If there’s anything I kinda miss about gaming these days, is the sense of people copycatting ideas from other games because they became a breakout success. Sonic the Hedgehog was popular, so here’s a bunch of platformers of characters with some ‘tude. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater rejuvenated a fading extreme sports genre and had a few copycats throughout the 2000s.
But the biggest was around 2001, when two major franchises released that would shift the balance towards what games were for the first half of the decade: Grand Theft Auto III and Max Payne. GTAIII was a free-roaming open world game that was actually critically acclaimed. Its success suddenly had many games pivot to making GTA clones or even open worlds to drive around in an otherwise linear action game. Likewise with Max Payne‘s release, a fair share of games started taking the bullet time shooting mechanic as well, though not as big.
Now most of these copycats are perfectly fine, solid game, but they rarely stood out unless they had some kind of gimmick attached to them. One game in particular decided to copy both of those games together, with a pinch of Mexican cinema pastiche for flavor.
Total Overdose: A Gunslinger’s Tale in Mexico is a game definitely in that Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne mold, but with a little Latin flavor. Developed by Deadline Games, a Denmark development studio mostly known for adventure games, this game has them trying to make something previously unknown to them: the third-person shooter meets open-world sandbox.
The game starts in 1989-era Mexico as DEA agent Ernesto Cruz tries to find Papa Muerte, a major drug kingpin. While shooting his way through a Mayan jungle, Ernesto makes his escape on a plane before forcibly being removed from it. The death was reported as a drug overdose.
Cut to a few years later, when Ernesto’s son Tommy, who’s also a DEA agent, tries to figure out the mystery of his father’s death, where he goes undercover working for some drug cartels. But an unfortunate incident at a gas station leads to him being stuck in a wheelchair and being strictly reconnaissance for the time being.
Enter Ram Cruz: Tommy’s delinquent brother who helps him out by doing missions for the DEA in exchange for his freedom. While Tommy is kind and supportive, Ram is a massive dickhead at the start. This doesn’t last for long, though, as he eventually sheds a lot of that attitude for a more casual personality towards the end.
Total Overdose starts like a conventional mid-2000s shooter for the time. WASD moves, left mouse button shoots. Since this is taking a page from the Max Payne playbook, hitting the shootdodge key – Spacebar by default – Ram can dodge and shoot enemies for bonus points. Holding right mouse button gives a more precision headshot that can be a one-hit KO if timed correctly. There’s other little tricks Ram can do, including climbing up walls and rappelling down wires while shooting, giving that sense of style that Max Payne refined just a couple years earlier.
The game uses a combo meter for each kill. Doing “spicy moves” will add to the counter with more points awarded for style. Getting enough points will unlock rewards like health, a Rewind or a Loco Move. Points are important in this game, as getting enough points during a mission will unlock rewards of various tiers, and a “global” points system that’s counted throughout the campaign will give you unlocks like tokens that can permanently increase health, adrenaline (used for shootdodging), and weapon abilities like dual wielding.
Loco Moves are powerups that can help out Ram during a fight, activated with the Control key. Some are fairly simple – Golden Gun hones in on an enemy and will do massive damage, Tornado Spin will have Ram spin around with MAC-10s in the air and hit any enemy or explosive item within range, Pinata throws a timed explosive that lures enemies towards it, that sort of thing.
Others are a bit more oddball, such as the Mad Wrestler, which spawns a lucha libre wrestler with a machete to kill things, or the Sombrero of Death, which spawns a guy wearing a sombrero and a Calavera costumewho literally blows enemies up with an M79. These can help out Ram in a pinch, especially in the late game where they throw a lot of enemies that take a bit of damage to kill.
Death can happen in games like these, and Total Overdose is no different. While annoying, these can be resolved by the Rewind feature. Hitting TAB will rewind the game a few seconds back before Ram died and restores some health, giving him an opportunity to tackle an area differently. Run out of Rewinds and the game’s over. However, rewinds are so abundant in both the game world that if one’s used to the Max Payne style of shoot, dodge, don’t stop moving gameplay, that the player will likely max out their Rewinds. I only failed out of a mission once due to running out of Rewinds, which was a bummer, but I didn’t lose that much progress as the game autosaves constantly, and there’s save points scattered all around the game world.
