If the phrase "Wild West" conjures images of rootin'-tootin' cowboys and no-good varmints shooting each other full of holes at the O.K. Corral, then Lead and Gold might be the game for you. This multiplayer-only shooter pits two gangs of up to five players against each other in familiar game types like Team Deathmatch, Territory Control, and Capture the Flag (or sack of gold, as the case may be). There are no weapon unlocks or persistent ranks to earn here; each game is a stand-alone affair. The crisp action is fast and well-tuned, and the levels provide plenty of ways to flank your enemies, gain high ground, or go for a direct assault. The only significant twist is that you play as one of four character classes, each with its own unique gun and special ability. This creates some interesting tactical variation that can lead to exciting and satisfying matches. Unfortunately, the player population is quite low a week after the game's launch, and it can be tough to find a full game. There are also occasional lag issues to contend with, and the lack of dedicated server support leaves players powerless to provide their own remedies. Finding a solid match may require patience, but once the bullets start flying, Lead and Gold proves its mettle.
While the actual Wild West was home to a veritable smorgasbord of bandits, desperadoes, lawmen, pistoleros, brigands, and stickup kids, Lead and Gold features only four distinct varieties. Every class sports a unique weapon, a sidearm revolver, and a special ability with a cooldown period. The gruff, tin-helmeted Blaster carries a double-barreled shotgun and slings dynamite, while the coonskin-capped Trapper has a high-powered scoped rifle and can lay bear traps to ensnare her foes. The masked Gunslinger packs a heavy revolver and has the ability to fire rapidly while sacrificing some accuracy, and the dapper Deputy wields a repeater rifle while boasting the ability to tag an opponent, placing a skull mark over him that the Deputy's entire team can see no matter where the tagged enemy goes.
All characters have unlimited ammunition, so your only concerns when firing on a foe are your gun's effective range and how long it takes you to reload. When you hit an opponent, there's a satisfying thwack, and a number pops up registering the damage you did. If you land enough shots, your target falls down and pulls out his sidearm in a desperate last stand. Nearby teammates can pick up their downed comrade if you don't finish him off, and if you're close enough, the fallen cowboy might even get lucky and take you out. But if you do enough damage the first time through, he won't even get a second chance.
Killing enemies and accomplishing objectives earns you experience points, which in turn gain you ranks. Ranks are tracked only within matches and are reset once a new match begins, but while they last they earn you a slight boost to your synergy effect (in addition to bragging rights). Each character radiates a synergy effect to nearby teammates that gives them buffs to damage, armor, accuracy, or critical hits. These effects register with a pleasing "ding!" and reward teams that stick together as well as teams with diverse character choices (three Gunslingers does not mean three times the accuracy buff). You can switch your character every time you spawn, though there is no way to know what your teammates' initial spawn choices are, which can hamper your starting strategy. Lead and Gold does not support voice chat, so communicating with your cowboys-in-arms is a bit of a hassle. You have to use the in-game text chat window if you want to taunt your opponents or whisper some strategy to your team.
The game modes are fairly standard, though the maps offer a good amount of variety. There are variations on standard Team Deathmatch, Territory Control, Capture the Flag, and Destroy the Objective. The latter two require you to carry bulky sacks of gold and kegs of gunpowder respectively, slowing you down and making you vulnerable. Keg-heavy matches feature yellow-colored destructible objects, including bridges and doors that can be destroyed to help your team or hinder the enemy, and sheds that, once blown open, create a new source of the powerful explosives. These strategic wrinkles add some welcome variety to your gameplay objectives, which are otherwise very straightforward. The different map locations include a mine, a homestead, and a wagon camp (to name a few), and they are generally complex enough to support a few different strategies. The bright colors and realistically styled environments make attractive locations for shoot-outs, and the sharp character models animate smoothly and look great.
When the action begins to heat up, Lead and Gold can be pretty darn exciting. Deputies cover alleys and streets, giving gunslingers a chance to advance while trappers pick out perches with long sightlines. The six-shooters light up at the first encounter, and the defenders hold their line until a flanking blaster scatters their ranks with some well-thrown dynamite. Having blown open the forward keg spawn, the attackers harry the defenders with explosives until finally the safe is cracked. The first prospective gold stealers are rudely met with bear traps and quickly dispatched, but the trapper gives long-range cover as the team begins the slow, gruesome trek back to their base with their illicit gains. All the while teams are targeting the one individual who carries their enemies' mobile spawn point, hoping to kill him and send it back to their base, temporarily staunching the flow of enemies. Bullets fly and blood spills in these hectic struggles, and to the victor goes the glory.
Unfortunately, it can be tough to find games that play out satisfactorily. There are rarely more than a handful of servers to join because the player population is low. Perhaps because the tutorial is listed as "practice," many players seem to lack a good understanding of how the game works, so expect to have some teammates cruise right by you instead of reviving you, or to find yourself alone in pursuing the actual objective. Lopsided conflicts seem to be more frequent than they should be, and many players experience intermittent lag that is deadly in a fast-paced game like Lead and Gold. A recent patch removed the problematic quick match feature, and support for dedicated servers is on the list of promised fixes, but these issues can make your gameplay experience rougher than it should be.
For the most part, however, Lead and Gold provides enjoyable, straightforward, fast-paced shooter action. Exploring the different classes is fun, and finding your groove with one during a heated match is immensely satisfying. There are issues to contend with, and you may need to exercise some patience before you can scratch your itchy trigger finger. Yet at $14.99, Lead and Gold is a reasonably priced way to romp around an attractively styled Wild West.