E3 2003: Hands-On Dead Man's Hand
An online western shooter that would do Clint Eastwood proud.
May 16, 2003 - First-person shooters are hitting Xbox faster than you can say, "That Halo2 demo was the --" These FPS' seem to come in two forms. They either take place in an alternate universe/the future or are real-world tactical action games. For some reason, no one's been smart enough to make a Western shooter. That is until now. Atari plans to bring developer Human Head Studios' Dead Man's Hand to Xbox and Xbox Live this fall.
Dead Man's Hand is an FPS in the flavor of a classic Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. There are 11 weapons (3 pistols, 3 rifles, 3 shotguns, dynamite, and a bowie knife) plus several special weapons, including the gattling gun, a staple of old Western movies.
Pretty much anything you can remember Eastwood doing in any of his classic Westerns has been reproduced in Dead Man's Hand. Shoot hats off noggins, shoot guns out of people's hands, fan your pistol for deadly repeat fire, roll carts down hills, shoot dynamite out of the air, shatter windows, shoot hanging signs, or just walk down main street filling bellies with lead. The only thing Human Head's seemed to have missed is the quick-draw aspect. Beyond that, my half hour with the game showed me just about everything I'd hoped for from a Western FPS.
You play as El Tejan, resident gunslinging bad-ass. The story begins with El Tejan turning his back on his bloody outlaw gang, the Notorious Nine. No sooner is El Tejan's back turned than his buddies are popping him. Captured by the Federales, Tejan must break out of jail and then hunt down those who betrayed him. Classic Western plotline.
To encourage the Spaghetti Western motif, El Tejan has a Legendary Meter. This meter fills up as you do cool tricks. Shoot someone and you get a smidgen of the meter filled, but shoot the hat off their head and then shoot a nearby powder keg and blow them up and your meter will get a major boost. There's also an arcade score that fills up whenever you destroy objects and kills banditos. My favorite part of the HUD, though, is El Tejan's health meter, which is displayed with a poker cards. Quite clever.
The environments are fully interactive. You can shoot out windows, sends carts barreling down on baddies, shoot down landings, kick around barrels, and just about everything else you've seen The Man With No Name do. You can certainly beat Dead Man's Hand playing "shoot everyone and move on," but why would you want to?
Your goal is not just revenge, but also to increase your own legend. By filling up your Legendary Meter, you can pull off special moves with all of your guns. The only alternate fire move currently in the pre-alpha build is with El Tejan's standard pistol. Squeezing the left trigger, Tejan performs a fan move, where he runs his left hand over the hammer and cocks it back quickly for rapid fire. Swinging the pistol with the fan in action allows you to mow down several banditos in a row. Yeah, doing this made me feel like Blondie. Heck, I could almost feel the serape on my shoulders, the cold squint in my eyes. Yeah, this is exactly what I've wanted in an FPS.
Not only do you get a unique alt fire move for each weapon, but building your legend will come in handy at the end of the game. Like Pirates!, players are given a rating at the end of the game. So if you are the mack daddy legend you might be called a True Gunslinger (or something much more clever than what I can come up with) and if you've played it safe and boring the entire game you could be known as Pistol Paste Pete (or something that doesn't infringe on a comic book license).
All of the guns in the game were available when I played Dead Man's Hand at E3. Cycling through weapons is easy with the D-Pad. Left cycles through your three pistols, right your rifles, down your shotguns, and up your bowie knife and dynamite.
Even the weakest forms of each gun are fun to use, but few things are as satisfying as taking an ultra-powerful double barrel shotgun and blasting a bandit from the rafters of a barn and watching him tumble down. Thanks to Unreal's ragdoll effects, villains die in all sorts of lovely ways. From tumbling down stairs to crumpling to the floor to flying through a windows, bouncing off a balcony railing and falling two stories to the unpaved road below.
Those the reticles aren't final, the double-barrel shotgun shows some promising signs of things to come. Pulling out ol' double-b gives a reticle outline of the double barrel's. That is sweet.
The duck & cover AI has been altered from the standard 21st century AI seen in more games. Instead, villains react in more basic means. There are no covert op tactics to deploy. This is the old west. As such, most villains look for quick cover, whether it's behind a wall or by tossing over a table and doing a little pop and shoot action.
There are 20 levels in the game featuring a wide variety of locations all over classic Western locales like the deep south and Old Mexico. Traveling between locations isn't done with some cheap cut-scene and long load time. Instead, you'll hop on a river boat, grab a train, or ride your horse from place to place.
The horse-riding scenario was also available for play at E3. This is the rail shooter aspect of the game. You can't control where your horse goes, but you can destroy objects and clear new pathways, somewhat like in Panzer Dragoon Orta. On your horse you'll find other riders to battle and bandits on foot. Ride through storefronts or on the open plains. There's a good variety, from the looks of the one-level demo.
Shooting your competing riders offers many different death animations. With the properly aimed shot, you can knock a rider off the back of his horse, with his foot stuck in the stirrup, so that he's dragged along behind the horse. Or you can shoot the horse, taking him down and the rider with him.
Ah, but there's more. Between each level you can play poker. Betting your own items, you can earn more ammo and possibly even weapon upgrades. Unfortunately, I didn't get to check out the poker aspect, but hopefully it's not just you against the house. It would be great to have you playing poker against three AI opponents.
Ah, but there's even more. Dead Man's Hand will fully support Xbox Live. The shooter will allow 16 players to go at it in your standard smattering of multiplayer modes. Two other modes will be available that break from the norm. Bounty mode has one player as a bandit and the entire rest of the gamer audience playing as bounty hunters looking for the big pay day. Posse mode, which should be called Alamo mode, has every player on the same side trying to hold of endless waves of AI enemies. Xbox Live functionality wasn't quite ready for a full demonstration, but I'm hopeful we'll get to check it out in the next month or two.
Visually, Dead Man's Hand isn't going to pop a tent in your pants. At this point in development, the game isn't an eye-popping wonder, but it's certainly not ugly. The animations are solid and the effects are good, but the polish hasn't been applied to the textures and lighting. Dead Man's Hand should get a graphical bump by the time it's ready for release.
Dead Man's Hand had almost everything I've wanted in a Western shooter. It's fun, smooth, and has a pretty cool set-up. Heck, Human Head's even added heat-packing hookers. But there are a few things I'd love to see in the final version. Pistol whipping is something that is, while not common, seen in many Westerns. So a melee attack with each weapon would be great. The only other complaint is that right now it's too tough to pull off some of the cool moves. It should be a bit easier to shoot the hat off someone's head (perhaps this could be tied into the Legendary Meter?). It would also be great if you could shoot the hat and then be able to juggle it in the air with further shots. Now that would be vintage Eastwood. And, lastly, some sort of quick-draw mode would also be cool. Maybe even some kind of connection with a boss battle. Beyond that, Dead Man's Hand should offer a great change of pace from the high-tech shooters prevalent on Xbox.
-- Hilary Goldstein
The title of the article is a bit off, because they make it sound like Clint Eastwood is dead.