The gunslinger, it seems, is the new space marine. After years with only a handful of wild west games being released, we’re suddenly seeing them making regular appearances on the gaming horizon. Lead and Gold is the latest entry on that front, but while most other contenders are narrative driven homages to western movies, Lead and Gold is trying to take the action online.
Most people upon hearing ‘Wild West Online Shooter’ might expect a fairly hardcore offering, with the slow firing and inaccurate weapons, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Lead and Gold is a fast paced game, aiming is loose rather than precise and it uses a third person over the shoulder camera unusual in the online shooter genre. The exaggerated, bright and bold art design only enforces this perception, Lead and Gold isn’t the real west, it’s a stylised, cartoonish version of it.
The game presents four simple classes to choose from, the coonskin hat wearing Trapper is the classical sniper, she carries a long, bolt action rifle and has the special ability to lay two bear traps, invisible to the enemy, but capable of holding them in position for several vital seconds. The Blaster is big and beefy, capable of brutal up close damage with his double barrelled shotgun, he can also throw a bundle of dynamite, which acts much like a grenade in game. The Gunslinger is the quick, fast firing class, he carries only a revolver, but has the ability to ‘fan’ it, firing as fast as the player can click. Finally the Deputy is a jack of all trades, his rifle has a long range, but can’t zoom in as well as the Trapper, yet it fires much faster, he has the useful special ability to ‘tag’ an enemy, making them visible even when behind cover. Each has a very different method of play, each offering something different to the game.
What makes or breaks a team play game however, isn’t just the classes, but the incentive to play together, this is what has made Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 such successes, the way they persuaded even selfish players to contribute to the whole. In this area Lead and Gold demonstrates an awareness surprising from an inexperienced team, Lead and Gold constantly rewards players for proximity to their team-mates. Key to this is the synergy system, proximity to a team-mate gives you a small boost to your ability dependant on their class, a Gunslinger will make you more accurate, a Blaster improves your health, a Deputy boosts your damage and a Trapper will make your critical more often, crucially these ‘synergy’ effects don’t stack, thus encouraging players to pick at least one of each class. Wounded players can also only regain health when a team-mate is nearby, the net result of this is that the players are encouraged to stick together to maximise their stats.
This isn’t all either, every mode includes a respawn flag, starting out in your spawn zone any player who spawns will almost certainly pick it up without even realising, dead allies can then use that flag as a forward spawn point, if the carrier is killed the flag remains until touched by an enemy, when it reverts back to base. It’s like a simplified version of the engineer’s teleporter from Team Fortress 2, it allows the team to extend their supply lines, but without any real thought or commitment necessary on the part of the user. Downed players aren’t necessarily out for the count either, a they’re knocked to the floor, during which they can only fire inaccurately with their backup pistol until another team member gets to them and pulls them back up (or they get shot again, or they manually respawn). Real thought has gone into making people play like a team, without having to think about it, and it really shows, there’s very little chatter on any of the game’s servers, but nevertheless people co-ordinate unthinkingly.
The game modes are also full of invention, while the regular team deathmatch (or shootout) and conquest (waypoint capture) modes are still present the focus is on the three (well two and half) original modes. Powder Keg pits an attacking team who are trying to blow up two structures against a team defending them, the titular kegs are the key to doing this, the attacking team has to lug them forwards, making them vulnerable (anyone carrying a key moves slowly and cannot fire) shooting a keg causes it to fizz and eventually explode, making moving them hazardous, but leading to incredibly fun moments. Robbery again splits between attackers and defenders, but the objective here is to blow a bank vault (again, using a keg) and retrieve as many sacks of gold as possible (gold also slows you down, but doesn’t explode), Greed is simply a two way version of Robbery. The new modes are where the fun really lies in Lead and Gold, Robbery in particular really is superbly characterful, if it wasn’t for all the respawns and damage numbers popping out of people’s heads you really could believe you were knocking over a bank.
The basics are strong too, the level design often uses variably heights and pathways to create flowing fire fights that don’t get stuck in the same old choke points. This meshes superbly with the stylised design aesthetic to create beautiful levels full of twists and turns and rickety bridges over classic western saloons.
With such a clever spin on the classic online shooter formula, the real shame is that Lead and Gold doesn’t have the community to reflect it’s quality, searching for a server to join usually only finds four or five at maximum. What Lead and Gold really needs is a community, a constant online presence, capable of generating things like custom maps to further expand the playability of the game. Despite the bargain price of £9.99 it sometimes seems like most gamers only have time for one or two online shooters, and with TF2 and Battlefield doing so well, and Lead and Gold offering nothing in the shape of persistent unlocks, it’s entirely possible it simply won’t get the players to sustain itself, which is a crying shame.
In the end Lead and Gold is a really stunning effort for a budget game from an inexperienced studio, while some shooter lovers might prefer something a little more precise and realistic (at times it’s hard not to see that the game is clearly intended for the console market as well as the PC) it’s nonetheless a strong shooter well worth your time.