Developer: Deadline Games
Release Date: September 27, 2005
This is the way I like to end a year. Those of you who remember such things may recall that at the top of our calendar year here at WorthPlaying, I got a chance to dish out kudos to Mercenaries, lauding its freeform gameplay and dedication to healthy amounts of violence. It's been a long year since then, and while the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave it a run for its money alongside a sea of wannabes. At the end of the day, though, the visceral, military chaos of Mercenaries has been my personal favorite for some time.
And now, that's a spot that's gonna have to be shared.
Deep in the heart of Mexico lives crime. I'm sure you're all really alarmed by the idea that there are a lot of drugs and guns crossing our borders, but please try and suspend your disbelief for just a moment. Not two weeks before the game gets itself up and started, one of the best agents the Drug Enforcement Agency has to offer was just about to get the best information he'd ever stumbled on, enough to break through a huge cartel, and maybe even find out what happened to his father years ago. Note the whole past tense there - an unfortunate tango with a hand grenade leaves our plucky agent in absolutely no condition to go stomping about Los Toros, and that ruins everything. Pack up your bags and let's go home; the bad guys have won.
Or does it? Our man Tommy, the now disabled agent, just happens to have a twin brother, Ramolito, who's a dead ringer for Tommy. It's quite simple: send Ram in instead of Tommy, take it subtle and slow, and worm back into the heart of the cartel. It'll work.
Of course, this ignores a few minor details, like the fact that Ram's in prison. With a record that no disc jockey would play. Oh, and he's got a really bad attitude. And a short temper. Did I mention he's trigger happy, prone to violence, likes lighting things on fire and kicking the ever-loving crap out of everything that doesn't kill him first? That he likes to crash cars and blow up buildings and empty entire clips into "bad guys?" Yeah, subtle he ain't, but Ram is the only thing standing between the cartel imploding and Los Angeles continuing to be a haven for drug peddling fat cats.
To describe Total Overdose is to run through a shopping list of the best elements from a half dozen or so other games. It's a third-person shooter with bullet time and diving slow-motion dodges right out of Max Payne; the ability to roam about the city freely while stealing cars and generally causing mayhem flows right out of Grand Theft Auto III; and the firepower, huge fights, rampaging explosions are more akin to Mercenaries than anything else. Other bits and pieces join up in the mix, forming a pie that you'll be sure you played before, but you can't stop eating another slice or two.
Ram's rampage is a third-person gun frenzy, all built around a freely explorable city. While there is a series of underlying goals, there's no one demanding you do anything immediately, although some missions are sequential. Smattered all about are power-ups and points icons. Now you've seen secret items before, in Grand Theft Auto and its entire ilk, but that's about the end of similarities: all around the city are huge, blatant, hanging-there icons, like "500 Points" or "Gun Powerup," just waiting to be grabbed. See, that's one of the big things you'll find about Total Overdose: it does not aim for realism, nor does it take itself all that seriously. Scoring points lets you do new things like carry double guns, haul more ammo, or use your Adrenaline (what allows you to slow down and fling off walls) longer. It's actually more fun to drive around like a maniac in a stolen car, hurling yourself off ramps like Evel Knievel (no motorcycles, sorry kids), bearing in mind the whole time that killing civilians is apparently a very bad thing to do. You're representing the DEA and the entirety of America, by gum!
The environment looks like what you'd expect, particularly from the PlayStation 2 as it steadily marches on towards obsolescence. Textures have a tendency to be bland and repetitive, and there's a severe lack of variety in random folks, their cars, or the guys you're shooting up. The music is wonderful; lots of hard, loud, and fast Spanish cuts that settle well against the screaming of car tires on pavement or the tinkle of spent brass as you rattle out a clip. I wish Ram had more quips though. How many times have I heard the same one? Oh, I can't count that high - but it's all drowned out by the violence. You'll be doing this to kill people, not admire all the polygons in their nostrils.
If there's any one who comes to the party and ruins the fun, it's the controls. They're far from awful, but unlike a lot of more recent games that are making appearances on the PC as well as consoles, they try to do a lot of things at once and wind up having trouble with them. Wall-based moves are not as simple to pull off as they need to be - often, you'll wind up simply diving the wrong way - and the "quick weapon switch" system is pretty much a joke. This is all a trade-off, however, for being able to flip off walls, pull quick and easy headshots, or spin around automatically in mid-air while diving.
Let's not forget that Ram has access to "The Loco Moves," a set of moves so radical and bone-breakingly awesome that you can only carry a few at a time, and none last forever. From the Golden Gun (four instant-kill bullets) and El Mariachi (guitar cases laden with .50 caliber machine guns - hey there, Mr. Banderas!) to The Angry Wrestler and, dare I say it ...The Sombrero Of Death. All these moves are very easy to get simply by pumping up your Combo Meter high enough. Just figuring out new ways to kill people is half the fun; should you ram them with your car, snipe their head off, smash their face in with your elbow, feed them dynamite, or, heck, all of the above? Ram even dies impressively, via Rewind Tokens that let him instantly step back from where it all went wrong and try again. They're easy enough to get, but it's also easy enough to wind up in a no-win situation, so pick your fights with caution.
Get your luggage together, file a healthy bribe to get your guns through customs, and go bang with the gang. Total Overdose doesn't do much that's new or innovative, but what it does drips with so much style that you can't stay away. I said Mercenaries was the kind of thing Jerry Bruckheimer would produce. If that's the case, then Total Overdose is something out of Robert Rodriguez's studio lots. If you like shooting things and you're sick to death of realism (or GTA, for that matter), come down Mexico way, and get lost in Los Toros. Maybe you'll find that shaker of salt ....
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