What if one day everyone who used to ask you about accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior disappeared? What if this was about the time someone took power and his name was Ann T. Christ? Okay, that would be a pretty feminine name, so let's go with Nicholai Carpathia instead. Welcome to Left Behind. Seems you should have listened to all of your religious friends, because you're living in the "end times," and there is a battle between the forces of the holy and the rock music of the Satanists. Buckle up: Christian gaming just went mainstream. The game is based on the ultra-popular Left Behind series of books, and the first book is helpfully included in the box with the game. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I tried to read the book. I thought it would be helpful for me to know the source material for the review, and it might give me a little insight into the series as a whole. I put it down in disgust after the first fifty pages. The writing is just horrible. The fact that 65 million hojillion people bought these books and enjoyed them scares the hell out of me. When you start longing for the florid prose of a dime-store romance novel, you know that, stylistically, what you're holding in your hands is pretty bad. There is a huge market for it, though, and the concept of the people left behind post-Rapture fighting the forces of evil is actually quite compelling. The idea of putting the concept into a game is a strong one, and there's a lot you can do with the premise. It's hard to review a game like this without getting into religious issues, but the one thing you'll want to know from the start is that this game is pushing an agenda. It's not as obvious about it as, say, Kirk Cameron; the game doesn't roam the streets telling people they are going to go to hell because they used to make out behind the Pizza Hut when they were 14. But it does have a few things to say about religion. Between missions, you can look at a "found clue" and read a little essay about the Bible. Some of the historical facts about the Bible I enjoyed reading and they made me want to research the book further out of historical curiosity. There is also an essay that tries to poke holes in the theory of evolution, and while I don't mind how they went about it in this case, the links at the bottom of the page bring you to other Christian sites for further reading. On these pages you're also listening to Christian music, with a helpful "Buy this music now" button at the bottom of the screen. So you know that this game is definitely trying to say (and sell) something, and for that reason it has a built-in audience. This is a game that Christian parents can buy their kids, and one that Christian kids can play themselves without any guilt about "questionable content." I had a good friend growing up who was Mormon, and since his family was into computers, they had a nice four-computer LAN in their basement, and we would spend many an afternoon playing Duke Nukem with all the nudity and swearing removed. The gunfire, apparently, was okay. In other news, Left Behind has gunfire. Pre-release media reports have painted the game as one long exercise in violence that includes vitriol against Jews and Muslims, but were they right? While wondering if we're going to disappear in the next few days, let's play some Left Behind and see what kind of a game it really is. The game begins with a lengthy full-motion video intro where we see the actual Rapture. It's pretty basic: we see someone doing a stereotypically Christian thing and then, off-camera, she disappears in a flash of light, leaving behind only a pile of clothes and jewelry. There is bound to be a lot of looting in the first few minutes after the Rapture as the seven-year-long Great Tribulation begins. From there, it's up to the forces of good to figure out what's going on. As "Buck," you travel to New York because you have a feeling that to do God's work you need to be there. Okee dokee. The first thing that happens after the Rapture is that all the advertisements in New York are taken down and replaced with billboards for McGruff, the US Army and, above all, EBGames and Gamestop. No joke; the game is basically just one giant EB/GameStop ad. Down every street and in every alley there is a huge, blatant billboard for the stores. In the post-Rapture world, we know where we can go to trade in our games and DVDs. To say that this took me out of the game a little bit is an understatement; I felt like NPCs were going to start bugging me at any moment about replacement plans and trying to rip me off with low trade-in values. Most in-game advertising doesn't bother me, but when New York becomes one big mall game-store ad, it's a little distracting. As you wander around in the first missions, learning how to buy buildings and convert followers, you'll notice how bland the game looks. This would have been great looking about five or six years ago, but right now it just comes across as boring. There are a lot of bad guys running around, denoted by red bars over their heads, and they will shoot red balls at you. These balls sap your "spirit," which is like mana, and you have to pray to get it back. In the first mission I spent a lot of time running away from big gangs of people who were shooting these anti-God balls at me, and that got old quickly. Run and pray, run and pray. It was a lot like being at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Your job in New York consists of buying buildings and getting a church going so that you can spread the truth of what happened. It's not an electromagnetic pulse that made everyone disappear, as the new world government would have you believe; it was the