Total Overdose's insane gun battles make this Latin American-themed adventure an entertaining and memorable experience.

User Rating: 7.5 | Total Overdose: A Gunslinger's Tale in Mexico PC
Open-world action games seem to be a dime a dozen these days, forcing each new entry in the genre to do more and more to distinguish itself from the pack. Total Overdose: A Gunslinger's Tale in Mexico isn't innovative in any way, but it manages to stand out by combining its various derivative elements in a unique and engaging manner. It will never be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Mafia or Just Cause 2, but if you're looking for a fun experience for a weekend, Total Overdose may be just what you're seeking.

Total Overdose tells the story of Ramiro "Ram" Cruz, an ex-con who is sent to substitute for his twin brother, an undercover DEA agent who was injured when a gas station exploded. While Cruz is out destroying the Morales drug cartel in Los Toros, he stumbles across evidence proving that his father (who also worked for the US government) was murdered by a corrupt DEA operative. Cruz sets out to avenge his father and save the DEA, blowing up roughly half of Mexico in the process. Some may see the game's campy take on what has become a tragic real-world conflict as a little tasteless, but the script is amusing enough to keep things entertaining.

While Activision's True Crime games also mixed Max Payne-like gunplay with elements of Grand Theft Auto, neither pulled the combination off as stylishly as Total Overdose does. Taking inspiration from Robert Rodriguez's action flicks, the shooting emphasizes slow-motion attacks and dual-wielding along with a number of tongue-in-cheek "Loco Moves" that can turn the tide of battle. These include "El Mariachi" (a deadly guitar case that's a clear Rodriguez homage), "Explosive Piñata" (self-explanatory) and "Mad Wrestler" (which unleashes an AI-controlled Mexican wrestler who punches out enemies). These "Loco Moves" are hardly necessary (as Cruz's standard attacks are already overwhelmingly powerful), but it can be fun to abuse them on occasion. Cruz controls very smoothly, making leaping around and pulling off headshots an easy matter on the PC. The weapons, slow-mo dives and wall flips all feel good, and it can be very satisfying to string together a ridiculous number of combos to score big points (which can unlock combat bonuses and extra side-missions). The shooting action is good enough that I largely forgave the terrible AI, which often comes off as suicidal. Watching civilians leap in front of moving vehicles or enemies accidentally blow themselves up can actually be quite funny, though the equally inept friendly AI leads to predictably troublesome escort missions. After picking up special icons, you can rewind time to regain health and avoid bullets that hit you, and this (along with the brain-dead AI) means you'll almost never be dropped back a save point (which are very frequently placed anyway).

Total Overdose's story missions include a good deal of memorable action scenes, including a battle between drug runners and DEA agents in a meat plant, a trip through the high tech innards of a repurposed Aztec temple and a ludicrous (but very entertaining) climax on a speeding train. There are also dozens of side-missions, most of which wisely focus on the game's zany gunplay. The driving missions are considerably less entertaining, largely due to Total Overdose's incredibly loose vehicle physics. Cars slide all over the place in a very unnatural manner, which becomes annoying whenever precise driving is required (like in the checkpoint races or the annoying forklift sequences). Fortunately, there are plenty of taxis around to transport you to preset locations, and you can always access missions directly through the menu, so the vehicle control is rarely a major issue. During shootouts, diving out of cars as you pilot them into enemies (at which point the vehicle explodes, of course) is actually pretty cool, as you'll only have to put up with the lame physics for a few seconds. The decent-sized city of Los Toros is filled with power-ups, point-collecting jumps and many other secrets to reward players who explore a little, and though the environments are never as developed as Grand Theft Auto's, they hardly feel barren either. "Day of the Dead" and Mexican wrestler quests (indicated by skulls and fists floating around town) provide easy shooting and melee points, respectively, and there are some explosive turret mini-games that let you take on corrupt cops.

Total Overdose's visuals are blocky and colorful, using cartoonish art design to compensate for their technical deficiencies. The game's vehicles and character models are lacking in the polygon department and animate awkwardly, and many of the environments (especially a jungle setting you'll visit near the beginning and end of the game) are filled with extremely blurry textures. There are also a number of clipping issues that can combine with the awful AI in surreal ways (such as cars clipping into each other and creating moving pileups). Still, the explosions look good (always an important detail in an action game) and the previously mentioned color scheme keeps things from seeming drab. As for the sound, the game's voice acting is as corny as its script, with stereotypical accents and plenty of overacting. The Latino-themed music fits the tone of the game perfectly (even if I'm not a fan of some of the rap pieces), and the big booms are suitably loud.

Total Overdose can be a great stress reliever. The game's shootouts are stylish, explosive and easy, demanding little of the player and rewarding him or her with plenty of pyrotechnics. I completed the game (including all the side-missions) in around nine and a half hours, which is rather short for an open-world experience, but quite meaty compared to most modern shooters. There's enough here to keep one thoroughly entertained until the credits roll, making Total Overdose a good value-priced time killer for those who don't mind a little wackiness.

+ Crazy gun battles with over-the-top special moves
+ Colorful story levels and plenty of side-missions
+ A fun selection of weapons
- Idiotic artificial intelligence
- Mediocre vehicle physics
- Lots of visual glitches

Reviewed on 12/19/2011