Your Weekly Kusoge
Videogames are no stranger to controversy. Every now and then we hear talk about how violent some games are and how they're ruining the minds of the youth around the world. No matter how violent many of these games are, they most likely were never made with the intention to just cause a controversy. However, there are a handful of commercial games that can be counted as such, like Ethnic Cleansing and maybe Postal. JFK: Reloaded is also one of them and not only was it likely made to cause controversy for profit, it's also a game based on a real-life tragedy, something videogames rarely touch upon.
Said tragedy is the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. To cut a long story short, Kennedy was shot to death during a trip to Texas in 1963 and a fellow named Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged for it. Oswald himself was then shot and killed by Jack Ruby before the trial. While plenty of evidence and numerous investigations point to Oswald as the assassin, the truth to this day is unclear and some people claim there is a big conspiracy behind it all. Both the tragedy and the possibility of a conspiracy have given fuel to books, movies and TV shows.
Games remained silent on the matter until 2004, when a company called Traffic Games released the download-only title JFK: Reloaded on the 41st anniversary of the assassination. The player takes the control of Lee Harvey Oswald and the goal is to kill John F. Kennedy. If it were a small Flash game it would have probably come and gone without much of a fuss, but this was a proper commercial release, sold for real money. The developer claimed the intention to educate and to disprove conspiracy theories, which of course is highly suspicious.
For the entire assassination attempt you're locked in the same position, on the sixth floor of the book depository. You cannot move from your position, although that would probably go against the game's "educational value." All you can do is move the cross-hair with your mouse, zoom with the right button and fire with the left button. The "shooting mode" ends after a period of time has passed or when the player presses the spacebar. It is followed by a replay mode where you can view the carnage and chaos from various camera angles. The camera controls are stiff and it's hard to get a good view at all, especially when everything is moving. After you're done watching the replay, the game moves on to the morbid ballistics mode where you can see where each bullet you fired hit, complete with the trajectory.
In the background you can hear clips from actual radio broadcasts from the day of the assassination, in addition to specific lines depending on who you've shot. The instant you see the shot that killed the president you get to hear his death proclamation. When you're done viewing ballistics, you're given a score and then it's back to the main menu to ponder on what the hell you just played.
The whole point of JFK: Reloaded is that you have to recreate the Kennedy assassination almost exactly as it happened according to the Warren Commission. The more accurate you are, the more points you get, with an exact re-creation receiving a whopping 1000 points. However, there is nothing stopping you from shooting whatever you want. Everything that moves is a possible target and the game recreates the whole motorcade. You never run out of bullets either, so while Lee Harvey Oswald only fired 3 bullets, you can riddle the presidential car with bullets, kill everyone else but the president and finish it all by shooting the hat off of Jackie Kennedy's head.
While the gameplay is simple, there are actual ballistics involved. You have to take into account distance and speed of the target when aiming. Bullets can ricochet from objects and hit several targets, which is even required for a perfect score. (In reality the second bullet went through the president and hit Governor John Connally in front of him.) There is also some unintentional hilarity with the physics: every time a convertible speeds up and crashes, all the passengers turn into ragdolls and fly in the air and yes, this can also happen to the president's car.
For better or worse, the game also recreates two minor details that happened during the assassination: When the player fires for the first time, one of the agents jumps on the presidential car in order to make it speed up, and if the player's third shot hits the president in the head, it usually blows up and bits of skull and brain fly everywhere. If this is done in correct time, Jackie Kennedy will climb onto the trunk in an attempt to retrieve it.
As you can probably tell, there isn't much to this game. It's only slightly above the level of a Newgrounds Flash game, a one-trick pony that gets old really fast after an initial morbid curiosity. The graphics look like any old budget PC title from the early 2000s, but a lack of visual detail is probably for the best given the subject matter. Not to mention its status as an "educational game" is highly questionable. Some of the comments left in the code can be read with a text editor and it hints the developers real feelings towards the game.
Unsurprisingly, the game did cause controversy. JFK: Reloaded got plenty of attention outside of the gaming press and many found the game morbid and tasteless, and rightfully so. Most notably JFK's brother Edward Kennedy and infamous anti-videogame crusader senator Joseph Lieberman have commented on and condemned the game. The controversy was nothing compared to likes of Doom or Mortal Kombat though, which is probably because of the low-key download only release, which could be only purchased from the developer's website.
The notion of educational value is thrown out of the window when you realize that the game was nothing more than a big contest. The player who could most accurately recreate the JFK assassination, thus the person with the highest amount of points, could win up to $100,000, which allegedly depended on the amount of copies they sold. The contest ended on February 22, 2005. A Frenchman nicknamed Major_Koenig won $10,712 with 782 points.
Additional content and support was promised, including a mode where the players could attempt the assassination from the grassy knoll. However, six months later Traffic Games closed their website and started offering the game for free. Shortly after that the website completely vanished and Traffic Games were never heard from again, although there's at least one conspiracy nutcase on the web claiming that the company was just a front for Rockstar Games. While the company is long gone, the game still survives to this day in the depths of the internet and can easily be found.