This third-person shooter places players in the role of a skilled federal agent -- codenamed "El Matador" -- whose mission to stem the flow of cocaine from South America sends him to the tropical paradises where the drug lords make their homes. As he makes his way through the verdant jungles and palatial estates, uncovering clues and disposing of cartel henchmen, El Matador can equip himself from a wide selection of modern infantry weaponry, such as M-16 rifles and AK-47s. The game features a Max Payne-like ability to slow the action down for heroic firefights, and a physics engine that accounts for ricocheting bullets and projectiles.
El Matador comes across as a game very much in the vein of Max Payne. Like the Remedy title, the game is a third-person action shooter starring an agent of the DEA, and contains the ability to perform a variety of bullet-time moves. While it may not quite live up to the high standards of its influence, it is still a solid game. The mechanics - which weren't broken in the preview - are fundamentally simple; move around and shoot things, and generally have a good time with it. The bullet-time, one of the game's more advanced components, does work well. Again, like Max Payne, you have a bar depicting the amount of slow-mo action you can perform, with the tab button flicking you in and out of that mode. Hitting shift and a direction also gives you a 'free' slow-mo move, such as jumping forward. All in all, the gameplay is enjoyable, but the most disappointing thing is that, despite this working well, it doesn't provide an experience that is fundamentally different from a game that is now 5 years old.
Getting past the basics, El Matador shows that despite sharing a job with Max Payne, its hero likes to operate in a different arena; South America. The story sees you operating in the continent to bring down an organized crime syndicate which, with your DEA role, probably means some drugs are involved. After a military-style training session, the game plonks you down in tough urban environments, working alongside teams of other agents. While they aren't controllable, they are useful, particularly when the difficulty - even on normal - will take you by surprise early on in the game. While this challenge is often welcome, it can be inconsistent. Sometimes you'll be able to run and gun into situations, and then a few moments later you'll find yourself overcome by an onslaught of shotgun-welding enemies. Even the 'boss fights' - which occur multiple times in a level - weren't necessarily the most difficult parts. The relative ease combined with moments of extreme difficulty will often see you reaching to restart; quick-saving is a necessity, so as to avoid having to start a level from scratch after dying unexpectedly - a tactic that saved me several times.
Still, El Matador remains enjoyable, as it later takes you through to the jungle stages. These look Far Cry inspired, and give a good chance for the graphics engine to be shown off. While not likely to challenge the likes of Crysis, the engine does a good job of rendering both the urban and jungle environments. What appears to be an in-house effort, it does well in providing a range of effects that can make the game look beautiful at times. It's also good to see it without the glaring graphical issues that plagued the unfinished edition, though there are still a few minor issues. The shadows, in particular, still look a bit rough, but the biggest issue was actually gameplay stopping. On one occasion, after a short period of slow down, I found the camera to be stuck, but the player was still moving. The character would continue to point in the direct the camera was facing, though, creating some odd viewpoint situations. Reloading the save didn't work, and it actually required quitting the game and starting it up again to solve it. While this may sound like a major issue, I have yet to replicate it, and I'm sure it can be fixed with a simple patch.
While the criticisms of how the game plays are few, the fundamental issue remains that the game simply does not tread on new ground. As good as the base of the game may be, it's worrying that there's nothing here to really inspire you. In fact, it's for this reason that I had trouble writing the review for a while; the game's lack of originality makes it difficult to write about, with Max Payne itself summing up most of what the game does. A lack of multiplayer features, or any significant replay value, leaves El Matador simply feeling like a good, solid title, but nothing more.
People who downloaded El Matador have also downloaded:
Freedom Fighters, DOOM³, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza, Dead Man's Hand, Enclave, Elite Forces: WWII Normandy, Driv3r (a.k.a. Driver 3), First Battalion
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