Rapture. And God still has a lot of work he needs you to do. So you have to hit the streets and convert people to the cause. It's simple: you have a convert button. If you can convince someone to be a Christian this easily, I just don't think it's really going to take, but it's a simple process in the game. You convert a stranger, send your new "friend" to train for a job, and suddenly you have a new soldier, or musician, or builder. Convert 'em and send 'em to work—that's what I always say. Since this game has violence as a last resort you'll spend many missions simply running around and buying buildings to convert into banks and cafes so you can pay and feed your troops, and, of course, converting people into Christianity so you can fight the forces of evil. If you lose too many "spirit points" by being hit with those glowing red anti-faith balls, you'll lose the mission when your hero unit goes "neutral." I find it odd that your "hero" can lose his faith by simply listening to some metal (and the game makes sure you know that metal is the work of evil). The same thing is true with the forces of Mr. Carpathia: a good talker can just convince them to join the forces of good. Of course, you always need to pray. That is probably going to be your most important hot-key to keep everyone Christian and happy. While the game does have a fair amount of gunplay later in the story, it was kind of refreshing to have a more social RTS. I had issues with the pathfinding in places, and it seems a little too easy to "lose" units in the map, and of course the graphics are ugly, but the game itself certainly has its own feel. While I wish the developers would have worked on the voice acting more during the development cycle, the game does a much better job of telling a story and keeping you involved with what's going on than the books do. The game does have an engaging story, and I did appreciate that aspect of the experience. The tactics and feel of the game are different from other RTS titles, and if you go around randomly killing people, you're going to lose spirit quickly and lose the game. While it might not be compelling enough to get hardcore RTS fans into the game, there is certainly some decent gaming going on here, and I had a good time as I played. This isn't a game that is going to rely solely on the Christian market for its sales; I was happy to see that they did spend the time and effort to put an actual game in there. Many groups have made inaccurate statements about this game that need to be corrected. For one thing, it is not particularly violent. While there are violent aspects of the game, the game makes it clear that shooting is the last resort. Second, it is not hateful to other religions. It does have an agenda, and I think you need to know that going in, but there's no bashing of other faiths. There are some creepy things going on here, such as the conversion of people on the street who are sent to the camp you just built to turn them into soldiers. Given the current political climate, I thought that was a questionable design decision. It certainly made me uncomfortable to turn someone into a good Christian simply to give them a gun. Then there's the idea of the Rapture and Great Tribulation (which many Christians view differently than the game's creators). If you have younger kids, I could easily see them becoming upset at the idea that God may take one of their parents and not the other, or that one day they might disappear and leave people behind. I can see teenagers mentally putting people into "Rapture-ready" and "Going to be stuck on Earth," groups. Using the idea of the Rapture to give people ammunition to shove non-religious people aside could end badly, and this isn't a game that I would allow my kids to play for that reason. While the presentation is classy and the game doesn't beat you over the head with it, it is trying to get you on what the designers consider to be the "right path in life." Whether or not you agree with this is your business, but the game does have a strong agenda behind it. Be aware of this as you play. Summing it up Every time we talk about this game in Opposable Thumbs, it ends with pages and pages of people arguing over religion, no matter what the post was about. I'm not sure this game is worth that level of contention and argument; it's simply doing what a million made-for-TV movies and Christian concerts do: make Christianity more attractive to younger people via the media. It does this well: the game is fun, it'll keep parents happy with its light levels of violence, and it'll be sold at video game stores, religious book stores, and everywhere else people spend money on God. This game will certainly get the message out. Gaming is getting big enough that we're bound to see more titles with a political or religious bent to them, and while some of the content in this game gives me pause, I like the fact they respected the brand and the audience enough to at least attempt to make a halfway decent game. Just be aware of the baggage of that message, and as my grandfather always used to say, "Whenever someone starts to talk to you about God, keep your hand on your wallet.
Other Helpful Reviews for Left Behind: Eternal Forces
I will first say that I am two things in one. A Christian and a hardcore gamer. I'm not against games like Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto, but when I saw that Left Behind was coming to the PC, I was excited to see w... Read Full Review
I don't even understand why my Aunt paid money for this to give to me. I would have rather had the money! The gameplay is crap and if not crap then just uncomfortably awkward. The characters are ludicrous and to be hones... Read Full Review