Publisher: Red Mile/2WG
Developer: Plastic Reality Technologies
Release Date: September 29, 2006
Action games from a third-person perspective seem to have gone the way of the buffalo. First-person shooters are starting to rule the PC and console kingdom, with many new ones being released each year. So when El Matador was announced, and it looked like an interesting third-person shooter in the vein of Max Payne, fans of the genre were likely happy to see something like this come along to give them a quick fix. El Matador certainly tries to do a lot of the same things that made games like Max Payne so popular, but ultimately, it fails to deliver on a few key points.
The story of El Matador deals with a vengeance-seeking Drug Enforcement Agency agent who has a bone to pick with some South American drug lords. Suffice it to say, the story itself is not very compelling and provides little reason to play. However, it does serve the purpose of advancing the player from location to location, and it’s not so bad that it feels contrived or forced at any time. However, it does not live up to the noir legacy that was achieved by the game that was clearly inspired by, Max Payne. In fact, El Matador even shares a game engine with Max Payne 2, and clearly tries to emulate that game in many ways.
The game is played in much the same way. You play as Victor, the DEA agent, from a third-person viewpoint. The game starts you off in a simple training mission where you must navigate through various obstacles as well as performing different tasks utilizing the weaponry and equipment you’ll find throughout the course of the game. From here, your task starts, and you’re off to the races. The first mission is a raid on a nightclub of sorts, which just happens to be filled with sharpshooters with trigger fingers that are happy to blow you away the instant they spot you.
Here’s where the gripes about the game really start. You’re accompanied on this mission by some SWAT team members, who are supposed to be along to help you take down the enemy combatants that are all over the building. Upon entering the building, you’ll find that your compatriots have taken up positions behind cover, and will only occasionally peek out to fire a shot or two, while the bad guys continuously rain lead upon your head. Even if you’re extremely careful to duck behind cover, pop out quickly and fire accurately, you’re bound to get hit by at least one bullet. It seems like the enemies never have to reload and have pinpoint accuracy. Meanwhile, your SWAT members will get cut down quickly if you don’t advance through the level fast enough, because with enough time, the enemies will simply shoot them dead.
Your teammates will also push you out of the way if you’re standing where they want to go, knocking you out from behind cover and into a barrage of gunfire from the eagle-eyed enemies. They have horrible aim and seem to be outgunned and outsmarted by the superior numbers of the enemy. Worst of all, you can’t even kill one of your own men out of frustration. They are immune to friendly fire. They are just window dressing for the game, automatons that do what they’ve been prescribed to do and eventually die ineptly. Thankfully, you can scavenge ammunition from their bodies, so it’s not all bad.
Thankfully, you’re given one extremely helpful advantage: the ability to enter “bullet-time”, which slows down the action and allows you to move quicker than everyone else, taking out the enemies before they have the chance to drop you. Better to remain behind cover when it runs out, though, because if you’re surrounded when you speed back up, you’ll be dead before you have a chance to fire back. This leads to the difficulty level, which even on the default setting, is nigh impossible. The bosses on each level are almost invincible, requiring clips upon clips of bullets to kill. It will be a rare occasion where you will die less than ten times upon trying to complete a level, no matter your skill level. The enemies are just too accurate and the bosses too powerful.
Graphically, the game looks good, even if it’s not up to the high standards set by recent graphical powerhouses like Oblivion. There are nice lighting and shadow effects, the fire effects are beautiful, it runs smoothly and consistently at a high framerate. Even on an older computer, the game should look good and run well. Textures could have used a little work, but the environments are well-designed and satisfying to go through. Character models and animations are detailed, fluid, and generally pleasant to look at. The draw distance in the environments is quite good as well, and you can see distant objects and buildings. The only problem with the game is in the darker areas, where it’s nearly impossible to pick out individual details. The game has a brightness setting, and you’ll definitely be making use of it often.
The aural sensations of El Matador are definitely hit or miss. The guns pack a lot of punch, and each of the many different weapons sounds appropriately deadly. When you’re in a firefight, grenades flying, guns blazing, and men dying, the experience is wonderful. When you’re in a cutscene or someone is speaking, you’ll probably have to laugh at the cheesy lines the voice actors utter. The soundtrack is probably the worst I’ve heard in a while, and it repeats often. Concentrate on blowing away the enemies, and you’ll be satisfied with the sound.
Surprisingly, El Matador doesn’t last all that long, even with the inflated play time due to the incredibly hard difficulty level. You could easily finish the game after a solid day of playing, as long as you didn’t get frustrated with the cheap shots, annoying teammates, bad music or dull story. It’s hard to be disappointed with the length of the game, especially one this difficult. You’ll probably just be happy you made it to the end when it’s over. There are no multiplayer options or editors to make your own levels. Once you’ve finished this game, it’s over, and you’ll probably not find any reason to go back to it. We all know the limitations of implementing a “bullet-time” mechanic in an online game, but it would’ve at least been worth it to let players run around in a level and blast each other. Some sort of multiplayer or other extra modes would’ve helped increase the value of this title considerably.
Overall, El Matador isn’t necessarily a bad game, just a frustrating and unoriginal one. If you were a fan of the Max Payne games and want more of the same, El Matador might tide you over and give you want you want. Just don’t expect to find the great pacing or fantastic story here. It’s a bare bones experience that’s incredibly difficult. It certainly has its good points, and can definitely be fun, but only for a little while. Once you’ve experienced everything that El Matador has to offer, you’ll have to conclude that this title is ultimately flawed and does not live up to the legacy of the masters it tries to emulate.
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