Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Deadline Games
Date: February 13, 2007
Total Overdose was an action/adventure shooter in the Max Payne mode, complete with bullet time and tons of enemies to face down. It came out for the PS2 and Xbox in late 2005 to some mild acclaim. It combined an almost complete irreverence for itself and its influences with some fast-paced and funny gaming mechanics. It was witty, interesting, fun, and surprisingly solid. It wasn't a hit, but it did well enough to earn a spin-off on the PSP in the form of Chili Con Carnage.
Sometimes, though, things get lost in translation.
Chili Con Carnage isn't a word-for-word and pixel-for-pixel spin-off, but more of a spiritual successor. It delivers a new way to play through the game that is easy to hop into and out of. Gone are the open world features from the first entry in the series, replaced instead with a mission-based form of level progression. This makes the title extremely portable friendly.
It's also easy to understand. It's in the same vein as Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" series, featuring stereotyped characters, over-the-top dialogue, and extreme action. The game opens with your father dying in a tragic assassination that involves kittens and farm equipment. In the next scene, you ride a truck over a bunch a flaming barrels, off a ramp, and into the compound of the people responsible for his death, leaving behind explosions in your wake. Chili Con Carnage is an overdose of cool. Well, almost.
It has some very real issues. The original Total Overdose featured the usual aiming and movement controls found on consoles, with one analog stick controlling movement while the other stick handles aiming. The PSP, of course, has only one analog stick. Do you see the dilemma? Deadline Games has replaced the second analog stick with an aiming system that will pick your targets for you, which usually equates to the nearest guy. This isn't necessarily a good thing, however. I'm sure that you've played shooter games where your A.I. teammates appear to be completely untrained and unable to hit anything smaller than a skyscraper. Well, now you're in that same boat. The auto-aim is far from perfect, which makes it a pain to do anything even remotely stylish.
Something that doesn't help matters is the enemy groupings. Enemies tend to come in small groups, which is good for taking them out quickly, but bad for racking up combos. The stages have a lot of empty space, so you're going to be spending a lot more time running around and trying to line up a shot on a bad guy than actually shooting them dead. This is where the biggest problem with the auto-aim comes into play. You can't dash around a stage while staying focused on a bad guy. You have to keep him on-screen in hope that the auto-aim doesn't select someone else while you're maneuvering, or worse, completely deselect the enemies. Try to dodge sideways while taking out a bad guy. See where that gets you.
Chili Con Carnage doesn't quite excel in the presentation department, but it does look quite good. It's easily on par with a SOCOM title; the animations are pretty crisp, and slowdown comes rarely. There is a problem with the brownish palette of some of the enemies blending a little too much with the backdrops, which, when combined with the relatively small size of the PSP's screen, equals hard-to-find foes and possible disaster. The sound effects and music are excellent, however, and the game is filled with action movie dialogue. Corny one-liners and ironic cut scenes played as if they were completely serious, which delivers a great deal of fun. The pumping, fast-paced soundtrack is good for keeping you going, too.
Chili Con Carnage is a game that doesn't take itself seriously, which is definitely a good thing. The problem is that the slipshod controls make you not want to take the entire package seriously. When 90% of your game is about shooting, the shooting and aiming mechanics had better be dead on target. There are a handful of game modes in Chili Con Carnage, including a kind of timed mission mode, but the bad controls render it nearly unplayable. It's an uphill struggle to make the game work the way you know it should, which means that it's also an uphill struggle to enjoy the game and its quirks. Chili Con Carnage is a clear case of "almost, but not quite."
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