Rarely has a game reveled in its own crapulence the way that Total Overdose: A Gunslinger's Tale in Mexico does. Taking the concept of a stylish, violent third-person shooter to the height of hyperactive instability, Total Overdose is an all-out celebration of all things gun. Bullets fly with reckless abandon, bodies pile up to an almost alarming degree, and all the while you're pulling off the kinds of acrobatic maneuvers that would make Keanu Reeves say, "Woah." Of course, it's also all been done before. From playing Total Overdose, you get the feeling that the developers at Deadline Games had an awful lot of affection for the Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne games and that they may have watched one too many Robert Rodriguez movies late at night. That's because the main character plays just like Max Payne, the world around him operates just like the one in Grand Theft Auto, and the storyline plays out like a script Rodriguez might have written early in his career, before he knew what he was doing. Because it's made up of so many familiar parts, action game fans ought to be able to settle in and blast their ways through Total Overdose's relatively brief campaign with reasonable levels of enjoyment. Just be prepared for one extremely cheesy ride, and to sift through a few serious flaws as well.
The story of Total Overdose is cut from the kind of heavy-on-the-gunplay, light-on-the-drama cloth made famous in 1980s-era action films. Ramiro Cruz is an ex-convict and all-around screwup. His twin brother works for the DEA. Ramiro's twin is injured while working undercover, right as he's about to get in with some rather powerful drug lords down in Mexico. In a twist that plays like a vaquero movie version of the Anthony Hopkins/Chris Rock vehicle Bad Company, Ramiro is brought in to replace his brother so he can get in with the shady dealers. About a billion bullets, bodies, and busts later, you're dealing with crooked DEA agents, big-time drug deals, and a revenge plot about who really killed Ramiro's former-DEA-agent father. None of this means a thing, mind you. The plot here is merely a vehicle for you to get out and start shooting things. What little storyline exists here is largely turned irrelevant by the incredibly cheesy voice acting and writing, so there's no real opportunity to care about any of these people. But that suits the game just fine, since you'll be too busy killing everybody to bother caring about them.
What makes Total Overdose more than just another dull shoot-'em-up is the ludicrousness of its action. There isn't a kilo of realism to be found anywhere in this game...a fact flaunted at every opportunity by the insane acrobatic moves Ramiro can pull off for seemingly no reason other than because they're fun. Like Max Payne, Ramiro can shoot-dodge in bullet time while pumping tons of rounds into bad guys within a split second's time, all the while bouncing off walls and spinning around like a man possessed. These moves all play into a points rating that judges the different maneuvers you pull off and earns you points you'll need to complete missions. It's a neat system, but it's hindered by the most obnoxious aspect of the game, which (oddly enough) is the naming system for said moves. Moves are named the cheesiest things possible, like "Gringo loco!" and the oft-repeated "Spicy move!" In fact, you'll hear the words "spicy move" so often throughout the game that after a while a small piece of you will die inside every time it's uttered.
Thankfully, the basic shooting is reasonably satisfying. You're given plenty of different weapons with varying degrees of effectiveness. Fully automatic guns pump more rounds, but they also lack accuracy. Pistols are accurate, but they lack punch. Assault rifles tend to offer the best of both worlds. Rocket and grenade launchers? Well, you can imagine the level of destruction they inflict. If there's any complaint to be made here, it's that you often get the short shrift on ammo. There are upgrades you can earn throughout to give each gun type more available ammo. But even then, in a game this silly--where it's all about highly unrealistic action--you'd think the developer might have been a touch more generous with the ammunition. As it is, it's far too easy to run out of ammo for all guns very quickly, forcing you to constantly run around to pick up weapons off fallen enemies, which can be a risky affair in the middle of a firefight.
Ramiro can also earn a number of wacky special moves that border on comedic. Simply press a button and one of several select moves will occur, ranging from a kooky jumping spin move with dual Uzis blazing, to the appearance of an angry Mexican wrestler who will aid you by attacking any nearby enemies. Don't question it, because you'll absolutely despise this game if you try to put much thought into it. If you're willing to roll with the crazy Mexican wrestlers, the exploding piñatas, and the move called "El Mariachi," which straight-up gives you the Antonio Banderas-style "guns in the guitar cases" from the titular Robert Rodriguez film (though they should have called it "Desperado," since that's the actual film the move is from), Total Overdose can be a hysterical romp (though often unintentionally so).
