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al sadr to withdraw. in other news...

...scorpions to lay down stingers and snakes promise not to bite.

ok, let's review:

1. shiite crackpot muqtada al sadr gets a bug up his butt about foreign devils defiling his holiest of holies, so he goes on a rampage in najaf--actually, let's leave all that rot to the ignorant saps who bleed for this two-bit charlatan. the bottom line with al sadr is that he wants to reign supreme in an iranian-style islamic theocracy, and he thinks he's found a way to make it happen.

2. the marines are sent in, and promptly what marines do best.

3. al sadr swears to fight unto the death, but quickly folds and begs a truce.

4. the iraqis offer him a deal whereby he can surrender to tribal leaders--he needn't even sully himself by yielding to the infernal americans.

5. no deal, says sadr, and walks away unmolested.

6. two months pass.

7. shiite crackpot muqtada al sadr gets a bug up his butt about foreign devils defiling his holiest of holies, so he goes on a rampage in najaf.

8. wash, rinse, repeat.

9. after vowing to fight to the death, sadr once more begs a truce. a peace delegation is sent, but this time, al sadr doesn't even bother to meet with them. although the american military has ceased offensive operations in the najaf area, an al sadr spokesperson blames the no-show on "heavy shelling from the planes and tanks of the U.S. forces." while the delegates are meeting with a few of al sadr's lackeys, other lackeys are firing mortars out from the compound in an attempt to instigate an american response and further sabotage the talks.

10. the iraqi government, which has evidently had its fill of being kicked in the nuts, refuses to send a second delegation (actually a third, but who's counting) to meet with al sadr. enough talk, they say. this is the day "to set this compound free from its imprisonment and its vile occupation." and not only that, "we have to turn to what's stronger and greater in order to teach them a lesson that they won't forget, and to teach others a lesson as well."

11. al sadr, gutless, cowardly, treasonous dog he is, surrenders, and the foolish iraqis have accepted.

locdog predicts that before the november elections, al sadr will be instigating bloodshed in najaf...again

update: fighting resumes. the government's price was a bit too steep for sadr, and he's back on the martyrdom kick again. good. let's hope this time he gets his wish.


locdog game review: doom 3

the door hisses open and you find yourself staring down a long, dark corridor. you poke your light into the blackness, probing behind and beneath and above the smashed equipment for signs of trouble. finding none, you enter. fluorescent lights are flickering over head. you hear them buzzing and popping as they illuminate in brief, stroboscopic flashes. knife-edge shadows leap from every surface, concealing things you don't care to consider. one way or the other, you've got to cross to the door on the other side.

you walk slowly but your eyes are darting about with frantic speed, following the pencil beam of your flashlight as you continuously scan for danger. there's a clank that makes your heart stop, and the fluorescent lights go out all together. you freeze. the emergency lights come on, bathing your environs in a deep crimson. the walls are bleeding. the blood looks black and diseased in the red light, but you're certain it would look that way regardless. your heart has started beating again, with a vengeance. it's thudding away in your chest and you wish it would be quiet so you could hear. then you wish it was louder so you didn't have to hear, because there's a wailing, and ungodly wailing now and it washes over you in waves. as it rushes past, infernal runes flare along the walls and ceiling and floor like sleeping embers quickened by a blast of air. they fade as the wailing passes, but blaze up again as it comes once more, and it's coming steadily now, like spurts through a giant artery. the thrum, thrum, thrum stops as quickly as it came, the flickering runes go with it, as does the emergency lighting, and you are left in darkness once more.

there's a sudden flash of orange behind you and an enraged shriek that threatens to split your skull. you whirl around reflexively and out of a pillar of sparks and flame that looks and sounds like a transformer exploding comes a glimpse of tooth and claw and sinew. the pillar fades and reveals two dim, red slits hovering before you in the darkness. the eyes narrow, and you hear an eager snarl and the thudding of heavy footfalls as they come bounding towards you.

no, that's not a scene from the next over-hyped hollywood blockbuster or a page from stephen king's latest bestseller, it's any one of a hundred such vignettes taken from id software's doom 3, the most recent installment in one of gaming's most legendary series.

