Reviewed: November 12, 2005
Released: September 27, 2005
It is neigh impossible to talk about Total Overdose: A Gunslinger's Tale in Mexico without making references to its obvious gaming influences: Rockstar’s Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto series of games. Impossible, because Total Overdose so blatantly copies the formula that made those games so popular – from the Payne-esque bullet time to the GTA-inspired “free roam” city structure – that one would be a fool not to take notice. But this should not come as a surprise to gamers – developers have been chimping those two games ever since they first rocked the gaming scene. What is surprising is when developers actually bring all of these elements together to make a fun game.
Total Overdose may not be the most original property out there, but it is a heck of a trip through the dirty side of Mexico – the Mexico we have come to know via the Robert Rodriguez movies like El Mariachi, and Desperado and Spy Kids – well, not Spy Kids, but wouldn’t that be funny. Anyway, Total Overdose’s Mexico is one of drug lords, corrupt cops, and a whole lot of gunfire – it is one heck of a place to visit, but you probably won’t want to stay.
Total Overdose picks up the story of the brothers Cruz – twins, one good and one very bad. The good brother works for the DEA and is heavily involved in an investigation in the Mexican drug cartel when he is injured. In order to keep the investigation going, the DEA enlists the help of his twin brother Ramiro – who happens to be a bit of a troublemaker himself, and who ends up going a little bit overboard. And that’s where the fun starts.
Sporting movies that would make even Dante (of Devil May Cry) blush, Ramiro Cruz successfully mixes Max Payne style slo-mo gunplay with moves ripped out of the Chinese Acrobatic theater to make some of the most memorable – albeit unrealistic – gameplay to hit the consoles in some time.
Flair is the name of the game – with Ramiro performing flamboyant flips, jumps and cartwheels with guns a blazing in an over-the-top ballet of destruction. If things get heated, Ramiro also has an ass pocket full of special moves at his disposal. Getting attacked from all angles? Use the Tornado and pull off a glitzy SMG-spin move to wipe out everyone in sight. Facing a wall of firing enemies? Why not ram them with the Raging Bull? Big boss getting in your way? Go Banderas on his ass with the guitar case toting El Mariachi move, which itself is an homage to the early Ramirez movies.
Don’t expect Total Overdose to be an opus like San Andreas or Payne 2, because it doesn’t come close. Where those titles were deep, dark and engaging – Total Overdose is intentionally campy and cheesy in almost every aspect. Is that a bad thing? Generally, yes – but when a game is this fun, this addictive, we are willing to put up with some cheese every now and then. And anyway, some of the smelliest cheese has the best flavor, right?
Yeah, the world is like GTA – or maybe better put, GTA Lite. There is an open city, with traffic and pedestrians – and you can get in a car and take a tour if you wish, but it is nowhere near the scale or detail of a Los Santos or San Fierro. You do have some freedom to the mission structure, which features main and secondary missions – the main missions progressing the story, while the secondary missions are more akin to GTA’s Rampage missions and street races.
You can push the story only so far before you have to go and clean up the secondary missions, and only then can you go back to the story. It’s not a big thing, but sometimes you’ll wish you weren’t forced to do trivial quests just so you could get back to the story.
Really the only problem with the gameplay itself is that the game isn’t all that challenging. The AI enemies really aren’t the most intelligent cannon fodder, and considering that the awesome power of the special moves can easily wipe out waves of attackers or completely lay out boss characters in one fell swoop – well, the game doesn’t demand a whole lot of skill.
Couple the relative ease with the liberal placement of save points, and it is quite easy to ladder-walk from save point to save point through right through the story mode; which for the average gamer, will take roughly eight or nine solid hours to complete.
Thankfully, Total Overdose's fun is not limited simply to the story, as each area is littered with hard-to-reach bonus icons and power-ups that will substantially extend the life of the game for players who wish to find each and every hidden item.
The PS2’s aging hardware has been struggling for years to keep up with recent glut of large-scale graphics-heavy games, and Total Overdose falls prey to the PS2’s shortcomings. Low frame counts, stuttering, clipping issues – all the bad stuff is here. But as with the Grand Theft Auto series – which is rife with these issues and many more – we are willing to forgive a few graphical bugs in exchange for an immersing world and kick-ass gameplay.
Total Overdose may not quite have the whole GTA sandbox world concept sealed up, but it does hit the gameplay nail squarely on the head, so I’m willing to award the free get out of jail card.
While the graphics themselves may be a bit glitchy, the overall style is very befitting of the old-world Mexican setting. Everything, from the dusty plains to the grimy cityscape, is faithful to the subject matter and doesn’t ever leave you wondering where you are.
A solid soundtrack of Latin-favored tunes – ranging from flamenco, to licensed rap and rock – makes up the background audio in Total Overdose. I was pleased with the variety of music, which introduces gamers to the likes of Latino bands Molotov, Delinquent Habits and Control Machete.
The voiceovers are borderline exploitive and embarrassing, full of the requisite typecast accents – and it doesn’t help matters that the dialogue is so poorly written and littered with cheesy street lingo. More than likely, this was all done intentionally, given the nature of the game – at least I hope that to be the case.
With only eight or nine total hours of play, and the ability to literally walk through levels and bosses like no one’s business – Total Overdose is hard to call a solid value at full price. And lacking any multiplayer offerings, and with only a tease of the “true” sandbox action we see in Grand Theft Auto series, there really isn’t much incentive to take a second trip to Mexico.
Don’t get me wrong, Total Overdose is a pretty good game while it lasts – but Max Payne 2 was much better game, and even that fell by the wayside for the very same reasons. I picked up my copy of Max Payne 2 for $9.99 within a month and a half of its release – I wouldn’t expect to pay much more for Total Overdose.
Total Overdose was everything I expected it to be; an over-the-top knockoff of the Max Payne-meets-Grand Theft Auto gameplay with liberal slathering of nacho cheese. What I didn’t expect was that I would actually have fun with the title – which I did greatly, if only for the few hours it lasted.
Ramiro Cruz is no Max Payne, and he never will be – but if you have ever had even the slightest inkling to visit the dirty side of Mexico, Cruz is one heck of a travel partner. Give Total Overdose a rent.