Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin
Windows - 1999
Description of Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin
Let's be honest, Wild Wild West has its work cut out. For a start, it proudly proclaims itself to be an 'action/adventure', which doesn't do it any favours amongst the gaming cognoscenti. Worse still, it's the game of the movie; but even more terrible, it's the game of a Will Smith movie. Now, while there's nothing wrong with the elephant-eared prince himself, the games of his previous movies (Independence Day and Men In Black) were both abysmal attempts to cash in on the license. Not a good background to start with. However, I think it's only fair that I should reserve my judgement until I've actually played the game, and played it with an open mind. And, so, that's what I did.
I can therefore say, without any prejudice or prejudgement, that WWW is utter crap. Sorry guys, but this is just another pathetic attempt to cash in on a lucrative movie license without any thought for gameplay, addictiveness or even skill, come to think of it. The story is a simple one. Set in the same alternate 1870's Wild West of the film, you take control of the characters Jim West and his sidekick Artemus Gordon: top level government spies, as in the 1970's TV series. On the anniversary of Lincoln's assassination the new President (President Grant) is supposed to make a symbolic gesture of courage by sitting in the same seat as Lincoln whilst watching a play. However, evil-doers are never far away, and the President has received an assassination threat by someone known only as 'The Bull', described with much hyperbole in the game as 'someone who can kill in the blink of an eye and vanish in the next'. The Bull also claims to be the real assassin of President Lincoln. Naturally, it's up to you to try and stop the assassin before (s)he gets too close to the President.
To describe the game as an 'action/adventure' isn't 100% accurate. Its gameplay is identical to Blade Runner, a point and click adventure with guns you can shoot by pointing and, uh, clicking. Unfortunately whereas Blade Runner had both the action and adventure elements well and truly sussed, WWW fails to excite in either. Fortunately the action blends in smoothly with the adventure - all you need to do to shoot a gun is to arm it and right-click where you want to shoot. The bad part is that the action is ridiculously hard and the adventure part is illogical and uninvolving.
While Jim West takes care of the action side of things, you can also play as Artemus Gordon, Jim's sidekick and theatrical nonce. Each character has four 'chapters' to play through before you get to the 'Grant Finale' (please, stop it). After you complete a chapter you can choose to play the other character's little scene. Whereas as Jim packs a rootin' tootin' six-shooter, Gordon packs a stethoscope and a variety of costumes, the idea being that as he dresses up in various costumes, he fools people into thinking he is someone else. Aaah, what a guy, eh? From my own secret information sources this fulfills the same roles as in the original TV series in the 70's. Unfortunately Gordon can't get changed in public, as common sense dictates, and has to find somewhere a little bit more secretive to change into Hamstro the Magic Weasel. This really is as daft as it sounds, with Gordon hamming things up to an extreme. Just stick him in a sailor's costume and he's yelling 'Ahoy me mateys' with the best of them. It's really quite amazing that anyone would actually believe this would work in a computer game. If the humour was of a LucasArts standard then everything would be fine, but the only thing I laughed at during the entire game was how pathetic it all was.
The action side of things is extremely difficult for many, many reasons. I had immense trouble finishing even the first episode, when Jim West is surrounded by a whole host of nefarious types around a barn and has to get out. Not only are you ridiculously out-numbered but you're also fighting the game system. Enemies can hit you without even being on the same screen, differing camera angles on the same locations can be extremely confusing, and I even noticed one or two screens in which your enemies are partially obscured by a rendered backdrop, a distinctly amateurish fault. Although you do have a variety of weapons to choose from, in effect there is little difference between them. Apart from the lightning gun, which recharges itself, and the rifle, which gives a smaller accurate targeting reticule, they all drop the bad guys with the same amount of shots. And, the spinning disc ejector, which can shoot around corners, is damn near useless in most combat situations. The main problem, however, comes with the utterly hideous collision detection. Even with the tiniest targetting reticule offered by the rifle and taking a good ten seconds to make sure you're going to hit the bad guy (by which time he's usually cut you into ribbons) your shot still misses, making a little puff of dirt by the side of the swine. Now then, I played Blade Runner to death, which uses the very same targetting system as WWW, and let me tell you: this game cheats. What should hit doesn't and what shouldn't does. What doesn't help the situation is the difficulty levels. Rather uniquely, you can set different difficulty levels for both the action and adventure parts which is, by and large, good. Unfortunately only the adventure side of things works, by giving you more clues. Changing the action difficulty makes no noticeable difference. Weird science, baby.
As this is an adventure game you can expect puzzles, and lots of them. Nothing wrong with that, providing they're good and involving, or at the very least relevant. The trouble is that the puzzles in WWW are neither good, involving, nor the least bit relevant. Take, for instance, the first episode you play as Jim West. You need to speak to Misty, who may have some vital information to give you a start on your case. Unfortunately, the barman isn't very helpful in letting you speak to her. Hmm... what to do? There's a guy in the corner trying to do a crossword puzzle. If you help him answer some questions (which involves finding names of presidents) he gives you some really weird items such as stuff from lineament to a metal bird. Then the barman says that because you helped the fellow out, if you fix a broken cork-pulling machine, you might get a free supper, which involves talking to Misty. You then have to place various items in your inventory into the right place on the machine to get it working. Ridiculous, isn't it? But it gets even worse. You don't have to figure out where to put things on the machine, which is just as well because no clues are given and the end solution doesn't make any sense anyway. Instead, what you do is by moving your cursor over the machine, you find out exactly where you can use an item in your inventory, except you don't know what that item is. This means putting everything in your inventory in your hand so the item is 'active' and can be placed on the machine. No skill is involved at any stage, none of it makes any sense, and it is all completely unrelated to your goals. There's even one instance later on in the game whereby if you fail your goal, although no harm comes to your character, he dies anyway.
The conversations you have with people are just as ridiculous. When you finally do catch up with Misty she doesn't know who to serve with what for dinner, so it's up to you to help her. Now, you can either spend a good half hour actually trying to solve the puzzles... or you can just click on a random answer (there's only four possibilities) until you find the right one, and at no penalty to yourself. Yet another interface problem is the fact that whenever you move your character to a certain point the camera view is supposed to change, yet half the time it doesn't. In a normal game this wouldn't be too much of a problem, but when (as in Blade Runner) you spend so much time pixel-hunting it becomes very apparent very quickly. This is especially noticeable when you're on board the 'Wanderer': a train which takes you wheresoever you may please. OK, you don't have a choice where to go, but it's there anyway, because it looks good, I suppose [and because it was part of the original TV series - Ed.].
Although the backdrops are very well drawn (see the screenshots above) the animations are terrible. Everyone walks/runs with their back ramrod straight, knees being drawn up to their chest every time they take a step and arms flailing out in front. If this wasn't bad enough, the animations change when your character gets injured. This makes them look like they're puppets being controlled by a drunk puppeteer.
There are, however, some good points. As I mentioned, the backdrops are actually very well rendered. The colours are clear and the textures look good. In fact, if the game had a more fantasy or sci-fi setting the graphics would have been superbly atmospheric. It's just a pity there's only so much you can do with homely locations set in the American 1870's. The voice acting is also of a pretty good standard and is very well suited to the period, even if they do have to overcome a script that can get slightly over the top. The game is also very stable, something which should be taken for granted these days but never is. Overall, however, the game stinks. It's uninvolving, requires no skill, the puzzles are illogical, conversations pointless, and it feels like it was made on a bet that the designers couldn't make a game in 24 hours. Well guess what? They couldn't.
Review By GamesDomain
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