Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West (Sony PS3)

Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Fatshark AB
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 05/04/2010

Ideas are the currency of thought. Sometimes invaluable, usually worthless, ideas come and go, brushing against each other like a field of wheat on a windy day. The best ideas are wholly original and new. Of course, such ideas are rare and unpredictable beasts, as likely to be the next OJ’s Cereal as the next GrapeNuts. To counteract the anarchic nature of new concepts, the majority of ideas, particularly commercially motivated ones, are an amalgam of previously successful ideas. These safer ideas can be quite good, like Fruit Loops With Marshmallows, or quite mediocre, like Berry Blast Cheerios.

One of the more enjoyable gaming experiences of the last decade is Team Fortress 2. Multiplayer first person shooters were certainly not a new idea when the first Team Fortress, a mod of Quake, came along in 1996. Quirky, cel shaded video game characters were pretty passé by 2007. Capture the Flag? I would not be too surprised to find out one of my grandfathers played that game as a child, because I most certainly did.

Despite being constructed out of a few well trodden gaming tropes, Team Fortress 2 managed to, and still does, feel fresh and different enough from the competition to remain a viable game three years after it’s release. There are times, usually weekly, that I catch myself playing a round or two on my ageing PC instead of playing something newer and prettier on my PS3. There are Team Fortress 2 players with thousands of hours logged, many who have put in as much time as a veteran MMO player. As hard as it is to call an online multiplayer only title a classic, Team Fortress 2 is one.

Lead and Gold tried to do a similar alchemy. By taking one part Team Fortress 2, one part third person viewpoint, and one layer of Wild West veneer, Fatshark have tried to forge their own sort of magic. Were they successful?

Story/Modes
Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West has no plot for you to follow. None at all. For an online multiplayer only title, this is not surprising, but it is a little saddening. Even a page of exposition goes along way towards motivating me to kill my neighbor and save my squad mates.

What Lead and Gold does have are game modes, in spades. The first port of call, veteran of such games or not, is the one player practice stage. The practice stage is necessary to introduce the control scheme, which is familiar, and the camera angle, which is a bit annoying. After throwing around a few kegs of powder and shooting a few bots in the virtual face, a trip to the Quick Match is next.

There are Shootout (Deathmatch), Conquest (Take and Hold), Powder Keg (Destroy the Objective), Robbery (Capture the Flag), and Greed (Object Retrieval) modes, each of which is pretty straight forward. The low number of objectives in each makes each match a short burst of game play. This is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the limited exposure to each environment limits stage burnout. On the other, the whole game becomes a blur with few memorable signposts along the way.

For a budget title, there are a lot of game modes to take around the block. For a multiplayer only title, there are not enough reasons to keep coming back.

Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre

Graphics:
The setting of Lead and Gold, the American West, is an evocative one, for sure. Most people have a strong idea of how the Wild West should look. Parched earth, weathered wood, and a big blue sky go a long way towards setting the mood of the Wild West. Lead and Gold picks up on those cues. Each stage looks the part, with a threadbare and worn look that brought a smile of recognition to my face. The world of Lead and Gold looks exactly like a game of Wild West Cops and Robbers should.

The character designs, all four of them, are similarly pleasing. The Gunslinger looks the part, with the lower half of his face covered. The Deputy looks suitably stalwart and reliable. The Blaster has a glint of madness and could be the long lost ancestor of any of Team Fortress 2‘s cast. The Trapper is the rare female character in a shooter and the even rarer female character that is not a femme fatale or a Japanese school girl. A nice touch, for sure.

Graphics Rating: Good

Sound:
The music of Lead and Gold is decidedly unmemorable. There is a hint of standard western themes, but nothing important. The same could be said for the sound effects. They are there because they need to be, but serviceable is all I can say about them.
Sound Rating: Poor

Control and Gameplay:
The highs and lows of an online multiplayer only shooter boil down almost entirely to the quality of the controls. As with most of Lead and Gold, the controls fall firmly in the middle of the pack. Some of the inconsistencies can be attributed to intentional design choices, but some are examples of a lack of polish.

