Sen. Charles Schumer and CNN's "D.A. to the stars" Nancy Grace have attacked 25 To Life because it encourages players to murder police. For example, shoot 20 in the first level, and you win a flaming beanie. And killing cops is easy, since they always make mistakes—like patiently reloading in front of you as you pump them full of lead. But the gangsters aren't much smarter, as they tend to set themselves on fire with their own pipe bombs. Even the bystanders like to mill around crime scenes, waiting to become your human shield. Critics of game violence say it dehumanizes us, and 25 To Life is the proof; the game turns everyone into broken wind-up toys, struggling to knock each other's blocks off.
But as a game, 25 To Life isn't worth the controversy. This urban shooter plays like Max Payne without the story, the scenery, or the drama—in other words, like a tedious 3D shooting gallery. The developers cut corners everywhere, from the clunky controls to the single-player missions, which are drab and short; just as you get into the rhythm of blasting your way down the alleys of Tijuana, the level's over. Even the story is a paint-by-numbers hackwork about a drug deal gone wrong, and for no clear reason, you play it from three different perspectives, including a naïve cop, a two-bit criminal who's out for one last score, and a rip-off of Al Pacino's Scarface. Which one's the hero? The one who teaches his son how to smoke the pigs, of course.
Beyond the game: The hip-hop soundtrack almost saves the game, especially when the first mission opens with Ghostface's "Run" goading you on.
Worth playing for: The online multiplayer mode where up to 16 players can join gangs —er, "clans"—and show off the Chinese pain tats and "No Parole" decals they've unlocked.
Frustration sets in when: You have to struggle with touchy controls and flaws in the game logic. For example, if you hang onto a human shield for too long, the cops will just shoot your hostage to get him out of the way. How is that fair to anybody?
Final judgment: 25 To Life is just a half-baked copy of someone's urban nightmare.