Total Overdose, much like Max Payne or Dead to Rights, is a story of revenge and redemption through vigilanteism. The game's star, Ramiro Cruz, aka "El Gringo Loco" (The crazy white guy), is an ex-con and the son of a DEA agent. Daddy ends up framed for drug smuggling and murder, and is killed before he can clear his name, so Ramiro takes up the cause and hightails it down to Tijuana to slaughter the bad guys and clear his pop's name. Of course, once Ramiro gets to Mexico, all hell breaks loose and spent shells and blood start flying like rain in April.
The story, as you can tell, merely sets up an excuse to get carte blanche with violence... and violence in all of its stylish forms seems to be what Total Overdose is all about. At its core, the game is a mission-based third person shooter with equal helpings of vehicular and on-foot combat. You can chase after and gun down drug dealers on foot or hijack cars and take them out with the front end or with well-aimed shots out the window. Or, get creative and guide the car into a giant fuel tanker (jumping out in the nick of time). We've seen all of this stuff in other games before, but Total Overdose aims to be one of the first to bring it all together into one package.
Another potential upside is the sheer variety and control that players will have over Ramiro's actions. Often, to the point of absurdity. There are dozens of weapons in the game, not to mention many objects such as knives and shards of glass that double as weapons. The environments afford numerous opportunities to blow up barrels and drop crates and rooftops onto enemies that are unlucky enough to be in the line of fire. The scenery also offers defensive options too. You can leap for cover behind walls and crates or hunker behind outcroppings and take potshots at the baddies that way. Ramiro isn't just another Jack Slate or Max Payne wannabe however. The developers have given him a healthy arsenal of wall-flip, dual-wield, human shield, and disarm attacks, all seemingly without limits on their use (as far as we've seen). In fact, the bullet-time effect that kicks in during leaps and explosions, or when Ramiro initiates a multi-shot combo on multiple enemies, also seems to be infinitely available. Furthermore, in a twist straight out of Tony Hawk, players actually get bonus points for performing kill combos or for executing so-called "spicy moves," which can involve setting people on fire, shooting them in the head, stealing their clothes during a kill, or causing heavy objects and vehicles to drop onto them or smash into them.
The insanity doesn't stop there. Kill enough bad guys in a row and you'll activate Ramiro's "loco" powers, which are movie-themed special attacks that can dole out major damage or eliminate a number of enemies in one use. Remember the scene in Desparado where the Mariachi's friend Campa unleashes the two machine guns built into his guitar cases? That's one of Ramiro's loco power attacks. Another that we've seen involves an exploding pinyata that lures gangbangers to it with a promise of candy, only to explode when they're close. Ouch. We only got a chance to see a couple loco attacks in the build we were shown, but the developers promise that the final game will offer up at least a dozen of them.
We first saw this game at E3 2004 and again at E3 this year. What struck us the most about the more recent build is how much detail has been added. If you look at the screen shots, you'll get the impression that the polygon count is a bit low... that the character models are sort of rectangular and that the environments are "empty." While this is true, what those images don't show is the level of interactivity in the environment and the overall quality of the character animation. Objects in the environment, such as rocks, boxes, bottles, and planks, can be moved and picked up, and most surfaces (walls, cars, windows, etc.) will crack, shatter, or become bullet-riddled when eating gunfire. In motion, the game is already a real treat. Ramiro can run up the sides of walls and combo attack enemies. Slow motion kicks in frequently to give players a good view of the carnage, particularly the pained facial expressions of the bad guys as they're hit by bullets. The developers have also really taken the time to incorporate hundreds of Hollywood style camera angles and cut scenes to enhance the on screen action. We've only seen a trio of the many dozens of planned environments, but the cocaine field, warehouse, and old west town locations we have seen definitely lend Total Overdose a sense of setting.
The developers are promising a similar south of the border theme for the game's audio. Voice actors will have Hispanic accents and the soundtrack will incorporate mariachi music and a number of stereotypical Hispanic standards.
Although it may be written off as just another GTA wannabe, we've got to say that Total Overdose is shaping up to be a game that has the potential to carve its own identity out of the genre. Between the over the top gunplay, the Hollywood action flick presentation, and the wacky hyper-Mexican visuals and audio, this is the sort of game that might be able to make jaded actioners grin again. Total Overdose will ship in the UK this September and sometime later this year in North America.
8/17/2005 Frank Provo