i'm going to assume that if you care enough to read this review, you're familiar with the essentials of the back-story. suffice it to say that in 1993, gaming guru john carmack's fledgling id software released doom, a first person shooter (though not the first, that distinction belongs to id's wolfenstein 3d, released a year prior) that offered PC gamers an unprecedented level of immersion and intensity. the game went on to become one of the most influential of the past decade, if not of all time. carmack authored a hit sequel in 1994, and the two add-on titles the dooms final and ultimate, then shifted his attention to other matters, namely the immensely popular quake series. quake and its two sequels boasted superior graphics and multiplayer action that's was as close to digital crack as mankind had ever got, but offered a single-player experience that many gamers found hollow. thus chastened, carmack set out to produce a single-player masterpiece, a game that would give someone watching you play it the heebie-jeebies.

did he succeed? good horror is as subjective as good comedy, still, i can't remember the last time i found a movie nearly as scary as this game. but i'm getting ahead of myself.

doom 3 once more finds a lone marine knee deep in demons as he fights to stave off the legions of hell and single-handedly save the world. the setting is an advanced UAC corporation research facility located on mars, an inspired combination of gothic nightmare and sci-fi daydream that would be creepy even if it wasn't festooned with the entrails of its butchered inhabitants. trouble is brewing at the research facility. accidents and fatalities are up. the psych wards are full of suddenly schizophrenic employees. rumors are circling of mysterious voices calling out from the darkness. and when an entire team of scientists disappears, you're sent in to investigate. as you progress deeper and deeper into the heart of the facility, more and more of the back story is revealed. it isn't long before you learn that experiments in teleportation (think "beam me up, scotty") have opened up a doorway to another dimension--and not just another dimension, but hell itself.

sound like an excuse to load up on big guns and waste a bunch of raging hellspawn? it is indeed, but what hellspawn to waste! and what gorgeous environments to waste them in! it's almost a pity you'll spend most of your time in the UAC research facility running for your life, because the urge to stop and gawk is nigh on irresistible.

much has been written of doom 3's "engine," which is to a video game what a wire frame is to a parade float. it provides the basic structure, the limitations and abilities of the game, but, given that structure, an endless number of games could be written to utilize it. many already have, and gamers can look forward to enjoying doom 3's life-like physics and awe inspiring graphics in several upcoming titles, most of which will have nothing to do with demons or mars.

that said, it's hard to imagine a higher expression of those capabilities than is found in doom 3 itself. these are bar none the best graphics ever. heat ripples shimmer in the air above magma pools. steam hisses from vents and catches individual shafts of light. the skin of the monster barring down on you looks moist when it flashes back the reflection from your flashlight, and individual veins on its arm stand out in light and shadow. even without the nifty special effects, the textures are so well drawn and the animation is so fluid that at times you'd think you were watching a twisted version of shrek. when carmack built the doom 3 engine, he built it to tax the capabilities of the very best hardware available today and the result is a wonder to behold.

assuming, that is, you can afford the rig you'll need to behold it. that would be a 2000/xp platform with a bare-minimum pentium 4 1.5 GHz or equivalent AMD athlon processor, 384 MB RAM, and at least an nvidia geforce 3 or ati radeon 8500 video card. i've got a reasonably gutsy athlon xp 2700+ processor, 512 MB of DDR RAM, and an nvidia 5950 ultra graphics card with 256 MB of video ram, and ran the game comfortably on the high detail setting at 1024x768--a rather low resolution by today's standards, but not too shabby by doom 3's. gamers used to running at 1280x1024 or higher resolutions are in for a rude awakening, but don't worry--the graphics will have your eyes bulging out of their sockets even at 800x600, which is good because many systems aren't going to be able to muster anything higher.

the sound is every bit as important as the graphics, and to truly appreciate the game (or play with better than average proficiency) a 5.1 surround sound system is a must. this is partly because this game is seriously dark, and you'll often hear the monster closing in on you before you see him, and partly because it's just really damn cool to hear the monster closing in on you before you see him. surround sound is nothing new to video games, but rarely has it been so intimately involved with game play. it goes without saying that the sound quality, aside from its 3-D aspects, is excellent. when an imp pops out of a wall panel behind you screeching its fool head off, you'll pop right out of your seat. if you paused the game and looked at the creature, you'd think to yourself "yep, that's exactly what something that looks like that should sound like." the music is low key but does a fine job of mood setting, and there are innumerable creepy atmospheric effects that add to the horror.