Don't expect Total Overdose to be an especially challenging piece of work though, because it fails miserably in this regard. The enemy artificial intelligence borders on damaged. Bad guys will sometimes run around in circles, shooting at nothing in particular, or they'll get stuck in parts of the scenery. The only time they're at all hard is when there are just too many of them, and even then you can enact the game's "rewind" feature to just reverse time back a few seconds to avoid whatever bullet killed you a moment ago. Ramiro's special moves can also be abused to almost depressing levels. All it takes is one bout of El Mariachi to blow away just about any boss, without taking any damage yourself. Not that you need to cheat like this, since most bosses can be beaten just as easily with some nifty shoot dodging, but even still, exploits like this are prevalent throughout the game.
Total Overdose's Grand Theft Auto inspirations come from the vision of Mexico that the developer has created for you to play around in. The city you work in is largely open-ended, with plenty of pedestrians, ancillary traffic, buildings, and multiple locales, which unfortunately can't be jumped to without some load times. Additionally, these locations are also often difficult to find, since the in-game map is absolute garbage. As you wander around, you can look around for hidden bonuses and items, or you can just shoot the hell out of anyone who crosses your path. Unlike in GTA, though, there are really no consequences for your actions. Some cops might show up, but that's as far as it escalates, which effectively turns the process into a pretty dull affair. You get your missions by driving to icons located on the aforementioned terrible map, though it's at least good enough to denote the difference between a story mission and a side mission.
Side missions are mostly secondary and optional, though there are a few instances where you'll be required to do one or two side missions before the next story mission is available. Most of these are pretty simple "kill everyone in sight," checkpoint race, or "blow up a few burrito carts filled with cocaine" types of things, but they're fun enough for what they need to be. The story missions are longer and much more involved, often with multiple sections and plenty of heavy combat against drug runners, border patrol officers, and just about anyone else who might cross your path. The game is absolutely rife with save points, though, so you'll almost never find yourself having to repeat a lengthy section of the game. However, in the rare instance that you do, it's super-annoying.
There are also plenty of vehicles in the game, and they easily represent the least fun you'll have with any aspect of the gameplay. The cars handle in a very squirrelly manner, like the General Lee on a greased hockey rink or something. Fortunately, apart from the occasional checkpoint race, it's rare that you'll have to drive for more than a short distance. Often, cars are simply an optional means to an end, rather than a required piece of equipment for a mission. That's good, because if you had to drive for long bouts with these absolutely atrocious driving physics, you'd break the disc in half before you got anywhere near the end of the game.
Total Overdose certainly has style, but this isn't a particularly good-looking game. The character models are drab and blocky, and they don't animate as smoothly as they ought to. The rare exceptions are the style moves, but even they can be occasionally weird-looking. The cities are better-looking, and there are plenty of colorful set pieces decorating the background. However, the things going on in the background are frequently ugly. People dive out of the way of cars that aren't anywhere near them, cars will sometimes drive onto pieces of the scenery and get stuck there, and all manner of other little crazy glitches will go on--especially if you're involved in gunplay. The three versions of the game are all comparable, with only the PlayStation 2's lackluster frame rate setting it a notch or two lower than the rest. The PC game also does have a tendency to chug a bit, but it's marginal at most.
The game's sound manages to be both better and worse all at once. The voice acting, as mentioned before, is awful, though perhaps intentionally so. All the dialogue is terribly cheesy, and the actors ham it up to the nth degree. The credits list a number of Latino actors as playing the parts here, but most of them overdo the accents and slang so ludicrously that it all sounds forced and poorly stereotyped. However, the soundtrack is, in a word, tough. Featuring a smattering of songs from Latino rap group Delinquent Habits and Mexico City rap-metal group Molotov, the music complements the hard-edged tone of the game perfectly. What's more, a number of action sequences kick in with random bits of traditional flamenco guitars and upbeat mariachi tunes. Surprisingly, the jauntiness of these tracks sets a delightfully comedic contrast to the shooting, and it just plain works. The sound effects for the weapons, explosions, and whatnot are all effective enough, so you won't get any shortage of thunderous booms and bullet-riddled screams throughout the experience.
Total Overdose is one of those games that presents a conundrum. Most people shouldn't buy it, as it's far too short, too patently ridiculous, and too weak outside of its combat to be worth the money. Conversely, the game's utterly ludicrous nature makes for a fairly entertaining ride at times, and the shooting can be quite fun. Shooter fans on the hunt for something brainless and easy, but with lots of stylish gunplay, should certainly rent Total Overdose just to see how bananas the whole thing is. Those with slightly more-discerning tastes ought to just leave well enough alone and look elsewhere for their needs.