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Lead and Gold beta gets its Tombstone all over our Team Fortress

Ever found yourself playing Team Fortress 2 and thinking, “This is fun, but I sure wish I were wearing a coon-skin cap”? At long last, your prayers have been answered in the form of developer Fat Shark AB’s Western-themed online shooter, Lead and Gold - Gangs of the Wild West.

Lead and Gold takes its cues from other class-based shooters like Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but the way it layers on all that Wild West goodness makes it stand out. The soldier class becomes the Gunslinger, who wields a six-shooter and can fan the hammer to spit a lethal cone of lead. The Trapper is your sniper, a coon-capped heroine who can lay down bear traps to ensnare opponents. And the aptly named Blaster brings a mean shotgun and a satchel full of dynamite to the party. Rounding out your posse is the Deputy, whose rifle is deadly at mid-range and who can mark opponents for the rest of his squad. The class balance is pretty finely tuned, and each character looks unique and plays in a very distinct way.

Lead and Gold does a fine job of encouraging players to work together, mostly in the form of “synergies”. Each class radiates two types of buffs to nearby allies: a regeneration boost and a class-specific bonus. These bonuses, which improve your accuracy, armor, damage, or chance to score criticals, give players a lot of incentive to run in packs and make a well-balanced posse tough to take down.

Synergies are augmented by an RPG-lite system that lets players rank up by accumulating experience, which is earned by gunning down opponents or accomplishing objectives. The game also rewards you for reviving downed allies and for picking up your team’s flag, which transforms your character into a mobile spawn point.  At present your rank resets following every round, though the developers have hinted they might be interested in implementing a persistent ranking or unlock system in the future, possibly in the form of downloadable content.

The beta features six maps and an identical number of modes, which range from traditional deathmatch and take-and-hold to an objective based mode where one team tries to blow up buildings with barrels of TNT while the opposing gang defends. Our personal favorite was Greed, in which both teams vie to blow a safe and whisk sacks of gold back to their headquarters. There’s also a variant called Robbery, in which one team is tasked with defending a bank while the other gang tries to pilfer its gold, and a token co-op mode where players try to round up gold sacks and fend off waves of CPU-controlled bandits.

The map selection feels a little limited, but the maps themselves are fairly diverse, running the gamut from cramped indoor environments to more sprawling outdoor arenas. Every map features a lot of verticality which, combined with the game’s breakneck pace, makes for a lot more run-and-gunning than careful camping.

It’s the polished little touches that suck you in, if you notice them during the frenetic action. Every character starts with a cap that can be blown off, from the aforementioned coon-skin to the Blaster’s mining helmet. In fact, shoot off the Gunslinger’s ten-gallon hat and you’ll learn that despite the long, shaggy hair sticking out on all sides, he’s hiding a bald, shiny dome under there.

Though it would be easy to dismiss Lead and Gold as a Western skin on a game you’ve already played, Fat Shark has done a fine job of conveying some of that Wild West atmosphere without abandoning the elements that make a class-based shooter fun. We’re thinking we’ll strap on our six-shooters for more when the game drops April 8th.

Apr 1, 2010

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