Mad Dog McCree

I like to shoot things.  Making loud noises and putting large holes in things are both lots of fun.  People are extra fun to shoot because sometimes they make silly faces and goofy noises, and they fall down and make noise, which is cool.  The society I've been brought up in teaches us that shooting humans is wrong, so few people actually do it, but who hasn't seen some cheezy spagetti  western on TV and wanted to do just that?  Haven't you ever wanted to be the mysterious stranger with lightning reflexes who rides into town one day and systematically ventilates all those menacing bad guys?  I've wanted to; in fact I just got done being that stranger.  I just played Mad Dog McCree.  I shot people.  They died. It was fun.  Huh, huh!

Mad Dog is a "shooting gallery" type game; a threatening thing you must shoot appears on the screen, and you must position your mouse pointer over the object (or ahead of it if it's moving) and blast it into oblivion with a click of the left mouse button.  It's not the most intricate game system ever to sit on your hard drive, but it's fun to become a PC sharpshooter once and a while.  There are countless variations of this game type available, mostly in the shareware market, but I've yet to see one that can match Mad Dog McCree's fun quotient.

The plot is a masterpiece of understatement.  The villainous Mad Dog McCree and his men have overrun a small old-west town, imprisoned the sheriff in the town jail, and taken the mayor and his daughter hostage.  One day you happen to ride through town and some old coot--who looks like the cousin Kenny Rogers never talks about--gives you his version of the local news and asks you to help.  Realizing that this is going to be a very boring game if you decline, you accept, and before you know it every hornery varmint with a shootin' iron is out to fill your chaps with lead.  It may not be "Shane", but it's good enough for a shoot-em-up. Mad Dog is available only as a CD-ROM product.  It must reside on a CD because of the extensive use of live-action video.  Practically every fighting scene in this game is displayed in full-motion video recorded with real actors.  The video quality is a little grainy, but is still quite impressive.  Although this technique has been used before, and is in fact a growing trend among CD-ROM games, I've never seen it used as the basis of an arcade game before.  This constant use of high-end video and sound is what makes Mad Dog such a fun game to play.  To my knowledge, Mad Dog is the first cinematic shooter game ever produced.  Shoot a bad guy down from a rooftop, and the camera cuts to a close-up shot of the deceased villain falling from the roof.  This enhanced realism makes Mad Dog a lot more fun to play than those other games about shooting stupid-looking clay pidgeons, as each successful shot of yours is highly rewarding.

Playing Mad Dog is a simple thing.  Installation is just as easy as with most CD-ROM games, and allowing Mad Dog to copy some of its files to your hard drive in order to speed up gameplay takes less than 1MB.  Once you're in the game, aim at any bad guy you see and dispatch him by means of the left mouse button.  You can only carry six bullets in your gun at one time (although the later stages of the game allow you 12), so you'll have to reload often, which is done by moving your gun/pointer to the gray bar below the video window and right-clicking.  Fortunately, you can reload as many times as you want.  The stranger you play as must be a pretty law-minded individual, as you are not allowed to shoot anyone until they have drawn their gun.  (You can shoot a guy six times in the chest before he draws and get killed while reloading, so pick your shots well.)  Also, shooting an innocent bystander, which you can do at a couple points in the game, will cost you one of your three lives, which will force you to pick your targets with a modicom of care.

As fun as Mad Dog is to play, it does have some serious shortcomings that are bound to make people think twice before bringing their paychecks to the local software store.  The biggest and by far most damaging fault in Mad Dog is its size.  On the CD, Mad Dog McCree takes up about 100MB.  Although this may sound like a big game compared to floppy-based products, which rarely decompress to much more than 20MB, keep in mind that the live-action video used so thoroughly in Mad Dog takes up a lot of storage space.  Also consider that a CD-ROM disc can hold more than 500MB of data, which means that the disc Mad Dog ships on is more than 80% blank space.  It is very rare for me to be able to totally finish a game in the time I have to review it, but there I was looking at Mad Dog's farewell screens just two hours after I broke the shrink-wrap.  Granted I was playing on the easiest difficulty level, but I went back and played on the hardest level and didn't notice a huge difference.

Another problem is typical of the cinematic style in which Mad Dog unfolds--linear gameplay.  Although you can move to different locations in different order without disrupting the game, once you get there the bad guys always say the same things and always shoot in a pre-determined order.  Once you play a particular scene once or twice, you'll know the order of events and the scene will cease to be a challenge.  There are a few screens in which bad guys peek out from their hiding places at random, but these screens are definitely in the minority.  This linear element whittles Mad Dog's replay value down to next to nothing, which is a real handicap considering how short the game is.

Mad Dog's packaging informs us that sequels are already on their way, and I'm looking forward to them.  I think Mad Dog is a good idea, a step in the right direction for CD-ROM games.  Unfortunately, this incarnation of  Mad Dog is so tiny it's unlikely to hold your attention for more than a day, which will make you wonder if it's worth putting down $35-$50 for.  I hope that Mad Dog's sequels utilize the storage capacity of the CD-ROM medium to a much greater extent and give us a nice long game to play around with.  If the storage needs of the live-action video become a problem, I would suggest a multi-disc product.  After all, I've never heard of a person who refused to buy The Seventh Guest solely because it came on two CDs and they didn't wan't to switch discs midway through the game.