There were also several points where I, for the life of me, couldn't find essential keys. Again, some of this probably stemmed from me personally not being observant enough. There were a few occasions though, where the location of a key wound up being so obtuse that the only way I would have found it without referencing a walkthrough would be to scour every single unlikely nook and cranny in the map. Seriously, why would I ever check on top of the cupboard in the kitchen of the hotel? Why place it so that it's completely out of sight unless I'm standing on top of the counter right next to it? Why make it so that I can't trigger the boss fight until I kill the enemies locked away by this key? HOW IS THAT FAIR?
Where the game arguably makes up for these flaws is with its devotion to style. While it relies on a familiar set of FPS mechanics, it colors in its experience with a fairly brilliant homage to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. You play as a retired Old West lawman, James Anderson. In the midst of a land dispute with a local railroad baron, he leaves home one day to pick up a few things at the nearby general store. Returning home, he finds his ranch in flames, his wife dying, and his daughter kidnapped by the baron's thugs. Intent on saving her he digs up his long abandoned weapons and rides off to exact bloody vengeance on the men who have set his world on fire.
The story is simple, but executed almost perfectly. Anderson is your classic quiet protagonist; an Eastwood-esque bad-ass that's short on words but also doggedly driven and deadly with a six-shooter. His foes are, likewise, an enjoyable cavalcade that couldn't be slimier if they tried. They're the sort of guys that are fun to hate and that never leave you questioning if they deserve their demise or not. The story plays out through a series of animated cut-scenes which, unlike the in-game visuals, are actually attractive to look at even today.
Far more impressive than the cut-scenes, however, is the game's audio which, in a word, is sublime. The music, benefiting from the use of a live orchestra, is absolutely luscious and does an incredible job of replicating the iconic music of the western genre's most famous films. There were moments when I could close my eyes and the music alone would have me flashing back to my favorite scenes in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The voice acting also helps to set the tone, with a variety of actors delivering hammed up performances that nonetheless feel appropriate and fun. One thing that constantly amused me, were the taunts that your foes would call out throughout the course of each level. There are only about three or four unique lines, but they're read with such conviction and commitment that I couldn't help but smile every time some distant bandit would remind me that I was "outnumbered" or comment on how terrible a shot I was.
What it all adds up to is an experience that feels like an incredibly authentic take on a western-themed first person shooter. It isn't just Doom with cowboys; you can tell that the developers put some real hard work into making the player feel like they're the hero in a Sergio Leone flick. Add in the fact that, despite its flaws, it's also a good, fun shooter and you have yourself an experience that's a must play for anyone who's ever bemoaned the odd lack of western-themed titles in the game industry. If that's you, you can pick it up at GOG for $5.99.
Next week I want to spend a little time talking more about Western-themed video games and why there are so few of them. Afte that, I'l be shifting gears and reviewing Freespace! In the mean time, feel free to PM me comments and suggestions for future reviews.