The guns of Lead and Gold are intentionally inaccurate. This has been stated in interviews and in press clippings. I get it. I really do get it. Guns from the Wild West were inaccurate and unpredictable. Thing is, playing an actual game with guns that quite literally cannot hit the broadside of a barn is not fun. The line is crossed the first time a dramatic moment is hit upon and the janky weaponry robs the player of a great moment. What fun is getting the drop on the hated Red Gang Gunslinger if your rifle shoots right over his head before he blows a hole straight through you? The answer is apparent.

The other annoyance with the controls is the jumping. I thought that moving the viewpoint to third person would improve the accuracy of jumping. It seems like a simple equation. Boy, was I wrong. The jumping is terrible and deadly. Nothing kills a good time like plunging into a river because of a poor game mechanic.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor

Replayability:
If the number of players increases, Lead and Gold could be a good time. At the moment, it is tough to find a good match. With a thousand or so players, it would definitely be more enjoyable. I fear that if the next week or two do not bring enough additional players the community, as it is, will die. Being stuck with an unplayable game on my hard drive in a month’s time would be a real drag, but I suspect this will be the case.

Even if there is an influx of new blood, replay is a bit limited. There is very little ability to customize multiplayer matches, if you can find anyone to play with you. If there was one Wild West trope to emulate, I doubt that the ghost town was on the developer’s minds.

Replayability Rating: Poor

Balance:
It is readily apparent that certain classes outperform others, buffs be damned. The Gunslinger almost always outnumbers the other classes due to ease of use, with the Trapper a close second. The Deputy’s power often goes unused and the Blaster often gets lost in the shuffle. With the Practice mode too limited to really teach players how to get along in the world, the few games that do get off the ground get bogged down with players ignoring the objective and blasting away with no plan.

Balance Rating: Poor

Originality:
Remember my description of this game as Wild West Team Fortress 2? That would make it the high concept version of a sequel to a mod to a game that was the third generation version of Castle Wolfenstein. That said, the buff system, which rewards players for sticking together and using all four classes is neat enough. The gun accuracy scheme is definitely novel, though I would stop short of calling it innovative.

Originality Rating: Poor

Addictiveness:
I became addicted to listening to Europeans yell strange things while shooting at me. I got addicted to setting bear traps and watching people walk right into them. I got addicted to quitting so I could play Super Street Fighter IV.

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

Appeal Factor:
The online multiplayer shooter thing is quite popular, so there is definitely a precedent for people digging these kind of games. The Wild West has started coming into it’s own as a video game setting. Last year’s very good Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood was set in the American West. One of the most anticipated games of this year is Red Dead Redemption, a late era Western game. The cartoonish West of Lead and Gold does have some charm.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous:
The biggest argument for and against Lead and Gold is time and price. At $15 Lead and Gold is certainly at the right price point. Anything less would be untenable, as I suspect that the budget was pretty high for this title. It certainly looks expensive. Anything more would be a rip off and would close the case for the prosecution. Whether Lead and Gold is worth the $15 is dependant on the time factor.

The PC iteration has already been patched a few times. That is a good thing. If a patch could tighten up the controls a tad, tweak the balance issues, and make the match making more seamless, this game could definitely be a winner. DLC has already been announced, which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing aspect is that this makes a timely patch more likely. The curse is that the price point gets further and further from what is one of the game’s biggest selling points.

For the early adopter, this game definitely has its merits. There is fun to be had for the patient player. As long as you do not expect to be playing this in a year, barring some miraculous surge in popularity, Lead and Gold can be a blast. If you prefer your games to have a longer play cycle, you might want to take a pass on this one.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre
Graphics Rating: Good
Sound Rating: Poor
Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor
Replayability Rating: Poor
Balance Rating: Poor
Originality Rating: Poor
Addictiveness Rating: Poor
Appeal Factor Rating: Good
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

If you are looking for a title to eat up some play time for the next couple weeks until a certain Wild West game comes out, feel free to give Lead and Gold a spin. Just be warned that is not perfect and has a few quirks. The historically accurate gun inaccuracy, spotty jumping, and odd character balance could all be seen as turn ons or turn offs, largely dependent on what you want from a game of this sort. With so many options available, it is hard to give this game a recommendation.

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