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Tequila-Fuelled' is how the accompanying blurb for Total Overdose describes this tongue-in-cheek, Mexican-themed action shooter. Unfortunately, that phrase only conjures up for me a particularly eventful night many years ago involving a house party, a scuffle with a well-known stand-up comedian, a painful fence-destroying garden-hop and the stealing of a kettle from a local school.
So, to soothe my aching conscience, I'm going to avoid any further mention of the evil slamming liquid, and concentrate on a recent showing of the game, now only a few months away from completion.
You can imagine Total Overdose to be a pihata full of gameplay treats from Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Serious Sam and Tony Hawk's, smashed open by filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. As ex-con Ernesto Cruz, you must track down the criminal underworld figures that killed your drugs cop father, and to help, you have access to over 20 weapons - some of which can be dual-wielded - including machineguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, baseball bats and machetes.
As well as Mexican villages, the 20-odd levels in Total Overdose will feature Aztec temples, seedy inner cities and goon-stuffed warehouses. You dash around the destructible environments, as the auto-target reticule locks onto the enemies streaming towards you for instant satisfying blasting. Cruz is also able to drive numerous vehicles that involve equally explosive stunts, such as piling a truck headlong into an oil tanker.
While not exactly sophisticated, the action is intense, especially when you manage to chain different combos together (a la Tony Hawk's) - a combo meter in the top-left hand corner handily ticks down between kills, showing you the time you have left to find another victim before the chain ends.
Can I Get A Rewind?
If the back-flipping, dual-wielding chaos does happen to catch up with you, and Cruz bites the dust, you do have another trick up your sleeve - Rewind. This is exactly like the feature in the Prince Of Persia titles, giving you the sneaky ability to rewind time just before you ' headbutted that grenade, and replay the action again - although obviously you do only get a limited supply.
With a soundtrack that includes heavy rockers such as Control Machete and Molotov (come on, it'll make a change from Coldplay), Total Overdose is a Mexican platter of potentially very spicy flavours - slo-mo blasting, ultra-violence, stupid humour, filmic cut-scenes, sexy surprises and, er, guacamole. Will it stick a cactus up the backside of third-person action-adventures? If we can avoid the tequila, we might just be able to provide the answer...
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When Faced With a generic third-person shooter with bullet-time, you have to make a decision. Do you deride it, kick it where it hurts, call it a filthy console mudblood (sorry, read the new Harty Potter book recently) and leave it begging for mercy? Or do you give it a chance, lock your lips into an 'ooh' position and play it for the mindless shebang it was born to be?
Well, it's looking increasingly like Total Overdose will prove to be part of the latter camp - with the caveat that we've only played four of the 20 levels, so the old 'variety' chestnut may yet loom large. It's essentially the lovechild of Max Payne and Serious Sam - albeit grown to adolescence and obsessed with Robert Rodriguez's films, Salma Hayek's breasts and the mashing of buttons in combo-chasing games like the Tony Hawk series. Confused? You won't be.
Left button shoots, right button zeroes in for a headshot and spacebar does all the sparkly magic with shoot dodging and wall gymnastics that would put the youngest girl in the Ukrainian gymnastics team to shame. Barrels explode, Mexicans die and points are delivered for style - which in turn gifts you extra health and Loco Moves such as Desperado-style machine guns in guitar cases or one-shot-kill golden guns.
Let S Play
In fact, in our playtest, the mission at hand became secondary to the pursuit of points, since a timer is always ticking from your last kill, showing how long you have to continue on your point-totting rampage. Eidos is clearly keen on the idea that obsessives will try to string out combos that last entire levels - assuming, of course, that they don't go outside and get a girlfriend first.
Another feature that's remained under lock-and-key until now is the sandbox-y town that you can traverse, if you so choose, in between levels and challenges. Hidden until now due to fears of unfair GTA comparisons (unfair since it's far more reminiscent of the wide open everything-is-a-grinding-surface arenas of Tony Hawk), it's another avenue for point-claiming. The flippancy of the game is very much on show here too, with mini-games like a blood bath in which all the pedestrians turn into versions of something similar to the skeletal Manny from Grim Fandango. The heavy use of chickens and exploding pihatas in the game proper also goes some way to boosting the silliness factor.
