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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: March 7, 2000
When I was little and got to watch reruns of the “Wild Wild West” television series, I was in heaven. Unlike other action dramas, it combined humor, ingenious technology, plot twists, and clever puzzle solving in a way that kept me glued to the tube during every commercial break. Then, last summer, a remake was released on the big screen, and I shared the opinion of most critics–that it was a complete dud, capturing none of the spirit and flair of the original series. So when I heard Southpeak Interactive was about to release a Wild Wild West computer title, I naturally wondered which it would be more like–the great television program or the awful movie?
The plot of the game fits well into the mold of its predecessors. It once again takes place in the 1870s and focuses on government Secret Service agents Jim West and Artemus Gordon. A man claiming to be Abraham Lincoln’s true assassin issues a death threat against President Ulysses S. Grant on the fifth anniversary of Lincoln’s death. Your job is to find out the identity of the assassin, and save President Grant. To add dramatic tension, Grant has decided to attend the reopening of Ford’s Theater, where John Wilkes Booth did in Lincoln. Overall, the plot is remarkably predictable compared to the truly startling twists and turns in each episode of the television series.
Across the nine chapters of the story, the focus shifts from West to Gordon, and back again. West and Gordon each star alone in four missions, and in one mission, both get to work together against the clock. This makes Wild Wild West more interesting, because West overcomes obstacles with force, and Gordon solves problems with invention and disguise. In a sense, this makes for two nicely complementary experiences. However, it reduces the fun of the television program, which is watching the two men, with their contrasting styles, work together as a team, combining brain and brawn with wits to unravel all the mysteries.
Southpeak Interactive faced a real uphill battle in attempting to combine adventure and action. I have yet to see a release that does this successfully. Among other roadblocks, the engines used for adventure titles are not the best for unscripted interactive action sequences between the player and the computer-controlled characters. Unfortunately, Wild Wild West falls prey to these dilemmas, and utilizes the action segments as a way to keep the basic adventure plot from getting too boring. The many deficiencies revealed in a sword fight in Ford’s Theater between Gordon and Leopold Degarde, in which you must forgo offense for a completely defensive orientation, provide a case in point. But adventure fans know that you do not need to introduce interactive animated violence in order to make a title fun; indeed, the original television series had remarkably little killing in it.
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