When we previewed El Matador at E3 this year, the game looked sharp. Not only was it a visually appealing third-person action game, but it was targeted at gamers of all kinds. From the casual player to the more advanced, the game promised to provide an exciting experience for all. Although at the time the build we saw was not playable (by us at least), Red Mile Entertainment gave us the time to sit down with several members of the team and see a preview of the in-game action and what was to come. To say the least, we were very impressed at the time.

Now the time has come that the final version is available, and our thoughts have not changed that much at all. El Matador is an excellent action game with a compelling story behind it. You are special mission agent Victor Corbet (nicknamed El Matador) from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The game takes place throughout Columbia, in La Valedora territory where Victor must try and eliminate the boss of the drug gang and stop it in its tracks with the help of members of Bogota's anti-drug department. All prior DEA agents in the area have been killed and the cartel will stop at nothing to keep their business expanding. Specific locations in the game include Buenaventura, San Jose, Bogota, Isla de Mentor, Medellin and Cartagena.

While making El Matador, the development team researched the area heavily, including a visit to the area, and it definitely paid off. The environments are both realistic and compelling, as are the rest of the graphics throughout the game. Plastic Reality Technologies has done an impressive job with their in-house developed engine, which is capable of full dynamic lighting and shadows, as well as reflection and refraction, among other things. To complement the graphics engine, the game features a solid in-house developed physics engine that features accurate bullet ricochets off of objects and a fully interactive environment. The only issue with this portion of the game is that the graphics engine seems to be a little less than polished. From time to time a few graphical glitches tend to occur, although nothing too major that would seriously detract from the gameplay, these definitely should have been ironed out before the release. Another annoyance is that every time El Matador is started, the graphics settings popup before the game starts. This is the only place and time you can change the resolution and a few other things, but it seems unnecessary to have it slow the player down every time. It would have been better to have these settings in game, but not applied until a restart like many other games do to handle this situation because realistically these settings are not changed all that often.

Aside from this, the gameplay in El Matador is excellent. The action is fast-paced all the way through and is very fun. The learning curve is quick; the controls are standard for first and third-person action games, and for anyone unfamiliar with this setup the tutorial forces players to run through a simulated environment in a short period of time, only killing the designated enemies. This task is not incredibly easy at first, but will get players up to speed quickly after a few attempts at it. Also, the game is designed so that Victor is able to take a fair bit of damage on both his body armor and then himself. Although this may not be realistic, it enables the casual gamers to enjoy El Matador much more than they would if they died quickly and overly often. Don't get me wrong, you can and will die (unless you are a better player than me, which could be the case), but the damage is not scaled realistically like some other action games. Be careful though, and ensure you have this game set to an extremely easy mode if you are not a very skilled player, as it can become insanely hard otherwise. After many tries through one brief section of the first level I learned the hard way that the skill setting is key.

In the levels, the gameplay is split between objectives and cut-scenes, that latter of which reveal more of the story and usually present the next objective that must be completed. Each objective is relatively short, but high in action and fun. About fifty percent of the game is played solo, and the other fifty percent is played with AI controlled teammates. This creates an interesting and fun mix between the two, and the AI features advanced terrain reasoning making them highly effective and intelligent during battles.

The sound in the game is well done, changing appropriately to match the frantic gameplay experience. The language itself consists mainly of cursing, but this is to accurately represent the choice of words of a drug cartel. The voice acting is not a positive however, as the game features what seem to be bad accents. This is not entirely noticeable and does not detract from the game experience that much, but could definitely be improved upon. The same thing goes for the facial animation; it is instantly noticeable that the mouths of the characters are not even close to being in-sync. This problem is more obvious than the others and does detract from the otherwise excellent cut-scenes found in the game.

El Matador is an all-around solid game. Although it does have a few notable issues, most of these do not detract from the experience that much at all. The game looks and sounds amazing. Plus, the accessibility to the game by gamers of all types is a definite positive point. The gameplay is fast, fun and relatively easy to get into. The AI controlled teammates are highly intelligent and help immerse the player into the storyline without adding the complication involved if the player had to control these characters as well by issuing them commands. The storyline in the game is great, and although the game length may seem a little short for the more advanced players, overall it strikes a great balance. Action fans of all types should take a look at this one.