the daughter of one of Pirro's family friends and campaign contributors. The day resulted in tragedy, as a young man was killed following a series of unfortunate events. The story contains considerable depth and detail, but that is the very basic summary of what had happened on that terrible day.

What followed, was nothing short of a cover-up, as Pirro looked to preserve her own reputation, the integrity of her child, and the image of the DA's own good friends and campaign contributors. To this day, no real severe consequences were felt by any of those people at fault, teens or adults, involved in the incident and it's subsequent actions. Shocking, considering Pirro was the acting DA in charge of the case.

Not to be outdone by Clinton, Karben, Pirro and fellow misbehaving New York political figures, former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey resigned in 2004 when his affairs with men became public. McGreevey, governor for nearly two years, was married and had two children.

His successor, former Sen. John Corzine, has fought off accusations of favoritism and payments to a lobbyist who had been his lover. He was divorced at the time.

Former Waterbury, Conn., Mayor Philip Giordano was convicted in 2003 of using an interstate device, his cell phone, to arrange sexual contact with two girls and of violating their civil rights. He is serving 37 years in prison.

This list can go on for a while, but there is only so much one can write on this subject. Mr. Spitzer is certainly not alone during his time of crisis. When this is all over, perhaps he can get in touch with any of the aforementioned politicians and get some advice on how to handle a tainted and/or destroyed career.

In the end, Spitzer's actions, along with those actions of his peers, shows that maybe the process by which we select politicians is not succeeding in choosing the most honorable, trustworthy, and law-abiding people.

Perhaps we should use comedian Lewis Black's method of selecting the next American president, something he devised in light of the current dope residing in the oval office. It goes as follows: Have the American Idol winner throw a dart at a map of the United States. Then, put a monkey on an airplane and have him parachute down on the town or city the dart landed on. The first person the monkey holds hands with upon landing will be the new president. Maybe Black is on to something.

Thursday, March 6, 2008