el matador video game 88.
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El Matador, a DVDROM in English by Plastic Reality Technologies for Cenega, distributed with a 30-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a 1.3 gigahertz Pentium III PC or better, for ages 16 through adult, NIS 219. Rating: HHH
Steeling my nerves to review what I thought was a bullfighting game, I was relieved that El Matador is not set in Spain and has nothing to do with taunting and stabbing animals. But this rather tiresome third-person shooter, based in South America and starring the fictional US Drug Enforcement Authority special agent Victor Corbett, is no reason to shout ole.
Instead of pursuing enraged bulls, the main character has been sent to annihilate an organized crime syndicate specializing in narcotic smuggling in Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and other countries. Corbett was sent south of the border to take revenge against this "narcomafia," which wiped out a whole team of DEA agents. The problem is that Plastic Reality Technologies seems shamelessly to have filched ideas from the popular and professional video game series named Max Payne, which focused on a police officer and began some five years ago. But while the graphics in this new game are very good (but not great), the rest of it has been produced on a technical level going back to the first years of this decade.
If you're an ingenue at this genre, you should start off in the Costa Rica survival training camp, where you learn how to shoot the various weapons and throw grenades. A faceless narrator who sounds like a no-nonsense marine tells you where to practice, ways to hit static targets and how to avoid shooting the police. Aiming at targets installed behind bulletproof glass, you have to learn how to shoot at an adjacent wall to have the bullets ricochet off the surface and hit the bull's-eye. After getting the feel of this, your character must run through the camp, shooting at pop-up boards painted with the images of bad guys (and a few gals) while the clock ticks down. You cannot proceed in the training unless you pass a test. But while the seven missions (including a prologue) of the very short game (about five or six hours) are linear and require that you go through them in order, the training session can be avoided if you wish.
The game developers excel at occasionally spouting four-letter words from the mouths of the characters and needlessly putting cigarettes between the fingers of fighters before missions. However they're not too good at spelling. When a woman is held hostage at Tijuana's Barracuda night club, the name is spelled correctly in the "Top Secret: For Your Eyes" mission instructions, but on the wall inside, the neon lights under a fish design spell out "Baracuda."
The game's exterior gives 16 as the recommended minimum age for playing, while the ESBR rating given when the game begins is 17+. But at either age, I recommend taking advantage of the option of turning off the blood. If not, you will constantly see pools of blood on the floor and around the bullet holes on the wall; at least the bodies of the baddies are not disfigured. With the blood option off, the screen momentarily turns red when you have made a hit, but there is no other sign of hemoglobin.
You go from one deadly gun battle to another in a variety of interesting environments, but even the frenetic switching of weapons is not enough to make the game interesting. The game physics prevents you from turning around and walking in the opposite direction (instead you have to walk backwards awkwardly in retreat), and there is no way to cling to the walls to avoid being shot. Only members of your DEA team, whom you do not control, can take cover behind objects.
One of the gimmicks stolen from Max Payne and The Matrix is the slow-motion option, which lets you halt the action and try to aim more accurately but also shortens the time you have available to fight. Here, slow-motion scenes look smeared across your screen, as if your computer has gotten a mild stroke. And for some reason, my high-powered computer crashed more than once while playing El Matador, a sign of some kind of bug. It is no great loss to be returned to the Windows screen.