"Max Payne and John Woo meets Robert Rodriguez with a dash of Carlos Mencia"

Chili Con Carnage is apparently a reworking of the paltry, Mexican themed GTA clone Total Overdose. With the mostly useless free roaming structure stripped away, an entirely reworked plot with no serious moments and filled with camp, and an almost excessive focus on gunplay, the developers have succeeded where Namco failed horribly with Dead to Rights.

Story:
From the first 30 seconds, you should know what to expect of the rest of the game. You are Ramiro "Ram" Cruz, and your father Ernesto, is a federales (i.e federal agent) working to bring down Mexico's biggest drug cartel. After being assassinated by a gigantic combine harvester, you bury his hay-filled remains in tiny boxes and settle out to kill all those responsible. Ram mostly accomplishes the drug dealer killing on his own, although his uncle Marco will come along for the ride and provide help. The story escalates from there, taking Ram from drug farms to factories to oil tankers, onto seedy Mexican towns, jungles and an elaborate drug baron's mansion. The characters are just as wacky, with a fat lady wielding exploding chickens to a drug kingpin who happens to think he is a bull. There is plenty of off-the-wall humour, with lots of exploitation of Mexican stereotypes. If you're not easily offended, you will enjoy it.
Score: 7/10

Graphics:
Graphically, the game is one of the more impressive titles I've seen on the PSP. Everything looks nice and crisp, and there's plenty of well done texture work. Character models do come off as a bit blocky, but that might have been a stylistic choice on the part of the developers. There are a several different enemies based on your locale. The models are recycled, but there are several different skins, allowing for some variety. These character models exude multitudes of personality. For example, drug farms are populated with lanky farmers in cowboy hats armed with Winchester rifles and pitchforks, using tin cans as helmets. The levels are all well done, and I'm glad that this game decided to move away from the shades of brown and gray that seem to be the norm in action games these days.
Score: 8/10

Sound:
As in any shooting game, weapon sounds are the most important. Your peashooter Beretta appropriately sounds like a popgun, while the M-16 and AK-47 both emit loud, thunderous cracks when fired, and the Smith & Wesson revolver's sound just screams "badass" whenever you fire the thing. Explosions are copious, and thankfully they sound great. There's plenty of voice acting in this game, and all of the actors ham it up with heavy, stereotypical Mexican accents. In a similar fashion to Duke Nukem, Ram will shout taunts and one-liners. Strangely, the voice actor for Ram doesn't seem to fit the character. He often sounds more like an outside narrator commenting on the action. This game also has an impressive soundtrack consisting mainly of Latin hip-hop, and it fits this game very well. Interestingly enough, music only plays while the action is going on, so if there's a lull there won't be anything to listen to, but when the action kicks in the beats will be going full blast.
Score: 9/10

Gameplay:
This game is a shooter at its core, in the vein of bullet-time flavoured third person shooters that have become the norm since Max Payne hit the gaming world by storm, but adds a few fresh ideas to a tired formula.

Chili Con Carnage relies exclusively on a combo system. There is a meter on screen that pops up as soon as you kill an enemy, and if you kill another enemy before this meter runs out the meter refills, and your combo multiplier increases. You can gain points for pulling off a variety of acrobatic moves. Your most standard move is the shootdodge, where you dive in any direction in slow motion with guns blazing. You can combine this with shooting explosive barrels to take down enemies, or shooting enemies in the head, or doing both on multiple enemies. You can combine this with a reverse shootdodge, or with a wall walk (where you walk up the wall then flip off) or a wall bounce (same as a wall walk but you will vault off the wall and into a shootdodge).

The game encourages as much mayhem as possible, and each successive kill keeps your combo multiplier going and your score increasing. What's also interesting is that the game will give you extra points for variety and speed. If you just keep doing the same old shootdodges over and over you won't get very many points, but mix it up with some wall bounces or headshot shootdodges and you'll be netting many points. Combine enough different factors in creative ways and you'll get messages such as "Spicy Move" and "Gringo Frenzy". You shoot head gear off of enemies and catch them for bonus points, and earn style points for killing enemies while wearing their hats. These range from cowboy hats to tin pots and egg helmets.