Whether or not the story and characterisations are all they're cracked up to be is also up for question, an area in which it's perfectly fine to compare the line-up of Mexican scuz-buckets to the sublime San Andreas. As a no-brain actioner, however, it's a far better prospect than other console fare - and surprisingly well-adapted for mouse control too. You can also steal hats from people who get angry about it and shoot you. No particular reason for it. But if you want a sombrero, then it's yours. More hats in games please.
We'd Only Said hello, but it seems the marketing justification for Total Overdose is already in full swing: "It's definitely not GTA. We prefer to think it's closer in spirit to the Tony Hawk's games. So we're absolutely, positively not going to compare this like for like with any GTA game. Much.
In truth, it's hard not to. There are the plentiful GTA carjackings. And there are the GTA-style cityscapes implausibly filled with car stunt ramps. And over there are all the impromptu kill-a-thon bonus missions. And to your left are all the thumping real-world tunes. And behind those boxes is the morally dubious attitude to extreme ultra-violence.
Eidos might be saying this isn't GTA, but the parallels are impossible to ignore - it's like TO is a tribute band to GTA's headline act. You can see how the developer has tried to remove anything too GM-like as it went along - the variations in cars are way down, the sizes of each city area feel far smaller, no in-car radio stations.
there's far less for you to do in the city (no non-mission 'life' stuff) - the idea being to distance itself from GTA at every stage. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite come off that way. Instead you constantly feel as though you're merely playing a cut-down version of GTA, regardless of the developer's intention. The feel of the game constantly gives you that urge to go off exploring midmissions, but the limitations in size and variety ultimately make it feel something of a wasted effort.
Still, it's undeniably fun. At absolutely no point does Total Overdose take itself even remotely seriously. And unlike GTA, combat is actually half decent thanks mostly to the Max Pbyne-style agility and slo-mo moves. Shoot bad guys in the head while doing cartwheels off the wall. Dive left right, forwards and back while aiming for headshots and stringing multiple kills together for bonus rewards. Run up to someone and nick their fiat, just because you can, then run away before they get too mad. Or for no discernible plot-based reason, suddenly turn into a giant Mexican wrestler and start twatting other masked tubbos about the head with a giant bat. Which is also more fun than it sounds.
The silliness extends to your special 'Loco' moves, earned through amassing multiple body counts and/or collecting tokens hidden throughout the city. El Mariachi machine-gun guitar cases, whirling 'tornado' spins of death, exploderising pifiatas and the truly bizarre Sombrero Of Death are just some of the options to play around with.
At times it can feel relentless. The sheer volume of guns and ammo open to you, and the madcap pace combined with your Olympian-level agility, make it near times when you're not quick enough, a handy Yewind' function lets you turn back the clock about ten seconds to have another crack). Which means TO just keeps throwing wave after wave of angry stereotypes at you in But mostly the frantic pace of the nayhem, the knowing daftness of the situations and the story, the energy with which everything is presented and even the cartoon style - well, it all grows on you. Certainly it's helped by interspersing the free-form action with the self-contained story arc missions, providing much needed expansion from the limiting confines of the city areas.
As much as Total Overdose wants to distance itself from the GTA canon, the fact that GTA exists means it will always be held up unfavourably in comparison. But on its own merits, TO is brash, energetic, none too taxing and more than capable of providing some solid midtable entertainment, while GTA and the like get on with battling it out at the top of the tree. It's the Tottenham Hotspur of gaming, if you will - always going to be on hand to provide some light-hearted comic relief, but never likely to put up a serious challenge to the bigger boys. While wearing a big novelty sombrero.
For Years, Robert Rodriguez's films have enjoyed a cult following, with his unsubtle blend of humour and extreme violence set in dusty Mexican locales proving a winning formula, most notably with the likes of Desperados - Wanted Dead or Alive and From Dusk Till Dawn. However, this begs the question - why hasn't anyone caught onto the fact that Rodriguez's approach to film-making would be ideal for games? You know what? Someone finally has.
