Stranglehold? PAH. Don’t talk to me about Stranglehold. Midway’s Woo-centric third-person shooter may have had gorgeous graphics and the Massive Destructoid engine, but I’ll tell you what it didn’t have: heart.*
Total Overdose, the 2005 third-person shooter from Deadline Games, basically covers all the same ground as Stranglehold (large scale, over-the-top gunfights), along with adding some pleasurable, if flawed, Grand Theft Auto-esque elements — and all in a wacky, fun, Robert Rodriguez-esque game world.
Yeah, the graphics kind of suck and the controls are pretty damn console-centric, but if Stranglehold left you wanting more, then Total Overdose might be the (flawed) game you’ve been looking for.
Hit the jump.
*Alternate answer: chimichangas.
You play Ramiro Cruz, an ex-con who is drafted into the DEA when his twin brother is almost killed whilst undercover. So, basically, it’s Bad Company: Tijauana Style. After taking his brother’s place undercover within the biggest drug cartel in all of Mexico, Ramiro sets out to take down the drug dealers, earn his freedom, and find out who killed his also-coincidentally-a-DEA-agent father several years ago.
Stylistically, the game feels like a Robert Rodriguez flick on laughing gas: the Mexico of Total Overdose is a place full of drug dealers, luchadores, rebels, federales, and, at one point, zombies. At no point does Total Overdose ever claim to take itself seriously: the main baddie is named “Papa Muerte,” for goodness’ sake. The numerous stereotypical characters speak absurdly exaggerated dialogue, the meagre plot serves only as a means to set up numerous gunfights spread throughout fictional Mexican cities, and the whole affair has a very comic book feel to it.
Call Total Overdose‘s plot and/or style stupid if you wish, but there’s something to be said for how utterly unpretentious a game like Total Overdose manages to be, without becoming as irritating or lowest-common-denominator as something like Saints’ Row.
The bulk of the game forces Ramiro into self-contained gun battles with the typical sort of objectives one would assume from any generic console shooter: whilst blasting all these bad guys, blow up three drug silos. Whilst running and gunning through this parking complex, get to your car and drive away. When considering the levels in and of themselves, and the endless stupidity of the enemy AI, Total Overdose doesn’t seem like anything to write home about.
Good thing we aren’t just considering the levels in and of themselves.
While the actual objectives are usually pretty bland, the gunfighting is absurdly fun — the key word here being “absurd.” Total Overdose‘s fighting system is built almost entirely around combos. Stringing together crazy moves with kills will net you health, ammo, and powerups, so the player is always encouraged to engage in the most over-the-top, unnecessarily complex stunts necessary whilst dispatching enemies. Why shoot a guy in the face when you can dive into a wall, cartwheel off it, blow up a car in the distance, and then shoot him in the face? The controls could definitely use some work — like many console shooters, Total Overdose unfortunately prioritizes targeting each individual enemy rather than allowing free-aim. Still, the combo mechanic feels pleasingly old school, as the emphasis is on style rather than mindless killing. Yeah, Stranglehold also included a combo system, but Total Overdose did it first. Plus, the powerups you earn are way cooler.
Along with the obligatory one-shot-kill Golden Gun and the spin-around-and-kill-everybody-in-the-room-with-one-button-press powerups (both of which were ripped off by Stranglehold a few years later), Total Overdose also includes:
-El Toro, a move wherein Ramiro charges and headbutts enemies like a bull, immediately gibbing them in a splash of glorious, over-the-top gore
-Sombrero of Death, which spawns an AI-controlled, sombrero-wearing zombie armed with a grenade launcher who temporarily fights enemies alongside you
-The Explosive Piñata, which lures enemies over with its bright colors and promises of candy, before detonating and killing everyone in a ten foot radius
-The Mad Wrestler, a badass luchadore who can be summoned to beat the living daylights out of any and every bad guy he sees
-El Mariachi, a powerup allowing Ramiro to wield two guitar cases which fire infinite and deadly machine gun ammo for a limited time
If imagining a few of those powerups doesn’t bring at least the hint of a smile to your face, you’re probably a robot. Come on — zombies with grenade launchers? Insane luchadores? A reference to Desperado? What’s not to love?
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the game does, technically, include some freeroaming elements. You can play through the game’s main missions at your leisure, or spend your time driving around Mexico engaging in sidequests or trying to hit sweet jumps. The sandbox element would probably be a hell of a lot better if the cars didn’t all control like the wheels were made of molasses, but it’s hard to complain when with a mere two button presses, the player can turn any car into a guided missile by hitting the accelerator, leaning out of the car whilst steering, and then diving out mere moments before impact (and, of course, once you’re out of the car and diving through the air, you can also shoot at baddies with your regular weapons). Hell yes.
Why You Probably Haven’t Played It:
The graphics are crappy, and the style probably seems stupid and immature to anyone who hasn’t actually played the game, and thus found it to be reasonably ironic and self-parodying. I also suspect that most gamers are secretly, subconsciously averse to the idea of playing a Mexican-themed game, for fear that they won’t understand the culture or the references. It unsurprisingly recieved mixed scores, as many reviewers seemed incapable of accepting the total and utter lack of innovation in favor of the old-school, over-the-top fun which Total Overdose so wonderfully delivers. Still, it sold well enough to warrant a PSP sequel/prequel/remake, Chili Con Carnage — that’s something.
So, should you get it? It’s only 250 points on Goozex, and tends to go for about fifteen bucks or less on eBay. If it still cost $30, I’d just suggest renting it (it’s pretty short, and would thus make for a great rental), but considering how cheap you can find it, it’s probably worth just buying it. When I first bought Total Overdose, I played and beat it in a couple of days, then forgot about for a year or so. Purely by accident, I rediscovered it a week ago and have had just as much fun with it this time around as I did back in 2006. In other words, I recommend it.