This point system isn't for show, though. Earning enough points will net you one of 3 possible medals: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Earning a Bronze medal will increase your maximum health or your combo meter (presumably so it doesn't slow down as quickly) while earning Silver or Gold will unlock new characters in singleplayer and multiplayer modes as well as concept art, animatics, videos, etc. The game also rewards you for being skilled enough to beat levels in a single combo chain (i.e. by never letting your combo meter reach zero) with extra levels as well as infinite ammo for certain weapons. These bonuses prove to be a worthy reason to replay the game.

As Ram, you get a variety of weapons in your quest to avenge your father. Starting out with a pistol with unlimited ammo, you will move your way up to Winchester rifles, shotguns, AK-47s, MAC-10s and rocket launchers. Each of them both have their ups and downs, as you would expect. Shotguns and pistols are relegated to close quarters while the unwieldly hunting rifles are best suited for long range, leaving the automatic weapons as the middle ground with decent firepower and range. Along with these weapons, Ram also has "Loco Moves", which are special move icons dropped by enemies that Ram can use. These include "Gatling Gonzalez", where Ram can spawn a broad-shouldered, sombrero wearing gunslinger with twin Gatling guns to help him take down nearby enemies; "Tornado", where Ram will spin in the air with MAC-10s blazing Chow Yun Fat style, killing all enemies in his vicinity; to "Pinata", where Ram will launch an exploding pinata at enemies; or "El Toro", where Ram will act like a bull, being able to plow anybody in his path. An exclusive powerup, appropriately called "Overdrive", grants Ram the ability to akimbo wield any weapon in the game (except the rocket launcher and handheld explosives), allowing him to target multiple enemies at the same time, effectively doubling his firepower.

All of this action is handled pretty well by the game's camera and smooth controls. While I found the default button layout to be difficult and quirky (the use of the Square button to shoot and Circle button to control the camera played hell with my fingers) but the alternate layout (which relied on the shoulder triggers for these actions) I found much better. Ram is controlled by the analog nub, and the game mostly simplifies targetting enemies with its auto-aim, although sometimes it's unable to target enemies above or below you. Loco Moves are activated with Triangle, and acrobatic moves with X. The game has one button exclusively used for targeting heads (with a timing minigame that adds some skill to making headshots) and one button for targeting destructible objects such as furniture, explosive barrels and chickens. The directional arrows are used to switch weapons. This setup works fairly well, although you are forced to stand still in order to aim at enemies that are hard to target (either elevated up high or down below, or boss enemies), leaving you open to a lot of gunfire. The use of the X button as the action button also disrupts the gameplay. Nothing like wanting to leap into an enemy's face and shoot him full of lead and then accidentally leaping onto a zipline because you stood just a wee bit too close. Climbing ladders also proves to be something of a frustration since the camera gets thrown out of whack when you do so. This game also throws in some jumping puzzles, making it apparent how terrible jumping is in this game. The only way you can jump is by diving. Normal jumping is not possible, since while you gain height, you can't move forward because when you do, you initiate a dive. Ram can alternatively climb over environmental objects by pushing him into them, but there's no indicator of what he can and cannot climb - you have to test it out by making him run into the object for several seconds.

The game also features vehicles, which are ostensibly leftovers from Total Overdose. These include sedans, pick up trucks, bulldozers and tractors. You can drive these vehicles, lean out to shoot from them or leap from them. The vehicles all control fairly horribly. The game lets you customize the on-foot controls but not the vehicle ones, and the vehicles are controlled almost exclusively by the analog nub. The game designers also had the brilliance have different buttons for getting into and out of vehicles. Thankfully, vehicles aren't a significant part of the game.

