Forget poly counts. Bin Normal Mapping, High Dynamic Range or whatever trendy buzzwords are currently being wheeled out this week. You can measure the evolution of videogames by the role that hats play. Yes, that's right, hats. While it was satisfying enough to shoot the tin helmets off Nazi soldiers back when Medal Of Honor was new, what we really wanted to do was run up to them while whistling the theme tune to The Great Escape, steal their hat and cartwheel along the wall before popping a cap in them. And their mates. And the scared chickens that have somehow strayed into this increasingly surreal paragraph. Shoo.
So imagine our delight when it emerged that Deadline Games' Total Overdose lets us waltz around pilfering Sombreros from unsuspecting Mexicans. Throw in the most gratuitous violence seen since Serious Sam had a hissy fit at Smash TV, add a hefty splash of Max Payne-style slo-mo pirouetting histrionics and wrap it around the style-combo sensibilities of Project Gotham Racing and you're somewhere near getting the gist of this completely deranged game.
Plain dumb fun
In other words Total Overdose is just plain old fashioned videogaming fun where you get to shoot lots of things in a crazed frenzy of balls-out acrobatic action. Nothing wrong with that.
But as is the way of things in games, there's a back-story to the whole bloody affair, with the game's architect of destruction Ramiro Cruz on a search for his missing father. Kicking off from the father's perspective some 10 years earlier, you get to find out a little more about the company he was keeping back then before the action kicks off in earnest.
Getting a hot lead from a certain small-time crook by the name of Marco, your first task is to hunt down the head of a local gang Cesar Morelles. But to confuse matters a little, it seems that Ramiro also has a twin brother who's prepared to take the rap for a crime in the greater good of tracking down their pa.
And as you might have guessed already, the action comes thick and fast, and one of the first sequences demoed gave just a taster of the Mexican-flavoured cocktail of destruction to come. Taking control of Ramiro's twin at the wheel of a speeding car heading for a fuel tanker, you can lean out while still steering before performing a daring leap moment before it disappears into a ball of flames, taking out anyone in the vicinity.
If you're gonna kill, do it in style
Perverting the Bizarre Creations' Kudos concept to degrees of gratuitous carnage, Total Overdose's mantra could easily be 'it's not the killing, but how you kill'. For once, getting out alive is not your number one priority with the emphasis firmly on creating mayhem in style. The game keeps up the pace at every opportunity with an easy-to-control riot of a shooting fest where you're always on the hunt for your next target. Favouring an auto lock-on system, the combat is set up by design to make it straightforward to kill, kill, and kill again, no matter the acrobatics you're engaged in at the time.
Utilising the standard third-person dual-stick control system, movement is assigned to the left and camera controls on the right, with the all-important adrenaline (i.e. Bullet Time) system on the left shoulder button and fire on the right. And to make matters even more straightforward, objects such as explosive barrels can be auto targeted (on the B button), while headshots can also be pulled off with speed and precision (via the X button).
The most obvious comparisons are with Max Payne in terms of the overall feel and intense pace, but the emphasis on racking up Unreal Tournament-esque killing fest rewards the player in impressive style, ranging from extra health on a basic level to increasingly destructive Loco special moves.
Spice up your life
But a simple straightforward kill isn't good enough for Total Overdose. This is a game that wants style, and earning Spicy Moves (as they're known) are generally only awarded for killing while in full flight, and, to aid your antics, the geometry allows your character to leap in all directions, bound off walls and perform all manner of cool moves. And so long as you keep the murder spree going before the little timer in the left corner ticks away it adds to your overall Spicy Move hit counter, and the longer you rain death on your foes, the more Total Overdose comes into its own with a plethora of crazed weaponry by way of recompense for your sterling efforts.
Although Total Overdose sports 18 levels across a variety of environment and all the usual jazz, each level has been designed to be approached from a number of ways - and finding out the best bodycount route ensures a degree of replayability sorely lacking from many modern shooters. Reports of 100+ kill sprees reveal that it's perfectly possible to keep returning to the same levels until you suss out a means to kill the entire area's population in one go.
And in terms of death dealing, the rewards for keeping up the slaughter count are impressive; from the four guaranteed headshots of the Golden Gun, smart bomb manoeuvres such as the Tornado give you a chance to take out everyone in one sweetly executed hit - with a Burnout-in-Crash-mode-flyby of everyone you've taken out in super gory slo-mo. Elsewhere, special pick-ups like the dual wield El Mariachi let you stagger around with what looks like guitar cases with hidden machine guns inside. Demented.
Visually, Total Overdose is pleasing and stylish without necessarily pushing any boundaries. In fact it reminded us immediately of Grand Theft Auto, so don't expect to be immensely blown away by the technical prowess on show. The environments are pretty standard stuff, and the character models are seemingly half-inched from Rockstar North's opus (even the spinning icons are the same). In general it's light on the wow factor that enhanced texture detail and lighting or particle effects would have given it, but don't be put off by your initial impressions. The Mexican flavour gives it something relatively unique, and we'd rather leave our graphical snobbery at the door to play something as fresh and action-centric as Total Overdose.
A demo is expected to be released soon, and the game is set to be published on PS2 and Xbox in late September though Eidos. Check back soon for more on Total Overdose.