Although El Matador may look and sound like a new action title, it plays, acts and even smells like a familiar old game that didn't age very well. You're Victor Corbet, a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special mission agent tasked to take down Columbian drug thugs. Said crime lords evade the law by hiding behind behind thin yet impenetrable wood tables.
Computer-controlled buddies who should have your back constantly get in your way, shoving you aside and standing directly in front of your crosshairs. They can't take damage from your friendly fire but we sure wish they could, especially since they're lousy shots.
El Matador may be advertised as a stealth game, but Corbet can only perform a couple extra - still highly visible - moves when using his Max Payne-style slow motion ability. Every gun-totin' drug dude in the area immediately notices you and get in a few shots whether you are crouching-and-creeping or running-and-gunning into the room. Stealth is simply not an option.
The funneled action keeps you on the story's path and clear of any creative maneuvers. In the very few instances where you can stray away from the guided tour, all the drug smugglers stay out of gun range until you get back on track. Cross the invisible barrier and they materialize. Worst of all, damage to opponents is inconsistent, with more powerful weapons not always causing more damage and some seemingly unprotected bad guys taking far too many direct hits without even flinching.
Once of the few nice touches in El Matador is that you can ricochet bullets off of metal walls to render the protection of those mighty card tables a little more useless. The other is the audio, with effective ambient sounds and gun effects though the voice acting is often lackluster or ridiculously stereotypical.
The sufficiently gritty environments make for for a worn and shady drug cartel atmosphere. But be warned: You'll need to change the brightness setting so you can actually perceive the details and periodically reset it after it randomly returns to the dark Default setting in the middle of a mission.
We've already called out El Matador for being a poor man's Max Payne clone with a South American makeover and, unfortunately, all of our concerns in our preview remain true. If you're intrigued anyway, download the demo from the game's web site or scoop this out of the discount bin in a few months. El Matador may be fine to play for a few hours but it's not worth a long-term or full-price commitment.