the game play itself owes a considerable debt to the system shock games, particularly system shock 2. like that venerable old title, the back story of this game is told in audio logs and email files that are downloaded to your PDA and provide as much or as little information as you care to have. none of it is vital to advancing, but much of it will help you acquire otherwise inaccessible goodies. like the system shock games, the writing is solid and the voice acting is top notch (by video game standards--this ain't shakespeare, folks), but unlike those games the character development and role-playing aspects are missing. if you take the sci-fi horror of system shock 2 and up the action and gore a few megawatts, you've got a good idea of what doom 3 plays like. there's also a healthy dollop of half-life stirred in, but that's a bit like saying that such and such a great film hearkens back to citizen kane.

otherwise the game plays like...well, like doom. enemies spawn out of thin air into an empty room, or leap out of trick walls after you've walked past. they charge you individually, or in groups and you mow them down with your shotgun, machine gun, BFG, or (yes, it's back) chain saw. they don't boast sophisticated artificial intelligence or advance using squad based tactics, they just bum rush you like the slobbering fiends they are. there's a hellish game play mechanism whereby you are frequently forced to choose between your omnipresent flashlight or a weapon, meaning you can see what's coming after you or defend yourself from it, but not both.

but the play is not the thing, at least not according those few critics who've managed to find anything negative to say about doom 3. this game, they say, does not revolutionize the first person shooter genre. i suppose my question for them would be: why should it? i bought doom because doom was what i wanted. the game play never felt old or outdated to me, it felt classic, and even those who've lambasted the lack of innovative mechanics have had to cede the point that the tried-and-true, run'n'gun style of play has been flawlessly implemented--and that it's not nearly as run'n'gun as they might have initially suspected. never have i seen a game where every monster is so artfully placed, every battle so elegantly staged. full advantage is taken of each room's lighting and cover, with the setup for the fight as important as the fight itself. you're given a moment to hear thudding on the door or listen to the chittering in the walls, time to contemplate what might be lurking in that shadow before the little beasties spring forth to send you straight to hell.

speaking of hell, you get to go there in this game, along with a lot of other god-forsaken locales. the theology of the game--fighting demons with shotguns--would make a seminarian cringe, the one saving grace being that the minions of hell are portrayed as unquestionably evil, bucking a trend in movies and video games to show sympathy for the devil. there are numerous vivid, screaming deaths and dismemberments, and my advice for a parent with a child who wants the game is to treat it as they would an R-rated horror film--which is basically what it is. as mentioned, i found this game scarier than any scary movie in recent memory (with the notable exception of the ring--damn that was some creepy stuff...) because, unlike a movie, a good game has the ability to really make a player feel like he or she is there, smelling the sulfur and dodging the fireballs in person. the gore is so realistic that at times i had to stop and chuckle: parents who have objected to violence in video games previously (the original doom became something of a poster child for the blame-columbine-on-games set) will realize that they were objecting more to the principle of violence in video games, or the badly rendered symbols of it, than the actual spectacle itself.

the cinematic bloodletting brings me to my final point: has john carmack very slyly redefined the video game itself? and have those who chided the game's supposed lack of originality missed the forest for the trees? not since half-life has a game done such a wonderful job of making you forget that you're playing a game, of bringing you to that strange and wondrous place where you feel that you've become simultaneously the director and audience of your own little movie. you play not because the game play itself is inherently interesting or has some compelling objective (although i'm sure most gamers will find that doom 3 is and does) but because you want to see what happens to you next, you want to experience the next incredible environment or face the next foe, you want to know how your movie turns out. in that sense, the game is an existential masterpiece. it's the video game not as something the gamer does, but as everything that is done to them. there have been some fascinating attempts at this in the past (dragon's lair comes to mind) but they've failed either because the graphics couldn't succeed in producing the illusion, or, if they could, the game play was too stilted to preserve it. doom 3 has got it all. granted, some gamers will not to be impressed. the game's effectiveness hinges largely on the willingness of the player to participate rather than merely observe, but those who are looking for a dozen hours or so of adrenaline pumping escapism will not find a bigger bang for their gaming buck.

locdog's next game review will probably be half-life 2, assuming, that is, it's ever released