Ever seen a Swedish film set in the Wild West? Me neither! While we wait for the Nordic John Wayne to swagger bow-legged into the såløøn, you might like to try Lead and Gold, the latest endeavour from Swedish developers Fatshark.
Touted as a rootin’ tootin’ class based 3rd person shooter, LaG immediately impresses with its authentic western setting. Weather-beaten signs flap in the wind, bullets fizz and ping as they ricochet down dusty alleys. For a game that isn’t a full priced release, the graphics and quality of animation is surprisingly high. This high quality theme is extended into the character design with each class having their own bespoke look from the grimy Blaster, the grisly Gunslinger, the dandy Deputy or the furry Trapper. The differences between classes are more than aesthetic though, each class has their own weapons and ability, which give them their strengths and weaknesses. In addition they each emit a beneficial aura to other team members. As these effects won’t stack it encourages players to pick a class that isn’t currently being played to maximise the team benefit. Let’s have a look at the purdy bunch shall we:
At launch 6 different games modes are on offer, each offering a varied play style ranging from the straight team deathmatch, CTF variants, control points and even a mini horde mode for two players. It really does feel as if Fatshark are putting a concerted effort in to mix up the genre. I doubt these modes are exhaustive either, with the developers very keen to build upon this sturdy base. Out of all these my favourite is the Gold fever (co-op) mode. You and another player co-operatively must grab bags of gold from around the level and deliver them to your base. All the while increasing waves of AI foes try to stop you. If both of you should die, it’s all over. The high level of co-operation required to survive forces the strategy onto you, which in other objective based modes can decline to a mere shoot-out.
While it’s good for the developers to be anxious to continually improve their product, an old-school cynic like myself would ask the question ‘why was a barely finished game released?’ Starting from the top, there is no intro screen. It may seem like a trivial point, something that after the 1st play I’d skip anyway, but there should be something separating me clicking an icon and being presented with a white on black bland menu with no music. It seems as if the entire front end of the game (and some of the back) has been neglected, possibly cobbled together in the last minutes before release. But let us sweep menu pedantry behind us… onwards!
Now, we must tackle a fairly large point, one that underpins many of the current faults of LaG. We are talking about the lack of dedicated servers. Currently the multiplayer system is Peer-to-peer only, bringing its usual host of problems to the mix. Firstly, if the host player drops out of a game, the game ends for all other players. If players were plentiful this wouldn’t be a problem, however in the week I’ve had to review this, the most players I’ve ever seen online is 160, most of which would be in a full game. Another associated problem of P2P is lag, with most domestic PC/bandwidth setups not suitable for hosting 10 players, you’re lucky to get a ping less than 100ms. I don’t mean to be fussy but in a game where you have to lead your shots, you’ll be lucky to hit a barn door. Couple this with frequent lag spikes and disconnections and you’ll be crying into your Stetson. At the time of review, there is no voice chat included and although the server browser displays the current ping of the servers available, there’s no in-game ping display available. Most of these issues would be easily fixed with an update, but the fact is they would’ve been in a finished product. With an upcoming console release of LaG, one gets the feeling the PC is the testing ground, getting the niggles worked out before it hits the console counterparts.
I’m not angry at Lead and Gold, just disappointed. Fatshark have already done the hardest work by creating a rich and convincing western setting, which is something rarely seen. They show promise in their game design and willingness to accommodate the users by continually improving the game, however they’ve tried to run before they can walk, forgetting some of the most basic requirements for a competent PC shooter, meaning that, for the moment, this game is more lead than gold.
MLG rating 6/10
Platform: PC (Playstation 3) Release Date: 09/04/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West for review purposes by the publisher. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a gaming PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.