Thunderbolt logo

Dead Man’s Hand

I need to start off this review by alerting my readers to a few things, the first being that Dead Man’s Hand is by no means a great game. It has poor AI, is four hours long, has a limited selection of weaponry, a deaf person would complain about the voice acting, and the in-game cinematics run at a terribly low resolution that still take too long to load. The second point I must address is that I will in fact be praising this game for things that I probably have complained about in other reviews, most notably my review for Serious Sam, a rival budget FPS. With that said, Dead Man’s Hand is an enjoyable, original FPS game that deserves your attention.

Dead Man’s Hand plays out like one of the famous spaghetti westerns that are popular here in the states. I’ll resist on naming some of my personal favorites because naming them would have John Wayne rolling over in his grave and Clint Eastwood coming after me with one of his many characters famous guns. The story in Dead Man’s Hand isn’t nearly as good as a full-fledged movie, but it keeps you entertained throughout most of the experience. Dead Man’s Hand casts you as Tejon, a former member of the most notorious gang in the west, “The Nine.”

It seems that Tejon never had the stomach for killing because soon after joining up, Tejon wants out of “The Nine.” Of course, there’s no retirement for cowboys except for a trip to the great frontier that is the afterlife, so when he confronts his co-workers about his decision, they fill him with lead and leave him for dead. After lying around in the desert for a few hours, the General Juan Jacinto Blanco stumbles across him and places him in prison. This is where the game opens up. Inevitably, Tejon escapes from prison and decides to get revenge against “The Nine” and hopefully ride off into the sunset.

Dead Man’s Hand utilizes what I like to call a “constant combat system.” What this means is that all fighting in the game requires that you’re always jumping, crouching, running, or walking. If you aren’t always moving, you’ll die, plain and simple. This also means that you’re always fighting someone in Dead Man’s Hand. In its emulation of traditional western gun fighting, demands that you shoot fast and first or face certain death.

It’ll only take you about ten minutes to conquer any level of Dead Man’s Hand. The brevity of the levels is probably the saving grace of of this game. While the gameplay is very similar to Serious Sam, where you simply shoot and shoot at waves of enemies over and over and over again until your fingers are tired of clicking, you’re only doing it in ten minute increments, so there’s hardly any time to actually get bored with the level that you’re on. As soon as the level is completed, you’re whisked off to a new location that’s very different than your previous one. The speed of the game helps fend off feelings of repetition, even though it is very repetitive.

Most of the levels in the game see our hero Tejon simply running through from Point A to Point B to get to Point C, which is typically a member of “The Nine” that needs to be eliminated. While most of the level design is typical, including many cliché western towns, some are unique like a level that has Tejon traversing a redwood forest that is booby trapped. Another has him cutting down enemies in a lumber mill operated by two members of “The Nine,” capped off with a shootout in the lumber yard.

These would quickly grow old on there own, so thankfully the developers had the brains to include horseback missions which play a lot like light gun games. You can’t control where you go, but you’re allowed to look around and shoot while riding. These missions can be a challenge, more so than the other missions, but they’re arguably more exciting. I would have liked them even more if there was some variation in the speed of the horse but sadly you only travel at one speed.

Since we’re on the topic of variation, variation is something that’s sorely lacking with the weapons in Dead Man’s Hand. In each level, you’ll have a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun. As you progress, you’ll gain access to new pistols and rifles and shotguns that have different characteristics and you’ll even get your hands on some TNT and whiskey bombs, but ultimately I was able to get through most of the levels with just a rifle. I would have liked to have seen more enemies that required different techniques to take them done.

As I said before, most of the levels end with some sort of final boss battle, usually taking out a member of “The Nine” (though some have you eliminating random thugs or friends of your enemies). I actually liked a lot of the boss battles and I thought they were really nicely done. At one point you confront two brothers in a lumber yard and have to battle it out between pallets of wood. In another, you’re blocked off and have to shoot TNT at a big hulking member of “The Nine.”

Unfortunately the AI in the game isn’t the best and I was able to beat some of the boss battles by simply getting behind something and shooting at them while the enemy stood in the opening trying to shoot me. There’s a fairly heavy amount of scripting in the game (like in Medal of Honor), which helps offset the AI, but it can be particularly terrible at times. In one instance, I picked up several foes while they were running to where they were supposed to stand. Meanwhile, they ignored me and I was able to effortlessly kill them. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Dead Man’s Hand manages to get past these faults by just being a fun game to play. You can blast through it in just a few hours, but even still it’s not a bad purchase. Each level begins with you playing a poker game where you bet it all on a hand of cards. Should you win, you’ll get more bullets for all of your weapons, plus special power for your special shots (you can shoot faster with some guns, more accurately, more bullets in one shot). If you lose, you have to start the level with just the basic stuff. It was a pretty fun mini-game and many times I restarted the levels just so I could start off with more stuff. I wish it were unlockable as a mini-game after you finally beat the game.

It isn’t too hard to tell that Dead Man’s Hand is a budget title by the graphics in the game. The cutscenes that tell the story are a little basic and run at a very low resolution. For some reason, even though they seem like they’re tiny videos, they can often take several seconds to load up and you’re stuck staring at a blank screen for a few moments. It’s not too bad, but when you’re in the middle of a level and you’re waiting for it to load up, the rocky transition can be a little disorienting. The character models and textures are pretty repetitive, but there are some nice explosion effects to offset those issues. It’s only in the sound department that I felt that Dead Man’s Hand had some of its worst problems. The music was a fine recreation of most of the stuff that’s found in old westerns, but the voice acting was pretty crappy. It’s pretty obvious that most of the accents were faked to say the least.

So, I hope I justified my opinion well enough. Yes, Dead Man’s Hand is certainly not one of the best games of the year. Well, perhaps one of the best budget first person shooters, but no where near a game of the year candidate. But it’s fun, and that’s what is most important. Where a game like Serious Sam or Will Rock is just a repetitive mindless shooter, Dead Man’s Hand tries new things and tries to break the mold, and proves that even at a low price tag; a company can make an entertaining game that doesn’t regress.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.