Online multiplayer shooters are always popular but when’s the last time you played one with an old-fashioned Western theme? We’ll get an epic adventure in the form of Red Dead Redemption next week but in the meantime, Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West should satisfy your need for multiplayer action. It isn’t the fastest game in the world and compared to other online experiences it’s a little underwhelming, but for only $14.99, you can definitely rack up many hours of simple yet relatively diverse action. For a downloadable title, Fatshark has – for the most part – hit its mark. It doesn’t have quite the depth or production values of last year’s Battlefield 1943 but at the same time, we’re looking at an entirely different setting, which certain gamers may really appreciate. It controls well, the four distinct character classes are nicely defined and enjoyable, and the map design is conducive to many elements of team strategy.
The graphics are solid considering the size of the project, although some of the backdrops appear a little bland and devoid of intricate detail. Character design is decent, as are the special effects and animations. It’s a fairly consistent production, too, as you won’t find much in the way of glaring errors and just about all the maps have similar strengths and weaknesses. I particularly liked the way the designers handled the blood and explosions; they’re not overdone but at the same time, they’re effective and satisfying. Oddly enough, many developers don’t know how to walk the fine line between muted and dull and totally in your face. Fatshark does a nice job in this capacity, though. The overall visual presentation may seem unimpressive at first glance, primarily because nothing really leaps out at you, and as I just mentioned, you may notice some starkness, but there’s good color and shading. In other words, it’s not the prettiest downloadable game ever, but it definitely works.
The sound is in much the same boat, as it’s consistent and well-implemented, although it doesn’t seem quite as prominent as it should be in certain respects. The effects are fine; the guns resound with sharp cracks specific to that particular type of firearm, tossed explosives really pop in your ears if you’re close by, and the soundtrack consists of classically inspired Western themes. This is all well and good, but unless there’s a lot going on, the experience will be a bit lacking in the sound department. This is relatively common with some multiplayer shooters (without massive firefights, there just isn’t much to hear, right?), but in this case, we just don’t hear enough of that fitting music. But then again, you’ll probably be tuned in to your teammates on the headset more often, anyway, and the effects usually take center-stage during most battles. You just can’t expect the same level of polish as you might find in big-budget, full-production games, so it’s hard to compare-and-contrast, you know?
This is a classic pick-up-and-play format and one that’s accessible from the get-go. The controls are exactly what you might expect and although there are a few customizing options, you really won’t have to spend much time learning the gameplay or getting accustomed to the control scheme. Heck, you can just hit Quick Match and dive right in immediately; just select from one of those four classes, jump into a map, and give it a try. You can zoom in with the L1 button – essential for the Trapper’s sniper rifle – and you will even have access to a class-specific skill. For instance, the Gunslinger can fire bullets extra quickly simply by holding down the L2 button and pressing the R1 (fire) button fast. And because each character is so unique, you’ll either get to love one particular class or you’ll find yourself jumping back and forth between them all to experiment. In less than an hour, I had already gained a firm grasp on all four classes and while I kinda liked the Gunslinger, I started to really get into the Blaster after a while; the question is, what do you prefer?
The Gunslinger has a six-shooter at his side, the Deputy has a rifle, the Blaster has a double-barreled shotgun, and the Trapper has a long-range sniper rifle. Each class also has his or her own secondary weapon; for instance, when running around with the Blaster – who really needs to be up-close-and-personal with that shotgun – you can gain a long-range edge by tossing TNT. And as the Trapper, you may find yourself in a situation where the sniper rifle is essentially useless, so just quickly switch to your sidearm with a simple press of the Triangle button. I guess I sort of enjoyed playing with them all; tagging dudes with the Deputy, cocking that pistol and firing off volley after volley (without sacrificing accuracy) with the Gunslinger, blowing sh** up with the Blaster, and picking people off from afar with the Trapper. You might not be surprised to learn that the latter class also has bear traps she can lay around the map; step into one, and you’ll know it.
To add to the accessibility and keep the pacing fast, you don’t ever have to worry about ammunition. You have an unlimited stock so feel free to fire away, although it remains true that distance has a definite impact on your accuracy. Fatshark throws in a couple interesting twists, too: the first is the inclusion of showing HP damage, ala role-playing games; if you strike an enemy, you’ll see exactly how much damage you did with your shot. Secondly, unless you really overkill your enemy, he will fall to the ground and have one last chance to nail you with his sidearm. Obviously, he’s susceptible to enemy fire in this position and it’s basically a last stand, but it’s still a pretty cool addition, and if you’re down, a teammate can help you back on your feet. Like I said, though, if a character sustains too much injury during the initial attack, he’s just going down. Overall, like the technicals, it’s tough to find any big flaws or shortcomings; it’s not overwhelmingly awesome, but it’s fun, consistent, and solid.
The only problems tend to revolve around balancing and the core speed of the gameplay, both of which can be definite issues depending on the type of gamer you are. See, you would expect strategy to play a big role due to the four different classes, but some maps just don’t seem to tolerate a certain character. There were many times when I felt convinced that one of the four classes had the obvious edge, and that’s not a good sign. But on the other hand, after some more playing, I’d sort of change my mind… I feel a little wishy-washy on this issue but like I said, I think it depends on what you experience and how you play the game. Then there’s the speed, which may seem very slow to those of you expecting a super quick shooter like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare , or something. It’s a third-person shooter so perhaps the game is more easily compared to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves online, but the latter still moves at a much faster clip.
At first, I kept thinking my character was wading through a vat of molasses but I got used to the speed as time went on. The only other common downfall I often look for when playing such games is collision detection issues, and while there were instances where I said to myself, “damnit, I hit him,” I was rewarded for my efforts more often than not. In the end, I suppose one could make the argument that Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West would be a great buy at $9.99 and a better-than-average buy at the current $14.99 price point. There are multiple gameplay modes to choose from so you won’t get tired of standard Deathmatch scenarios, the servers didn’t seem to suffer much when I played off and on through the afternoon and evening, the technical aspects are decent, and despite some perceived balancing problems and the possible speed detriment, the game can be darn fun. And isn’t that why we play our games?