Publisher: Red Mile/2WG
Developer: Plastic Reality Technologies
Release Date: September 15, 2006
Shooters, by their very nature, tend to have a great deal of difficulty pressing out of the pack and differentiating themselves as special or unique. Regardless of the artwork or concept, most titles in the genre are simple shuffles through bland corridors, a panoply of standard armament that has remained relatively unchanged since the days of yore and the popularization of the now-canonical Doom series. There are, of course, games that have made attempts to break out of the mold and defy convention. When one of these titles manages to succeed (which is rare, since we gamers tend towards the familiar), they become the basis for the standard of the genre.
One instance of this is in the third-person sub-category. Fairly unpopular since the advent of first-person games, third-person shooters generally decorate the back of the shelves or the bottom of the bargain bins ... at least, that was the case until the release of the fantastic Max Payne games. Stubbornly third-person, the Payne games proved that the perspective could not only be fun, but needn't suffer from the control scheme and camera problems often associated with it. It also introduced what would become a staple of the category, the slow-mo, testosterone-drenched, bullet-spewing dive.
El Matador, an upcoming title in the much-overlooked genre, looks to combine that "Matrix"-style bending of time with certain elements of stealth, action, and an impressive array of brass-slinging boom-sticks to create the sort of game that other games will ultimately be compared to. There is certainly a fair share of promise in the levels provided for the hands-on preview.
The three levels provided, "The Eternal Spring," "Fire on Water," and "Green Hell" give a glimpse into the game's potential graphic power. The city depicted in the first level is intricately detailed, with clothes swaying in the breeze from drying lines, and shadows betraying the positions of enemies. On the other hand, the preview build seems to have some sort of problem with ATI cards, and therefore ran at an average of 15 frames per second. The same issue occurred on both of the other levels. Nonetheless, should this problem be rectified (it is nearly certain that it will be), El Matador's visuals are quite impressive.
The sound design is strong in this early version, and when heard on a good set of speakers, provides what may easily end up being one of the game's most memorable features. Firearm reports thump like howitzers, and grenades literally shake the floor. There are also a decent number of silenced weapons which are useful for moments when stealth takes a higher priority than "huevos grandes" bull rushes.
In terms of gameplay, it's as if Robert Rodriguez decided to direct a "Desperado"-style remake of Max Payne, minus the comic book noir concept. Players will duck, dive, and return fire through sandy Mexican villages and lush Latin jungles. The stealth aspect of the game seems to be largely back burner, and at least in the preview levels, can be bypassed by anyone willing to lay down a curtain of lead and press on through sheer force of gunpowder. Ammo conservation, a tool by which stealth gameplay could be heavily encouraged, is a non-issue. Not only does every slain foe cordially relinquish his stash, but boxes of ammos and spare weapons can generally be found in the obvious places, such as medicine cabinets and on top of rocks.
Fear not, however. The excess of ammo and fully stacked armory may make it seem like the odds are stacked against you. As mentioned earlier, though, you also have the ubiquitous slow-motion button, which will allow you to dance unscathed through a hail of burning metal while drawing a bead on the bad guy's face. The feature is well implemented in the preview. While it doesn't allow for the acrobatic array of the Payne series, it does give the player the invaluable ability to take a mid-combat breather and carefully aim at enemies, or dive from behind cover and lay waste before the baddies even know what's going on.
So far, it seems that El Matador is coming along quite nicely. Along its current track, it will no doubt be a solid addition to its genre and will be a welcome title to lovers of the Payne series. The age of the preview build is unknown, so although it doesn't seem to be an innovator by any stretch, additional gameplay components could have made it onto a more final version. With or without any extras, though, El Matador isn't without merit in its own arena. Over-the-top action, slow-motion death-dealing, and realistic gunplay converge to make what will be, at the very least, an unapologetically fun slaughterhouse. Whether it will overcome its peculiar slew of graphical flaws, its tried-and-true concept and its routine control scheme and play style over the next month could very likely make or break the game at the retail counter.
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