Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West

I’m carrying a bag filled with gold. My team is plundering a mine, and I’m the point man - lugging burlap-wrapped bullion back to a capture point in our base. My teammate is a desperado, and he’s yelling at me from beneath his face bandana to hurry the hell up.

“Throw the gold!” he hollers. I’m trying. It’s heavy - in 1850s money, maybe $500 worth - and my foot speed is twice as slow when I’m holding the bag. I toss the purse forward, letting it tumble at my teammate’s feet while my shotgun is automatically re-equipped. I turn around my grizzled Blaster, the most bearded of Lead and Gold’s four character classes, and toss a stick of dynamite to cover our escape. The fuse fizzles. Bullets are whizzing by us left and right. I turn the corner and a Gunslinger is there palm-slapping the hammer on his six-shooter. Farther up the trail, our Deputy is yelling for help - he’s got his foot caught in a bear trap and can’t move. Our gold is in danger, and half my team is bleeding out in the hot Arizona dust.

In moments like this, Lead and Gold is pure, unadulterated frontier bliss. It takes a familiar western theme with built-in dangers and thrills - relaying a giant pouch of precious metal like a rugby ball, quick-rolling through dust to dodge buckshot while 19th-century sniper rifles (with their mounted telescopes) try to bring you to justice - and fuses it to objective-focused game modes (there’s no deathmatch). The result plays something like Team Fortress 2 with a looser sense of teamwork.

Lead calls its teamwork system “synergy abilities.” Each character class has a passive trait that buffs teammates if they’re within spitting distance of one another, which provides an easily understood incentive for sticking with your compadres. Run and gun near a Trapper - Lead’s raccoon-capped sniper - and you’ll have a higher chance of doing critical hits; hang with a Blaster, and you’ll have a scratch more damage resistance. Synergy abilities level up within the context of a session (but not persistently across multiple matches), so racking up kills or completing objectives boosts their effectiveness.

There’s a bit of MMO sensibility to this design - but Lead’s shooter cred is absolutely legitimate: Even as a six-map, four-mode package (with likely more to come as DLC), it plays, looks and feels better than its measly ($15) price tag. Bright lighting energizes the game’s well-animated western art; the third-person controls are precise; shooting a Winchester isn’t boring (as it never should be). And at the end of the day, there’s a mode where your opponents scamper with gunpowder-filled barrels to wreck structures, and you can shoot the powder kegs out of your enemies’ hands and blow the leathery hats right off their heads. Brilliant.

Expect Lead to fill the role of something like Killing Floor in 2010 - simple, dependable multiplayer action that, even with a minimum of depth, delights in shorter sessions, and will rob you of barely a fingernail’s scrape of gold to download. So far we know it’s coming to PC and consoles, although we’re not sure yet if it will be on both PS3 and 360.

Feb 3, 2010