Review by Gruel

"How could Taco Bell miss out on the licensing oppurtunities here?"

Ever since Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized gaming and ignited the 3D free roaming-non linear gameplay genre (now starting to become known as the ‘sandbox' genre), it has spawned many imitators trying to duplicate its success. Games like True Crime and The Simpsons: Hit and Run are worthy games in the genre that simply wouldn't have came to be without GTAIII. Now Eidos is throwing its hat in the ring with Total Overdose (TO), and while it has a few of its own issues it still delivers a solid and compelling experience that all fans of the genre should enjoy.

TO has a good storyline where its only problem with it is that it is a little bit confusing in the beginning keeping up with everything. You control Ramiro Cruz. His father was an undercover agent that was betrayed on the field by his fellow agents, but his associates covered up the murder. His son was also on the field and he injured his leg on his very first mission, so now he has his twin brother Ramiro impersonating him and taking on the underground Mexico druglords. Ramiro is the clichéd cocky badass, but whoever voices him does an outstanding job in delivering his lines and I actually get a kick out of some of the unique one-liners (Christ on a bike!). The cut scenes are actually produced rather well and kept me on my toes while I waited for they story to unfold.

Ramiro has a wide variety of moves and specialty moves (dubbed “Loco moves”) to back up his attitude. This is where TO throws in touches of Matrix and Dead to Rights to the gameplay. The ‘basic' moves that Ramiro can perform anytime are out of this world maneuvers like the Matrix run-up-the-wall move, and a Jack Slate-esque slow motion dive ala Dead to Rights that allow Ramiro to take out multiple foes at once. As foes are vanquished, Ramiro will be randomly rewarded with one of several Loco moves that has him doing some totally unauthentic-yet still freaking cool maneuvers.

Loco is a fitting word, as Ramiro will magically gain theatrical abilities that have him become nearly invincible while. For instance in the ‘El Mariachi' Loco move, Ramiro can run out with a pair of guitar cases that have machine guns built into them just like the movie Desperado. While he is going postal with the guns an opera theme will be playing in the background that makes the whole experience extremely satisfying and fun. There are other Loco moves that are just as fun too like a 360 Tornado Spin where Ramiro will randomly take out several baddies, and ‘El Toro' where Ramiro charges foes like a bull and can plow right through them.

TO implements a combo system that strings together all the gangsters you eliminated within a certain amount of seconds of each other. There are power-ups that help retain the combo string for a longer amount of time, and they greatly help your score. As a matter of fact the developers smartly force you to play like this in the main missions and mandatory point challenges (more on that in a bit). There are three levels of passing the point challenges, and if you get the best score you get a bonus stat increase like holding more ammo or a bigger health bar. Only quibble I have with ground combat is the targeting can be a problematic at times, like sometimes it'll target enemies the farthest away from me and it also lets Ramiro target onto allies that yielded some unfortunate results for me while I was in the midst of a rampage. Overall, I absolutely love the ground combat in TO.

I wish I can say the same about the driving mechanics, but I can't. It seems a bit unfinished to me. Often when I used a handbrake or came off a landing from a jump the vehicle would just drift forever or get hanged up awkwardly against a ramp or wall. Another downer is that most of the vehicles do not allow you to do the ever-popular and fun drive-bye shootings unless they are the less common vehicles without enclosures like motorcycles and tractors. On the upside the developers did a tremendous job on matching the vehicles with the south-of-the-border atmosphere in TO. The slick vehicles that were quite dominant in GTA aren't as common in TO. Instead, there are older vehicles that are more common like basic pick-up trucks, station-wagons and Impala-clones. There are also some noteworthy vehicles that deliver a chuckle or two like a taco shack mounted on top of a special scooter for example.

Mission progression is somewhat different than what it would be in your typical sandbox game. One feature I am particularly fond of in TO is that you can automatically hop right into a mission from the pause menu instead of manually traversing all the way there. Missions can also be restarted automatically if failed, which eliminates all that nasty backtracking I hated so much in the GTA games. As I said before there are the main missions and mandatory point challenges. Two point challenges must be completed before proceeding onto each story mission. The point challenges are simple quick missions that have Ramiro performing goals like eliminating X amount of gangsters or drug-trafficking taco stands and competing in the occasional checkpoint. Having to take a break and do the point challenges mildly disrupted the storyline's flow for me at times. After awhile however, the challenges seemed like a regular part of the game and getting rewarded with the aforementioned attribute bonuses for good scores is a justifiable compromise in my book.

You won't find any extra taxi or police missions in TO like you would in GTA. Those vehicles can be driven by Ramiro however. Aside from the point challenges, the only actual type of bonus type of play mode is whenever Ramiro runs across a skull icon on the map that turns all the civilians into skeletons and Ramiro must go on a rampage and kill as many of them within a certain time limit. Like most sandbox games, the world can still be explored at your own will as there are plenty of power-ups to be found on rooftops and hidden corners.

Unfortunately exploring is just not as fun as it is in GTA due to a few reasons. Ammo just isn't as plentiful compared to GTA which doesn't inspire me to go on rampages. It is also worth mentioning there is no star rating system either so it is not like I am being challenged to see how far I can take on the police either. There are also more frequent loading times for all the areas that tarnished going from locale to locale, and more importantly the questionable driving physics lowers the fun factor of discovering the game world. TO definitely could have benefited from some more extra type of side missions.

TO has some ups and down visually. The character models actually look pretty good, kind of like how I would like the GTA character models to be. They are well detailed and distinguishable and animate fluidly, as does all the weapon reloading animations and of course the Loco move animations steal the show with their bizarreness. Some of the vehicles like the previously mentioned comical ones look pretty solid and well detailed, but some of the more common trucks and station-wagons have the quality car models that should be found in an early Dreamcast game. The environments aren't anything special, but are acceptable and mostly destructible unlike those darn stop signs in Driv3r. One thing that isn't acceptable is the insane amount of character and environmental pop-up. It can get pretty bad at times and makes the bits of pop-up seen in San Andreas seem like nothing.

Thankfully, the audio is far above acceptable. The voice acting is superbly executed and makes what started to look like a so-so story stand out on its own. Eidos didn't go out and hire any big Hollywood names as I don't recognize any of the names in the credits, but whoever they got gets my mad props for a job well done. The music is also very fitting. There is no radio station feature in TO, instead some Spanish rap-metal style tracks kick in at pivotal moments in gameplay or right in the middle of a heated firefight that helps intensify the mood and it works well. The sound effects are also spot on and there are a few little things that are noteworthy like the funny horn riffs from vehicles that collide with you.

TO isn't the best sandbox game by any means. The driving and free-roaming elements leave a bit to be desired, but the storyline is a fresh change of pace and the developers got the atmosphere down for the game to a T. If you're looking for a good alternative to Grand Theft Auto or True Crime that doesn't take the genre too seriously than you should definitely check out Total Overdose.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/06/05

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