Once upon a time… in Mexico, a tale involving upbeat Mexican hip-hop, bullet tornadoes, crazed homicidal wrestlers, and chickens took place. This once in a lifetime mash-up of insane ideas brought the creative minds of Deadline Games, Square Enix and Eidos Interactive together to craft what might possibly be one of the most underrated (and certainly over-the-top) action games to ever exist; Total Overdose: A Gunslingers Tale In Mexico. Despite mostly going under the radar, let’s take a look back at the sheer insanity of this gem among a heap of open world games that couldn’t quite capture the same spicy personality.
2005 was quite a crammed year for video games, especially new heavy-hitter IP’s dominating the market with acclaimed sequels on the rise. Total Overdose banked on the open world settings that began to flood the market shortly after the success of Rockstar’s masterful Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. While it certainly had a credible amount of hype to back it up due to the talent behind the screens, Total Overdose landed with a less than stellar thud as critical reception was mixed at best with the game mostly under-performing commercially. Years later, it settled for a well-deserved cult status.
Total Overdose takes place in Mexico and follows the journey of the Cruz family. After his father, a DEA agent, is killed in the line of duty, high-ranking DEA specialist Tommy Cruz is sent to investigate the circumstances of his father’s death who was attempting to take down the Morales Cartel. Unfortunately, Tommy is severely injured and must enlist the help of his criminal twin brother, Ramiro, to infiltrate the Cartel. A pretty basic set-up for an action/crime game that didn’t need an abundant amount of depth or profound impact. In fact, it prided itself on being a spectacularly zany, over-the-top love letter to Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy. Albeit without a blind, badass Johnny Depp.
The gameplay mechanics borrowed heavily from titles like Max Payne and Tomb Raider and turned it on its head. Ramiro was a cartoonish, smart-talking gunslinger with the agility of a character straight out of The Matrix. He could bounce off walls to pull off grizzly slow-motion kills while stylishly catching an enemies hat afterwards. What really drew people into Total Overdose was its consistent ability to push the levels of believability. When your roster of special attacks include a one-hit golden revolver, a homicidal Mexican wrestler who mercilessly beats enemies with a baseball bat, and double guitar case machine guns (a nice homage to 1992’s El Mariachi), you’re begging not to be taken seriously.
Total Overdose also had an irresistible sense of humor and clever satirical edge. It constantly poked fun at its own clichéd plot of undercover agents and drug cartels while paying great homage to the Mexican-western films that so obviously inspired it – not to mention the slapstick comedy that would’ve destroyed the game, yet Total Overdose embraces it with all the subtlety of a chicken caught in the bullet-storm of a gun fight. The gameplay is constantly fun, fast-paced, and so out of left field that it bordered on being a violent episode of Looney Tunes. Here was a game with a solid grasp on its absurd premise; one with a sense of identity rarely done to this extent in modern games.
Only a few flaws really held it back from being appreciated as one of the all-time greats, though. Despite all the crazy action set pieces and superb comedy, Total Overdose presented a mostly uninteresting vision of an open world Mexico. With not much density, cruising the streets in search of crazy antics felt empty and hollow, instead saving its best moments for the main missions. Side missions were cut-and-paste, including the dreaded go to point A, kill the baddies, go to point B, collect the package type of filler or padding that plagued every GTA copycat, and I have to strongly disagree with its given copycat title. Total Overdose was so far removed from GTA, that the only things connecting it were stealing cars and running over pedestrians – both achieving surprisingly different and darkly comedic results.
Nonetheless, Total Overdose still has my full praise. For a game that many criticized for being unoriginal, it was so densely packed with originality that ironically happened to be the mish-mash of many inspirations. As a love letter to the Mexican-western genre it boasts and pokes fun at, Total Overdose simply nails its entertainment factor. I revisit the game every once in a while to remind myself that gaming, at its purest, is (and should be more often) sheer, unhinged fun.