Bang bang, splat splat, then lots of dead henchmen. It's a familiar notion when considering the world of action games on the PC. Where do all these henchmen come from? What forms the psychological foundations of their short lived existences? Why exactly, if they are so rubbish, does anyone in the world hire them?
These are probably the most interesting thoughts I had about this very average, very run of the mill, Max Payne wanna-be shooter. It's titled El Matador, but don't expect any bull in this review. You're about to get a lesson on how to make a game that mimics Phillip Schofield – average to poor in every possible way.
A story worthy of Steven Segal
Those of you who are ardent Steven Segal fans should tune in, as this game feels, looks and sounds like one of any number of his B-rate movies. You play Victor Corbet, a police officer with balls of steel and the inexplicable power of being able to slow down time whilst jumping and shooting. I can only imagine the meeting when El Matador's story writers tear their hair out trying to come up with some far-fetched explanation for why the main character can manipulate time. Suddenly one of them screams, "Eureka! Let's just not explain it at all." The other writers eagerly nod their heads, glad to have this rather annoying plot-hole go away.
For any story-conscious gamer, this kind of lacklustre effort is simply unacceptable. Apart from the glaring omission concerning time, the story is equivalent to any Hollywood B-movie action flick. You're job is to bring down a drug cartel by uncovering drug-plants and killing mafia bosses, and of course single handily massacring armies of useless henchmen.
Before I completely write off everything about the story-telling element of the game, there is one thing that caught my eye. When introducing new characters, it does a rather cool freeze frame and pops up the name of the character in a kind of Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver) manner. Although the story isn't strong enough to make you really care about the characters, I think it's notable that the developer is making an attempt at bridging the gap between movies and games. (Similar things have been done in other games, such as Metal Gear: Solid for PS1 - Ed.)
We're now clear the story isn't brilliant; but hey, most of us here are gamers and ultimately all this story stuff will be null and void if the game is great fun to play. Unfortunately, it isn't - the game is very much an unashamed imitation of Max Payne, even more so than Saint's Row is to GTA. It has the same weapons system, a similar level of graphics and apart from some new physics and some nice HDR bloom rendering, this could quite happily be passed off as a fairly well done mod for Max Payne 2.
The biggest problem is that the game doesn't take advantage of the areas it does well. The outdoor areas, for instance, look brilliant. Bright landscapes with exploding boxes and barrels flying through the air make this game look far more unique. It's certainly not in the same league as a game like Half Life 2 but at times it can look really beautiful… well, maybe not beautiful, but certainly nice. Despite this, the developers have chosen to make a large portion of the game based in dull, 'seen-it-all-before', indoor areas. Drab indoor areas don't make for a memorable game.