About Time Too
Total Overdose is a third-person shooter which sits somewhere between Max Payne and Serious Sam II, and has its tongue firmly superglued to its inner cheek. Borrowing heavily from Rodriguez's gangster-driven plotlines, you play as three different characters, though two of them make little more than cameo appearances. Confused? Let me explain.
You start off in the shoes of Ernesto Cruz (no relation to Beckham), a hardened I tequila-swilling DEA operative (Drugs Enforcement Administration), on the trail of the world's most notorious drug barons. However, at the end of the first level, Cruz is killed by another DEA agent and his death covered up. Skip forward a few years and enter his son Tommy, a rookie DEA recruit who goes in search of the truth behind his father's untimely demise. However, after his first mission he ends up in a wheelchair - due to extreme incompetence in the line of duty - and has to bust his delinquent twin brother out of the clink to track down his father's murderers instead.
Admittedly it's a bit on the tenuous side, but from what we've seen, the highly cinematic cut-scene-driven storyline is shaping up to potentially be both entertaining and - that rarest of gaming phenomena - genuinely amusing too.
So, onto the action - and believe me, there's plenty of it. Total Overdose simply haemorrhages carnage, action and gratuitous violence, offset by some outrageously eccentric and devastatingly effective special moves called Loco Moves. Oh, and loads of guns too.
The more people you kill the more Loco Moves and power-ups you get, explains Dax Ginn, SCi's external designer on the game. There are eight Loco Move in all, such as the Golden Gun which gives you five guaranteed headshots."
Dax took us through a typical level in order to show off some of the others. The most basic Loco Move sees your character jumping 360-degrees while firing twin machine guns (you can dual-wield any two identical weapons), wiping out every enemy around him in a seamless cinematic mini cut-scene. Next up is the Pinata Of Death, a plaster horse stuffed full of explosives that detonate when a group of gormless enemies start trashing at it in hope of finding sweets. The twats.
Meanwhile, El Mariachi will be familiar to Desperado fans, enabling you to dual-wield a couple of machine guns posing as classical guitar cases; while the Sombrero Of Death is particularly amusing - a large hat that you throw onto the head of an enemy so that their comrades mercilessly turn on them. Best of all though is the Mexican Wrestler, which sees a maniacal hooded madman charging around the level cleaving up anyone in his way with a machete. Now that's entertainment.
Loco Moves and other special features aside (see Back In |p Bullet-Time', above), W Total Overdose doesn't f hold back when it comes to weaponry either. Among others, you get to blow Mexican bandits away with M16s, bazookas, AK47s, Magnums and is, and if you like to eople's heads in a sonal way, you'll be inote the inclusion of I bats, machetes and kes. Yes, you read rakes, le great thing about ame is that you can any weapon that jnemy drops, some horn are armed with anything that comes to hand, such as planks k of wood with spikes or a rake, explains Dax. Your enemies will also throw Tequila cocktails at you (like the Molotov version, only with tequila) which you can blow out of the sky before they get to you.
The majority of missions see you taking on legions of enemies while undertaking numerous tasks, such as driving trucks into oil tankers and ziplining into a warehouse before blowing it to pieces, with the mayhem rarely abating for more than a few brief moments. There's also a host of checkpoint-based driving mini-games that'll hopefully help break up the carnage.
While at first glance Total Overdose may look like a mindless shooter, it's just possible that if the humour and action live up to their billing, this could turn out to be a humorous Max Payne - though admittedly, Total Overdose lacks the polish and pizzazz of Rockstar s mega-hit. One thing's for sure though: if you're a fan of Rodriguez's movies, then this is certainly one game to be keeping in your sights.
Just Been Shot Dead? Never Mind, Try Again...
Total Overdose is set to feature a couple of great features that'll hopefully ensure the frenetic gameplay remains unabated, but not overly repetitive.
First off is the now-standard bullettime mode, which, unlike a few recent games that have shoehorned the feature in, feels totally at home in Total Overdose's manic firefights.
Another great addition is the Rewind feature that means you can literally rewind the action and have another go should you meet an untimely death. These rewinds are limited of course, so you have to use them sparingly - but they should prove far more entertaining than constantly slapping the reload key.