Anyone who has seen the movie Wild Wild West, or been a fan of the television series, can appreciate the wonderful action-packed nature of this game, and how it couples both humor and puzzle solving to make an excellent package.
Those of you who are unfamiliar with either the movie or the show can still enjoy this delightful title, but it may take a few scenes – what the game calls chapters – to get a feel for the game world. The setting for Wild, Wild West: The Steel Assassin takes place a few years after the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. You play both Marshal James West and, alternating every other chapter, Agent Artemus Gorden. If you think of James Bond during the Civil War period, you have an idea of the flavor of the game.
Right from the start, SouthPeak seems to have put a lot of thought into making sure a player enjoys the game. There are several levels of difficulty, both in action and puzzle solving. So if you are a real brain but a little slow on the trigger, you can set the arcade-type elements to easy but pump up the puzzle difficulty. Or, you can make the shooting elements harder, but dumb the puzzles down considerably. I played on the highest of both levels and found the challenges to be tough but not unwinnable. A few other people tried the game who were not "professional gamers" and had most of the their difficulties with the action elements of the game. But this is not a negative really, since they can be made easier at any point during the game, like when you keep getting killed and just can’t put a bad guy down.
The game is really interesting in both its presentation and interface. Once you get into the game, you will discover it’s really two games in one. The first is when you are playing Jim West and the second is when you are playing Artemus Gorden. The West chapters are generally more arcade-like with the focus on shooting and fighting. The Gorden chapters are more thinking oriented, since Artemus does not carry a gun. This is not to say that the Gorden chapters are all thinking or that the West chapters are all shooting, but generally that is the emphasis. Eventually both players make it to the finale scene, where they attempt to save President Grant from a ruthless assassin known as The Bull.
The combat interface in the game is highly unique and enjoyable. You are given an over-the-shoulder, nearly top down, view of the world with the hero in full view. When you draw a weapon, a targeting circle appears over valid targets. Enemy agents or objects that can be shot appear in red. As the circle closes, your chance to hit the target gets better. You push the left mouse button to squeeze the trigger. This is a both a simple and fun method to conduct combat, suitable for beginners or experts. There is also a wide variety of weapons that span the gap between the mundane .45 pistol to the futuristic dual-coil lightning gun, which makes it quite fun blasting people just to see the effect. The only problem I have is that it sometimes takes far too many shots to bring an opponent down. I mean how many point-blank shotgun blasts can one man take?
There are actually two ways to accomplish your goals in combat, the difficult and the fun-and-easier method. The game is filled with "Easter eggs" in combat. You can almost go through a battle without firing a shot. For example, in the first combat you get in, a man is shooting at you from a chicken coop. You can shoot it out with him, or you can pull the brake on a nearby, obviously overloaded, wagon parked on a hill nearby. When you do, the wagon crashes forward, flattening the gunman.
In the same combat, once you enter a barn you can knock out the guy in the loft by swinging a large block and tackle at his head. Then you can drag a barrel of nails over a trap door and bomb the man standing below. You could also shoot it out with these bad guys, but it’s nice to find an arcade-like scene where brains count for something.
This is a bit of a double edged sword for the game however. I’m not saying the cool little Easter eggs are overdone, but in some cases they are required. And that means novice gamers are going to have a very difficult time. Again talking about the first battle, there is a sniper on top of a water tower that kept shooting a novice who was testing the game. She could not figure out how to run up and shoot the sniper without getting shot full of holes. The secret is to use another wagon as cover as you push it towards the tower. But if you never notice the fact that you can click on the wagon, you won’t get past that scene.
The graphics for the game are very nice and some of the playable areas are actually beautiful. It’s not difficult to find objects lying around that you can pick up and use later. Scenes look realistic, from the comfortable gadget-packed train the agents call home to the basement of a tavern where agent West can get a quick kiss from a pretty girl.
The sound is impressive, as well as the voice acting. Obviously getting Will Smith and Kevin Kline, who played agents West and Gorden in the movie, to act in a computer game would be next to impossible without spending a lot of cash. But the voice actors that were used sound very similar. If someone told you that it was the real Smith and Kline, you might not be able to tell the difference. And the voice acting itself is also very good, adding to the excitement of the game considerably.
Finally, I want to commend the use of cutscenes in the game. It is really a nice treat when a game has well timed cutscenes. Almost every combat Easter egg has an accompanying cutscene that activates when you perform an action. Many of the thinking-type puzzles on the Gorden chapters do as well. This acts as both a reward for the player, and a way to advance the plot without being intrusive – ie. forcing the player to read books or something that slows down the action.
The excellent mix of brains and brawn make this game a true joy to play. Even without generating interest through a blockbuster movie, this game would be popular. As it stands, this adventure game is an instant classic. So take Will Smith’s advice, and head straight to the Wild, Wild West. (The computer game that is.)