When starting his journey, Ram must complete side missions – called “Score Challenges” – that often involve shooting enough enemies or racing through checkpoints within the time limit. Each mission has three unlocks by accruing points in the mission, which are usually helpful – Loco Moves, rewinds, powerup tokens, increased ammo capacity – so there’s an incentive to play those to improve Ram’s skills. Completing enough of these side missions can unlock story missions, which are pretty nice and convenient for making the late game a little less annoying in the long run.
While the game is a Grand Theft Auto clone where Ram can drive cars to places and cause chaos, there is no police intervention like conventional GTA. At most the only interesting things to do in the open world is find the hidden tokens or extra point tokens for passable upgrades.
Though, the game also gives an option to select a mission and automatically warp over to it, which reminds me of some of the Need for Speed games from that era. I rarely used the open world portions as a result. Honestly, as someone who isn’t very much a “vibe around in free roam” kind of person in these games, this is solely welcome and made my playthrough of Total Overdose a more tolerable experience.
Since the game takes place mostly in Mexico, I often see a lot of references to Mexican imagery – the Mexico flag, multiple references to lucha libre and dia de los muertos – to the more “seedier” side of things including drug cartels, desolate orange environments, and such.
This doesn’t surprise me for a game from this era, but it kinda makes me a little uncomfortable with it all, because it might be a bit offensive to Mexican culture. But I figure Deadline Games were not trying to make a game that’s full of offensive Mexican stereotypes on purpose, but rather a homage to that world. Especially with references to Robert Rodriguez’s work, like El Mariachi. As a white person, I can’t speak if whether or not Total Overdose comes off as tone deaf, but I figure this is one of those games that Spanish-speaking folks didn’t mind too much.
Outside of that, the game looks alright for a late-era PS2/Xbox game, even on PC. It was a bit rough to get it properly running at first as I wanted to run it in windowed mode, something the game doesn’t do natively, but was able to figure out thanks to DxWnd. The voice acting is pretty solid, mostly unmemorable with some amusing lines here and there. Though it was surprising to hear a major character voiced by Paul Eiding, the voice of Colonel Campbell in the Metal Gear Solid games.
The music in this game is absolutely top notch, with a lot of music from Molotov, Delinquent Habits, and Control Machete, all Latine rock/hip hop groups. Most of the music usually plays during Ram’s carnage during missions, but it definitely fits the world very well, so much so that I think I found some new favorite music to hunt down. I mean, one of the songs is called “Apocalypshit” which is really a fitting song for this kind of game.
All things considered, Total Overdose is a perfectly solid game. The shooting may not be outstanding, the driving may be rather pedestrian, but the game has a really good vibe to it all, which I think balances out the other rough patches. For coming out during the age of Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto clones, it’s a perfectly solid game.
Deadline did make a sequel for the PSP called Chili Con Carnage, which I haven’t played, but I bet it’s just as good as the parent game was, in spite of the PSP’s control scheme. After that, Deadline worked on a few other small projects, but did one last notable game: Watchmen: The End is Nigh, a game based on the book and movie of the same name. But it wasn’t enough to keep the lights on, as they shuttered their doors in 2014.
The Total Overdose franchise is now under the hands of… honestly, I’m not sure. Eidos published it originally, and their work was bought by Square Enix around 2009 before being sold to Embracer Group in early 2023, so I have no idea who owns the franchise these days. Either way, Total Overdose as a franchise is now like the Calavera costumed folks: dead. At least the game’s still around to play.
If you want to play it for yourself, it’s on GOG for a nice $6. It’s weird that it’s not on Steam, but since it was an Eidos published game maybe they got an exclusive deal or something.
Honestly, I’m surprised there really hasn’t been many action games that covered conflicts that happen in Latin America. There’s Total Overdose, El Matador, a game I previously covered in a past article; and more recently the Just Cause games and Max Payne 3. It’s a bummer, because I bet you could make one that covered Latin America without being DEA agents busting drug cartels for the billionth time. I bet that would be neat.
This was available on Patreon a few days early. Want to check this out before everyone else? Just a buck will get you there, no spicy moves necessary. Check my Patreon here.