Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin
SouthPeak Interactive describe their new game Wild Wild West as an "action adventure". Happily the game allows you to customise how much action. For this review the action level was set to "go easy on me". On this setting Wild Wild West is a respectable adventure game with some puzzles where you're under time pressure. For comparison Sanitarium, Overseer, and Full Throttle have harder time-critical puzzles. SouthPeak have made a reasonable job of developing a game which can be adjusted to suit the player.
Wild Wild West has an original story co-written by Lee Sheldon (Dark Side of the Moon, The Riddle of Master Lu.) It is set after the film of the same name and has you foiling a plot to assassinate President Grant. The setting is late C19th America with 'steampunk' technology similar to the film (so Victorian style jet-skis, plasma bolts, etc.) There are nine episodes: you play four as Jim West (the Will Smith character in the film), four as Artemus Gordon, and in the endgame you get to play as both.
There are well-drawn 2D backgrounds for the various game locations (docks, theatre, ranch, saloon, Wild West ghost town, and the Wanderer train which is your base.) The small details in these backgrounds add to the realism, with nice effects like moths circling around a lamp at night. The 3D animated characters work less well - there is no lip synch, the movement is a little wooden, and one scene where Misty lies on a bed didn't look right.
The game has two types of cut-scene. One is ray-traced? and is a little grainy (the opening scene in the docks is an example.) The other is done by moving the 3D characters around according to a set script and this, to me, worked better. The music and sound effects help create an atmosphere for the game locations without being obtrusive.
The action puzzles come in two kinds. In the Jim West episodes you need to defeat gun-toting enemies. Most of these enemies can be defeated by good old Adventure puzzle solving (with action set to easy that is.) A few times, however, you will need to shoot to kill and on these occasions the opponents will be in a fixed location, there will be only one or two of them, and provided you keep your guns loaded you will have plenty of time to aim and fire. Until you move into a gunfight location there is no clock ticking, no time pressure. If there are more than 2 opponents, or you start going through your five lives quickly, then either you've missed an Adventure solution or the Action option is not set to "easy".
Although bandages can be found to restore lost lives I thought the gun fighting might have been made easier still. The game itself could have decided if you could win and shown an appropriate cut-scene of Jim West in action.
The action puzzles in the Artemus Gordon episodes are curiously harder than the Jim West gunplay puzzles. At various points opponents will chase you, and you need to time carefully how you move. I can't say any more here without spoiling the puzzles.
As you investigate who is trying to kill President Grant you will have a few conversations, explore the various locations, and solve plenty of puzzles to unearth clues. These are largely traditional inventory-based puzzles with one or two logic problems (and a crossword puzzle, but more of that later.) Most of the problems are not too difficult making the game suitable for beginners or action gamers seeking more depth. As well as an inventory you have a journal and it is worth checking regularly to see what the game has written into it.
Wild Wild West does not use the Temujin or Dark Side of the Moon game engine, but instead uses the NetImmerse engine which the next Simon the Sorcerer game will also use. You have a full screen display with an "interface band" along the bottom and it is nearly all mouse-driven with a smart and helpful cursor. Oh, this is one game where you can and will die - remember to save often. There are unlimited save slots, you can save nearly everywhere, and restoring takes only a few seconds. Cut-scenes can be skipped by using the escape key.
The options let you toggle subtitles on or off, how loud the music and effects are, the sound and graphics quality, and how difficult the action (see above) and adventure are. As you play the game you will find notes entered in your journal. If you select "give me clues" for the Adventure mode then these notes are longer and contain hints. If you select "I'll figure it out" then the notes are shorter without any hints. The game plays off one CD, which is impressive given the number of locations. The other CD is for setup.
Your defeated opponents vanish after you search them so at least you're a tidy investigator. Some items you pick up go confusingly into your journal, not your inventory, and inventory items get re-ordered as you use them which is a hindrance to trying them all. Also the crossword puzzle (you have to type letters here) has clues like "name of the Nth US President" which is a little American centric. Like Dark Side of the Moon some plot events are triggered by apparently unrelated actions so be thorough.
The game uses DirectX 6.1 (comes with the game) so DirectX drivers are needed for the graphics and sound cards. Direct3D hardware acceleration is recommended (most major cards supported.) I tried software 3D rendering and didn't notice any real difference. Installation was straightforward and I encountered no real bugs playing.
Overall Wild Wild West is a well-written game. It's not very difficult, probably 10-20 hours worth depending on expertise, but it was a fun and worthwhile playing experience for me. The inventory and logic puzzles tie into the story and the solid interface makes it a pleasant ramble suitable for beginners, or for the experienced gamer who doesn't want a brain cruncher just yet. If only the movie had been as good ...
Thanks to Bob Chase of SouthPeak Interactive for providing the review copy.
Copyright © Peter Smith 2000.
All rights reserved.
266 MHz Pentium or faster processor, Windows 95/98, 64 MB RAM, 200 MB free hard disk space, and an 8x or better CD-ROM drive. Microsoft compatible mouse.