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Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West

(Paradox Interactive; US: 22 Apr 2009)

It’s no surprise that the PC is slowly turning into the market for inexpensive, accessible multiplayer shooters. Digital distribution means that costs are a fraction of what they used to be and sales can recuperate costs over a long time line instead of a game’s fate being decided in the first two weeks. All good multiplayer games take a lot of tweaking and updating before they really hit the right note. As a review of Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West that is several months after release, this perspective includes a lot of the patching that has occurred and will vary from the release reviews. I don’t know what shape the game was in during the first few weeks, but today it is a very solid team based shooter.


The most distinguishing trait of Lead and Gold is that it very strictly enforces range limits. In homage to the old weapons being used in the Western theme, opening fire as soon as you see an enemy player is not always a good idea. If you’re using the six shooter, you’re going to miss unless they’re at close range. If they’re far away, anyone but the Hunter will have no chance of scoring a hit. Even when you’re at the right distance and taking perfect aim, you can still miss because of how the variables shift when shooting. The game has four classes that each use a distinct gun and special ability. No weapon swapping, ammo is unlimited but reloading happens often, and health only regenerates if your team is nearby. Each class also provides a unique stat perk to surrounding teammates. The result is a very incentive-heavy team based shooter that does not penalize the player for cutting off and doing their own thing.


Contrary to being a pain, I found myself getting used to the range limits very quickly and swapping classes more than I do in other class based shooters. If you’re playing a level with wide fields, you want to be the Deputy or the Hunter. If it’s caves and buildings, something with a closer range is ideal. This favoritism is strictly enforced, a sniper in the caves is suicidal unless you stay at a specific spot. The respawn point is either at your team’s base or a rally flag that can be carried around by an ally. Since most maps feature a wide variety of terrain, it’s advantageous to keep switching classes as the respawn point moves to new areas. After you die, the camera locks onto whoever is carrying the respawn flag, and you can check out their situation. If you’re dropping right in the middle of a firefight, the Engineer’s shotgun is your best bet. If an ally is being attacked by a sniper, you might want to switch to spawning at your homebase. I’ve rarely played a game where someone stuck to one specific class because each situation has a different response. In this way, the game creates a very dynamic tactical situation that, because of the strict range limits, always has a definite solution.


All of this is fleshed out by the tiny ways that players can help one another. Each class provides a perk when close to a teammate, like improved aim, damage, or armor. You can only regenerate health if a teammate is nearby, and because bullets tend to fly everywhere in the game, you’ll be maimed before killed most of the time. When you get taken down, you’ll have a “Last Man Standing” session where you can use a six shooter to fire off a few final shots. Teammates can revive you if they get close enough. Each class also has a unique ability that can help others out in unique ways. The hunter can drop bear traps that stall a player while they get unhooked. The Deputy can tag an enemy player, making a sniper’s work much easier. The Gunslinger and Engineer both have more destructive talents that make them the brawler class. It encourages team play without overly strict enforcement. You can always find players who are clustering together and moving as a gang because the benefits are very obvious.


Map design is a solid mixture of different ranges and spaces. Most tend to lean heavily on one type of range, but there are always other routes to get around a corridor. Things stay varied because there are always several platforms and stairways in any particular space. You can get the drop on someone just by getting to higher ground. There’s a lot of jumping and rolling because you’ll be vaulting off platforms and elevations to get lower and higher as quickly as possible. Since there is no radar, this means ambushes and waiting for the right moment can pay off. The variety of spots that a player can be at turns the advantage of map knowledge down to almost nothing. It’s a bit of a swiss cheese level design: every location has enough entrances, exits, hotspots, and range locations that you can’t account for all of them. The only real advantage is staying in a group.


The game has no plot to speak of ,but it does a wonderful job of evoking a Wild West setting. All of the locations are gorgeous and occasionally a little banjo or fiddle music is playing off in the background. Flowing streams, tall dry grass, dusty saloons, and rocky desert terrain all create the feel of a Western shoot-out. Tiny details like having each character wear a hat that can be shot off or having them let off an occasional “Yee haw!” also flesh the experience out. There is also a refreshing diversity in the classes by making the Hunter class female and the Deputy class black.


Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West’s greatest strengths are in team games like territory control or the steal the gold sessions where the team dynamics are the most noticeable. Simple competitive shooting sessions are solid but inevitably start to feel like ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ because of the strict range enforcement. I’m not sure that I consider that a bad thing anymore. As competitive multiplayer shooters continue to multiply and explore new variations they are becoming ever more finite in their strengths and weaknesses. Lead and Gold is easy to grasp within minutes of playing, doesn’t require heavy map knowledge to be competitive, and subtly encourages team play without holding the player’s hand. That sounds just about right for when you feel like playing cowboy for a few rounds.

Rating:

L.B. Jeffries is the pseudonym of a law student from South Carolina. After majoring in English, L.B. wandered around the resort scene in California, taught a little creative writing in Vermont, and ended up dead broke on the lower east side of Manhattan. A year of working for the government convinced him that there are some things worse than death so he took the LSAT. He continues to maintain his sanity and artistic sensibilities by posting a weekly on the PopMatters blog, 'Moving Pixels', providing game reviews, and whatever else captures his fancy.


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