El Matador from Cenega Publishing and Plastic Reality Technologies is the latest third-person action title to closely resemble the Max Payne series. Despite a name that suggests it, there are no bulls to be seen in the game, with you playing the part of a DEA agent tasked with bringing down a drug cartel in Colombia, and as with any good action title, expect plenty of gun-fire.
What's apparent from the four-level build I played through is that the game will feature non-stop action from start to finish. The selection of weapons is extraordinarily large, with everything from a standard pistol to an RPG to a gatling gun. You obviously won't get to use the whole arsenal on every level, but enemies leave weapons and ammo behind, meaning you're never low on fire power.
Guns have a real sense of power behind them, and enemies react accordingly when hit. The rag-doll effect is in full force, and although it looks a bit puppet-like, it works well. Physics in general aren't quite spot-on just yet, with a number of objects acting strangely, but hopefully this will be sorted before release. Environmental damage is also something of a mixed bag: pillars and the like are chipped away when under fire, but an RPG fired into a building will hardly do a thing, with the explosion looking like a tiny firework has just gone off.
Fire effects on the whole look rather unpolished, but hopefully this is something that will receive some attention before the game hits store shelves. Other than that blemish the game is looking great, with detailed textures and an almost excessive amount of shadows. HDR lighting is also an option if you've got the hardware to use it and raises the lighting quality up a notch. Animation of the main character is looking a little stiff, particularly when jumping, but it's not a major problem.
The game engine certainly seems very capable, rendering some detailed character models and some nicely varied environments. The preview build featured a tightly woven residential area, complete with narrow streets and alleyways, a large construction area, and a dense tropical environment, complete with plenty of vegetation. Objectives were never much more complicated than killing enemies, but the levels point towards a nice mix in the final game.
Slow-motion can be triggered either through a slow-motion leap forward or by simply switching to slower time. As with other games that use the same feature, this gives you the chance to take down enemies without them getting a shot off at you, and makes you feel like an action movie star. Gameplay is actually less run and gun than you might think, with enemies posing a real threat if you're not careful. There's not a whole lot of depth to proceedings, but it is important to pick the right weapon for the environment you're in. For example, a shotgun is ideal in the tight street environment, but isn't so effective in the more open jungle setting.
I don't think the game's developers have any thoughts about El Matador being the game to end all PC action games, but that isn't really the point of the game. There's hardly an ounce of originality to be seen in what I've played, but it copies one of the best examples of the genre. If the final game can deliver a non-stop dose of action from start to finish, El Matador may well be a game action junkies need to consider picking up.