Once upon a time, there was a little boy. This little boy loved only two things in the whole wide world. He loved videogames and he loved violent movies. The thing he loved most in the movies was when someone would get shot, or kicked, or thrown, and then they would smash through a window and fall a very, very long way down to their deaths. In the middle of endless Canadian nights, that little boy would stare up at the ceiling of his small room and wonder: Why can't I do that in a videogame? Sure, there were eventually advancements; for example, in the Robocop arcade game, the little boy was able to shoot Ronny Cox until he fell out a window. Eventually first-person shooter games clued in, and started adding enemies that stood near railings, and were nice enough to flip over them as they died—but canned animations grew tired and repetitive. Then some beautiful videogame designer created ragdoll physics, a programming trick that allowed 3D game characters to, upon being killed, act like marionettes with their strings cut. They would flop to the ground or fly backwards, depending on just how they'd been killed. Finally, the little boy's (well, to be honest, little man—after all, this is fifteen years later, and he's now 25) dream had come true, in the form of a game called Minority Report.
To fully comprehend Minority Report, first one must understand that it's not actually a game. It's a simulator that allows players to experience what it might well be like to pick up a burly man and toss him through a plate glass window. At the middle of this game, I found myself standing on a sixth-story balcony, hoisting a guy up by his collar. I tossed him over my shoulder, then watched him fall screaming for three seconds before he smashed through a glass roof and slammed into the sidewalk. Now, that's something you just don't see every day.
The game is based loosely on the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie of the same title, but unlike most licensed games, the license serves only to detract from the overall effect of the game. The game claims to be an entirely original story inspired by the film. Unfortunately, this isn't true, as there's nothing particularly original about the game's plot, nor does it actually qualify as a "story." The narrative is jumbled to an almost hilarious amount, with characters switching loyalties for no reason at the drop of a hat, and the player constantly sent running around with only the slightest idea of where they're going, or why. Worse still, the game actually requires players to have seen the movie, as it offers no explanation of the future world it takes place in. Players just picking up the game would have no idea what Precrime is, where the psychics came from, or the meaning of the term "red ball."
Unfortunately the plot of the game actually serves to deter players from doing what the game was designed to let them do: throw villains headfirst off of skyscrapers. This interference comes from the basic premise of the game, that the player is controlling John Anderton, commissioner of Precrime, and that his job is to prevent people from being killed, not murder them himself. Since everything about the game's design is weighted towards having the player throw enemies into plasma-screen TVs or down flights of stairs, it becomes impossible to play the game "in character." If gamers aren't able to lose themselves in the character they're playing, they'll never feel like they're in the game—which means the game's plot forces the player to play the game with a certain detachment, never really feeling the visceral thrill and satisfaction of breaking a wall full of liquor bottles with an opponent's face.
The game stumbles again in just not making the enemies interesting enough to bother fighting. If I'm going to spend ten hours smashing people into walls or kicking them into whirlpools, I don't think I'm alone in wanting to get the sense that the bad guys had it coming for one reason or another. The game doesn't bother to give the villains any character at all, beyond their one-line descriptions. There's the white guy in suit, the sassy black man, and, for some reason, Odd Job from the movie Goldfinger. Since I don't really know who these people are, how am I supposed to take any real pleasure knocking over trees with their skulls?
The only person John is asked to fight in the game that can actually be called evil is the Ubiquitous Chick Assassin who acts as the last boss. This isn't even a satisfying fight, though, because of what the character represents. She transcends her generic appearance to become a walking and talking indictment of the mentality of people who design videogame women. Based on her ridiculously large breasts, vinyl microskirt and bra outfit, and her name (Nikki Jameson), it's as if someone on the design team was really, really desperate to include a porn star in the game, but couldn't figure out a way to do so. Even Agatha, the practically gender-neutral psychic from the film, despite having only a few seconds of screen time in the game, was not free from this design policy. Being the only other woman in the game, she's given a similarly pneumatic chest, along with a bathing suit design that highlights it as much as possible.
Any problems with the characters are mitigated by the game's level design—even if the villains aren't particularly interesting, there's always something interesting to throw them up against. The film's excessive advertising is faithfully recreated, but people with strong anti-corporate beliefs have no need to be concerned, as almost every advertisement can be destroyed with a well-tossed corpse. The game actually manages to avoid the doldrums of excessively repetitive enemies by offering new ways to kill them with each successive level. There are the subway levels with vending machines just aching to have someone tossed headfirst into them. There are the skyscrapers with all the floor-to-ceiling windows that just demand to be shattered. Best of all, there is the museum sequence, where John gets to destroy priceless vases, tablets, and even toss a Precrime officer through a plate glass floor onto a bed of cacti.
In fact, the only problem with the death and destruction-friendly levels is that occasionally the designers don't go far enough with their ideas. On the skyscraper levels, the level designers didn't actually create terrifying drops for the enemies to fall down. In fact, by adjusting the camera a little, I was able to see the enemies just magically disappear once they'd fallen a couple of stories. Worse than this is the subway-train level, where nothing exists outside the cars. It's just not satisfying to toss someone out the window of a moving subway train if they're just going to disappear without slamming into the outside wall, or possibly being crushed by a train headed in the opposite direction.
Whether or not the villains are interesting enough to bother fighting or evil enough to deserve being smashed into a control panel, the game's fighting engine is always fun enough to make it worth doing. The only drawback of the ragdoll physics is that characters don't actually have bone structures, which can make the way they flop when tossed around ridiculous to watch. This is a minor quibble, though the realistic (or at least action-movie realistic) way that the enemies interact with the environment more than makes up for any problems. Really, once a man has flown back twenty feet, slammed into a metal post, then spun diagonally into a reflecting pool, who's to say what angle his undoubtedly shattered arm would be hanging at?
So the game doesn't have any real characters at all, the graphics are nothing special, and the story actually gets in the way of the gameplay. Doesn't sound like a very impressive game, does it? I was all set to give this game a negative review, but then I thought way back to that little boy who dreamed of a game like this, and just how much he would have enjoyed picking up an unconscious Precrime officer and tossing him through the four parallel panes of glass that sit on the conveniently-placed glazing dolly. He would have liked this game, and how can I condemn a game for making my dreams come true? For all that's wrong with the game Minority Report, it satisfies the player's deep-seeded urges to break things in the most spectacular way possible. It's a pioneer of sorts, and must be respected as such. Now if someone would just make a game where these wonderful play mechanics made some sort of logical sense, we'd be cooking with gas.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.