To accompany the regular on-foot shooting action, the game also features a few rail-shooting segments. You can hang and slide from ropes and ziplines while firing upon enemies, and a few times you will be riding shotgun while protecting a vehicle. One level is almost exclusively riding in the back of a truck manning a .50 cal machine-gun while fighting off swarms of enemies, and another has you hanging off the skids of a helicopter fighting off enemies armed with rocket launchers attempting to shoot you down. The nub sensitivity is way off the charts, making it a chore to pin down enemies during these sections, but the game also has auto-aim during these sections.

Chili Con Carnage is not a difficult game. The story mode, named "El Gringo Loco," is composed of 19 levels. These levels will take you anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to beat. Finishing the whole story will take you a few days, or a single afternoon if you're a dedicated gamer. The challenge usually comes from fighting with the camera, or the somewhat uneven difficulty. The game will throw literally hundreds of enemies at you. They're all of the same intelligence, but their endurance and their firepower changes as the game gets harder. Later on, they'll also be able to shootdodge and avoid your fire more effectively, but they're still mostly dumb as bricks. Some of the earlier levels and boss fights are tough because of a lack of any rapid-fire or high-powered weapons. Later levels actually become easy because enemies will drop a plethora of ammo for your MP5 or AK-47, making it easy to cut a swath of death through throngs of bad guys. The game also has a nasty habit of ambushing you with peek-a-boo enemies loaded with explosives. A perfect example is a stairway guarded by a rocket launching guard at the bottom. The camera had a difficult time auto targetting him, and it took me a while to kill figure out how to kill him, causing me much grief. Thankfully, the game does have a rewind feature (activated with pickups - can't rewind without one) taken straight from the Prince of Persia games, which rewinds the game about 30 seconds - great if you've just died at a boss fight or when you're attempting to beat a level in a single combo chain.

However, if you're just playing the story mode then you're not going to get much out of the game. The game occasionally interrupts the story mode with a series of increasingly difficult challenges. There are 3 categories of challenges: style challenges, macho challenges and survival challenges. Style challenges are basically 5 rounds of pulling off hard or obscure move combos with a limited number of enemies, such as a headshot shootdodge or a reverse explosive shootdodge takedown. These challenges are for perfectionists, and they're fairly difficult since the game has strict criteria. Macho challenges are basically killing a certain quota of enemies in a single combo chain, and aren't very difficult. Survival challenges are the worst. These challenges force you to stay alive in a vehicle for a certain amount of time while keeping your combo meter from running out. Aside from the terrible vehicle controls, your vehicle also doesn't have any sort of health indicator. Sure, it starts smoking when it takes damage, but there's no real indication of when it's about to explode. Additionally, there's another singleplayer mode called "El Macho", which is basically the same as "El Gringo Loco," except all the enemies are chickens and the levels end when your combo meter reaches zero.

The game also has a whopping two multiplayer modes, 50% of which can be played over wireless Ad Hoc. Both multiplayer modes are just takes of the singleplayer, where you and friends compete to get the best high score. The other mode is basically a single system version, played hangman style. Sadly, the mutliplayer is the weakest part of this game. I was expected something like a multiplayer of Max Payne and was severely let down.

Chili Con Carnage does have a few glitches, such as glitched up boss fights and clipping issues. One example is having to ride a crate up as an elevator. The first time, Ram got stuck in the crate. The second time Ram fell through the crate and died, forcing me to restart the level. I've also heard about boss fights ending as soon as they start or dying inexplicably, but thankfully neither of those glitches have occurred with my copy of the game.
Score: 8/10

Chili Con Carnage is a really fun game, best played in short spurts since it ends all too soon. If you really don't like action games, then this game has nothing to offer you since it's all about killing with style and causing as much mayhem as possible.

Summary:
Pros:
+ (Mostly) awesome controls
+ Goofy, over the top story and humor
+ Action game done right
+ Great soundtrack
+ Excellent graphics
+ Tons of replayability
Cons:
- Fairly easy; uneven difficulty throws off the balance
- WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too short
- Useless, cruddy vehicles
- Some of the challenge missions may be too hard.
- Dull multiplayer

Final Score (not an average): 7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/09/07


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