Reviewed: November 27, 2004
Released: October 5, 2004
There’s no denying that there is an obvious shortage of western games available. In the past 15 years I can count the number of westerns on one hand starting with Freddy Pharkus Frontier Pharmacist (say that four times real fast), the moving on to the brilliant and yet to be duplicated, Outlaws from LucasArts. More recently, games like Desperados, Dead Man’s Hand, and Red Dead Revolver have experimented with various genres combining them with Wild West flavor.
WANTED: A Wild Western Adventure hearkens back to the golden era of adventure gaming when Sierra and Lucas ruled the industry. WANTED combines Pixar quality CGI with charming gameplay, and a humorous script to create the perfect family game.
Slip into the cowboy boots of Fenimore Fillmore as you confront the wealthy, powerful and evil John Starek who has been threatening the local townspeople into selling him their land by whatever means necessary. You get to meet and interact with more than 30 crazy characters, collect over 80 useful inventory objects and encounter countless amusing Wild West situations. Ride the rails, fight barroom brawls or take it outside in a deadly gunfight.
WANTED plays like your typical 3D adventure presented in a 2D style using a simple mouse interface to move and interact with your surrounding. You click on object to examine and pick things up or click on people to talk, choosing from several topics until they are all exhausted. These usually give you clues to puzzles or open up new locations to travel to or explore.
Navigation can be a bit of a problem. First, you cannot run in this game so moving anywhere can take longer than it should. To make matters worse the camera has an annoying tendency to switch at the very last minute giving you a totally non-functional view. For example, I might walk from the garden to the barn but as I near the barn the camera switches to a reverse angle so I can no longer see inside the barn to get the object I wanted. I then have to move an inch or so to get the camera to flip to another more useful angle. Depending on the way the location is designed, this can be more of a problem in some areas than others.
Puzzles range from simple and obvious to quite challenging, especially for the target age group. Parents will likely have to help the younger kids with a few of them. Other puzzles require a lot of repetitious tasks. For instance, to get your horse “powered-up” you have to feed him carrots. This means watering the garden over and over and over again to get the carrots to grow to a size suitable for picking. Watering the garden consists of finding the pail then clicking the pail on the water pump. Then you have to click the full pail on the garden to water the ground and then wait as the “grow meter” for each carrot slowly rises. You then have to pick the carrot and take them to your horse. It takes about five carrots to fill your horse’s meter and that goes down as you ride him.
When you aren’t solving puzzles or exploring the land there are a lot of characters to interact with, and the dialogue is totally charming and often quite hilarious. Fenimore has a delivery style that reminded me of Tom Hank’s overly polite “Woody” character from Toy Story. There is a lot of humor, not only in the speech but the subtle visualizations, like when Fenimore “takes” something that doesn’t belong to him. The music gets all tense and he looks all around before quickly swiping the item.
There is a not-so-subtle romantic interest the moment our hero meets the local schoolteacher, Miss Rhianon. This is cleverly handled with amusing cutscenes and cute dialogue with her students who are already aware that half the town is “hot for teacher”. This becomes an underlying goal for the remainder of the game.
Those looking for a straight-up adventure game should be warned there are some (three to be exact) arcade sequences buried in WANTED. It’s nothing you can’t get past with some trial and error but it could turn off adventure purists. Two of them are fairly easy and the hardest of the three, the shooting gallery, is not even that difficult. Took me three tries.
For an adventure game the gameplay is surprisingly non-linear. Once an area is open you can explore and return to that area at anytime. This gives the game a big open feel but it can also cause you to loose your focus. You might know what to do but not where to do it, which leads to a lot of wandering around and extra clicking. And in the case of horseback riding, you will need to keep your horse fed if you want to travel between hotspots on the map, which means keeping a good supply of carrots or other food on hand.
WANTED is visually stunning for what is considered a budget title from a relatively unknown developer. I dare say the graphics are on par with a Pixar or Dreamworks production like Finding Nemo, Sharktale, or Shrek 2. There is nary a polygon in site, at least in the character design. I’ve never seen curves and textures this smooth. It looks just like any CG cartoon you might see on Nickelodeon right now like Jimmy Neutron.
Facial expressions are expertly animated to show true emotion, but the lip-synch is definitely off here. Since this game was originally released overseas I’m guessing they just didn’t bother to reanimate the lips to match the English dub. There are a lot of nice subtle character animations including idle animations if you don’t do anything for a minute or so.
Special effects are quite nice with lighting and shadows although the shadows are inconsistent between the characters and the environmental objects. It’s hardly noticeable unless you’re a picky game reviewer. Textures are detailed on all of the environments with a great cartoon quality while remaining almost surreal.
There are more than 40 minutes of unbelievably good cutscenes starting with the lengthy opening movie and then interspersed throughout to tell the tale and further the action. This is great stuff, with quality that rivals a $50 title.
My only caveat would have to be with the aforementioned camera problems that caused a lot of needless tweaking of Fenimore’s position to get the proper angle of a particular scene. These moments took me out of the experience and reminded me I was playing a game.
The music is good but doesn’t come close to matching the epic quality of the visuals. They are classic western almost to the point of becoming cliché. There isn’t that much variety so the tracks tend to loop and become slightly annoying at times rather than slipping into the background where they belong.
The sound effects are few and the same sounds are used for multiple occurrences. The same creaky wooden door sound is used for all doors whether it be the front door, a cabinet, a chest, or anything else on hinges. The sounds are accurate and all the important things make the appropriate noise but none of it is especially noteworthy.
The voice acting is outstanding whether it be Fenimore with his slow drawl or the prim and proper schoolteacher, suspicious sheriff, evil villain, or any of the other 30 characters you will get to interact with before the game is over. You’ll look forward to each and every encounter and for once will want to try every dialogue options and listen to the responses.
Kids in the targeted age group will find 20+ hours of wholesome entertainment and for $20 that is a bargain. Teens and adults might whiz through the game in10-12 hours but even that is an ample amount of gameplay for the price, especially in light of the outstanding production values.
There is a great story being told with entertaining gameplay and for once, a very satisfying ending. And in true feature animation tradition, stay tuned during the credits for some hilarious outtake footage.
I grew up with Sierra and Lucas 3D adventures, and in a day where adventure games have become synonymous with the point-and-click slideshow style made famous in Myst it was refreshing to “come home” to a true 3D adventure that mixes entertaining characters, charming dialogue, a great story, and old-fashioned adventure gameplay. Kudos to Revistronic for keeping the genre alive and a big thanks to The Adventure Company for bringing this game to America where we can all have a taste of the Old West.