Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin Review
SouthPeak Interactive has released an action/adventure game for Windows, Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin. The game is very loosely based on the Warner Brothers movie, Wild Wild West, which was in turn based on the cult TV show of the same name. In this game, your goal is to assure the safety of the president, Ulysses S. Grant, from mysterious assassins. To accomplish this, you must aid special agents James West and Artimus Gordon.
What kind of a game is it?
Recently, the gaming industry has been mixing things up quite a bit. Elements of role playing games, action game, and adventure game elements are showing up in games of other types, creating many hybrid games. Heated discussions are often heard about whether or not a particular game can be put in this or that category. My opinion is that Steel Assassin is an adventure game with some action game elements. People looking for a fast-twitch shooter game will most likely be disappointed. On the other hand, adventure fans should be pleased with this game, as I was.
The two central characters, Artimus Gordon and James West, are played slightly differently. James can shoot his way out of many situations, but some can only be solved by cracking a puzzle. Even the parts that Jim can shoot his way through can often be better solved in a clever way, so not as much shooting skill is needed. This was a tremendous boon for me.
Artimus must almost always look for the clever way out, as he never holds a weapon. As he says in the game, "I have no need of weapons, I have my wits!" Scientific-looking gizmos are the mainstays of Artimus' adventures. They are very nicely done, in that absurdly-ahead-of-their-time-for-so-long-ago style.
If you want, you can tone done the difficulty of either the puzzle solving or the action sequences independently. If you are not a first-time adventure gamer, leave the puzzle difficulty on high. As word of warning, however, you cannot use these controls to convert Steel Assassin into pure action game.
The Game Play
The game play in Wild Wild West is divided into two tracks of chapters, one for Artimus Gordon and one for James West. You often have a choice of whether to pursue the Gordon chapter or West chapter next, but you must work down through the two tracks roughly in parallel, to keep the timelines accurate. This is a nice feature, because if you become temporarily stuck on one track, you can play the other character for a while.
Artimus and James communicate through a Cylinder-Based Recordable Messaging Service system on their train, the Wanderer. This also helps you out, as one of your characters will often supply needed or useful information to the other. It also gives you, as the player, a capsule summary of the chapter that has just been completed.
As you play either character, you have an active inventory, a backpack, and a current health reading. You can hold only a few items in inventory; extra items go into the backpack. Both characters can use inventory items with their left hands, either on other inventory items, or on objects in the area.
The two characters also have their own unique items. With his right hand, Jim West always wields a weapon, some sort of gun. This is a third-person perspective game, and the targeting is kept fairly easy for you. When there is a target on screen, the cursor will change to an aiming circle. Hold the aiming circle on target and it will shrink down. The smaller the circle, the better your chances of hitting are going to be. A quick right-click of the mouse, and the shot is fired. For Artimus, the right hand can hold one of several scientific gadgets that can be used to collect evidence or examine objects. Again, a cursor change indicates when this can be done.
Both characters also keep a log book. This is a critical piece of equipment, as every clue found out through talking to characters (or searching their carcasses!) is kept in there. It is always a good idea to check through your log book after every addition.
Save games are done for you automatically after each major accomplishment. You can also save the games whenever you want, so you can go ahead and try that stupid idea you had, without fear of losing your spot in the game. The game save features worked smoothly and should please just about everyone.
The game seems to be low in true Easter Eggs. I searched around quite a bit, and I only found one real hidden surprise that was not in the mainline solution of the game. (Hint: it involves using a particular gun at a particular time in the shooting range.) I do wish game designers were a bit more generous with these little goodies, as they don't cost much and add a lot to the game for the dedicated gamer.
Sound and Graphics
The sound and graphics in The Steel Assassin are good to excellent throughout the game. In particular, the voice acting by Andre Ware is very enjoyable. Although I understand that Andre Ware was actually directed to not try to sound like Will Smith, I still had little trouble imagining that it was Will Smith himself playing James West. The voice of Jim Ward portraying Artimus sounds quite a bit like Kevin Kline. Both voice actors are easy to listen to and easily understandable.
The music has just the right "Wild Wild West" feel to it, with a western twang and a little James Bond attitude thrown in. It adds a lot to the game. The sound effects get high marks too: the bullets scream across the sound stage, and everything from the footsteps to the explosions rings true.
I did experience an occasional glitch where the voices dropped out of the sound mix. This may be due my running a more recent version of DirectX than comes with the game. A quick reboot (naturally) brought the game back to full functionality. I hope this problem is not common, or that a patch will be released if it is.
The artwork is of several different types. The game play itself is done with pre-rendered backgrounds, against which 3D characters play their parts. The backgrounds are very well done, with lots of detail and good artistic flair. The characters themselves do look a bit blocky up close, just as in the cut scenes. They also seem to really, really enjoy holding their hands in a fist. (Even when kissing!) I suppose another five years will give us enough polygons per second to allow doing fingers at a good frame rate.
There are lots of cut scenes, all very well done with full 3D rendering. The quality of the cut scenes is generally good, but it is kept consistent with the real game play look -- including characters with a bit of a blocky appearance.
Lip-syncing to speech would also be a welcome addition to WWW:TSA. Some other games have added lip movements at least to the bitmaps of their characters while speaking, and it does add something to the performance.
The puzzles of The Steel Assassin are very good. They are not too difficult, even at the hardest setting, and the persistent should triumph. The puzzles are also fairly well worked into the story line and do not disturb the flow of the plot as you work to solve them. My only complaint with the puzzles is that there weren't enough of them to suit my taste. This is natural, as the game itself is rather short, and so there wasn't enough space to house a lot of good puzzles.
Some of the puzzles are timing-based, and they do require some attention to what you are doing. This makes them action puzzles, but they were not too hard once you figure out what needs to be done. There are only a few cases where I, playing as West, had to shoot an enemy in a fair fight.
The rest of the puzzles for both West and Gordon are classic adventure puzzles, where you must acquire (typically by finding and then stealing) the needed items to complete a goal. None of the puzzle solutions required an outlandish use of an object, although some uses could easily be called strange.
The game comes on two CD-ROM disks. The first disk is just for installation and for upgrading your DirectX if needed. There is only one CD-ROM used during game play, so you don't need to bother switching disks back and forth to play the game. I think this approach works very well.
Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin is a very good adventure game, with some action elements. Good sound, graphics, game play and puzzles are supported by an interesting story line. Adventure game fans should love this game, while action gamers should try it only if they are looking for a change from constant blasting.
-- Robert Norton