It would seem redundant to explain what a Total Conversion is on a website devoted to video gaming, so here is the short version. A Total Conversion modifies an existing game to the point where it becomes an entirely different game altogether. The best one I’ve ever played was an Aliens TC built on top of the original DOOM engine, and it is rightly held up as a premier example of the craft to this very day. They tend to range in size and shape, but never do they lack ambition and that much can be said for Total Overdose because it doesn’t do anything in half measures.

Total Overdose may as well have called itself Total Conversion because the entire game feels like a TC for Grand Theft Auto III right down to the wacky pedestrian AI, wonky vehicular controls, random challenges and mayhem sprees, and hidden items. It is as if the Rockstar franchise went south of the border for their next installment, complete with over-the-top violence, a rockin’ Tejano-flavored soundtrack, rampaging criminals and corrupt officials.

The main character is a just-released convict sent into a shady Mexican border town with the intent of bringing down some major drug lords, destroying everything in sight and clearing your father’s name, and not necessarily in that order. Apparently, your padre was infiltrating the drug cartels for the CIA when someone taught him how to fly without a parachute. Your brother picked up the trail, but was hospitalized after a grenade met a gas tank it didn’t agree with. Since you play as his twin, you get the fun of walking into the border town of Los Toros and making a name for yourself among the cartels. Along the way, you’ll get to destroy pretty much everything in sight, drive any number of vehicles, use more weapons and wild moves than Jackie Chan, and listen to some wicked tunes.

Oh yeah, the game is also a hell of a lot of fun if you can get past its many quirks and bugs. If you can avoid falling through the ground into nothing, and enjoy blowing up everything in sight, then this is the game for you.

The first thing I noticed was how this game looked exactly like a Total Conversion of Grand Theft Auto. This is not said lightly as the same old graphical textures and problems the PS2 gave Rockstar’s series are present in this brand new game. It feels like the game was built two years ago and just released now, not unlike bad films that sit on studio shelves for years before being released straight to video. In short, the graphics of Total Overdose on the PS2 range from decent to really poor.

It’s difficult to describe the visual aspects of Total Overdose without cribbing straight from my own review of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas because the graphics are almost exactly the same, save the Mexican details to the character models, vehicles, and buildings. I honestly do not know anymore how to label games like this because since the PS2 is at the end of its life cycle, games should, in theory, use its graphical power to their full advantage. When something like God of War comes out and shows just what the console is still capable of, a title like Total Overdose will be overshadowed especially if they’re both released in the same year. This is all a long way of saying that it’s a good thing this game is so much fun to play, because visual splendor is not its strong point. Character models are blocky, the world is fairly static and empty, yet is covered with enough Mexican-tinged skins to set it apart.

The game’s atmosphere is wonderful though, with everything having a slightly dirty feel to it to the point where you want to wipe the grime off your boots after you finish playing. I did enjoy the Mexican skins a heck of a lot, especially the variety of Mexican wrestlers. This is something that players should avoid details on because it’s absolutely hilarious when you encounter it. As for the rest of the world, everything feels lived in and used way beyond its expiration date. The graphics as a whole might be ugly as sin, but the overall world simply oozes atmosphere and the result is a mixed bag. On the one hand I couldn’t stop thinking how the PS2 is better than this, while on the other I thought the details and work that went into the Total Overdose world was solid.

I kept hearing a sound that made me think someone was punching their fist in the air around every corner. Everywhere I went that’s all I was hearing, until I finally figured out that the sound belonged to the hundreds of chickens lining the streets and corners of the town. It was an odd thing to pick out, but what I at first thought was an audio glitch turned out to be an atmospheric noise. I also later found out that this was limited to just one section of the town. If I drove down to the industrial district or the port, then no chickens were found. What I did encounter were plenty of bad guys, and thought it would be fun to introduce them to the rocket launcher I’d recently acquired. The rampant gun battles would be nowhere near as entertaining if not for the terrific sound effects work. All of the guns have just the right amount of punch for their size, and explosions feel like they are ripping through the game world.

The soundtrack is a weirdly infectious Tejano rap mixture that I found myself enjoying. No, I do not know why. It was unfortunate that you can’t tune radio stations while driving vehicles, as that was one thing I wished the developers had kept from Grand Theft Auto III. But what the game lacks in continuous music, it more than makes up for with constant vocal dialogue that is always entertaining. The action movie clichés are frequently spoofed by the surly main character, whose disdain for law and order is clear from the second he appears on screen. It doesn’t help when he gets into the action movie mindset and starts acting like Arnold Schwarzenegger, much to the displeasure of US law enforcement. Enemies big and small all have their own one-liners and threats that they hurl almost as fast as the bullets they shoot at you. The main characters on both sides of the law are terrific, even if some of them tend to go too far over the top.

The controls for Total Overdose are a frustratingly mixed bag. It is surprisingly easy to execute any one of a hundred special moves during the height of combat, but the second you hop into a vehicle you’re hit with the double challenge of just getting to your objective and controlling the car, truck, or motorcycle. The motorcycle especially reminds one of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in that it is a solid idea, but the execution of it is flawed beyond belief. I’m all in favor of having dirt bike races in the right environment, but it’s troubling to have to fight against the motorcycle while also trying to complete your objective. It doesn’t help matters when it’s so easy to get stuck on the environment, thus rendering any control utterly useless.

The basic control scheme is laid out with the X button as the jump button, the L2 and R2 buttons for switching between weapons, and the L1 button for shootdodge. Holding down the square button will target an enemy’s head, while holding down the circle button will target destructible objects like explosive barrels. The loco moves are specific to the directional pad as the left and right buttons cycle through the moves, and hitting the up button will activate whichever move is selected.

The triangle button is used to get into and out of vehicles, the X button is used for acceleration, the square button is for reverse, and the circle button is the handbrake. But one of the coolest parts of the game is when you use the L1 and R1 buttons while driving a car or truck. Holding down the L1 button will lean out of the vehicle while driving, then when you hit the R1 button you will leap out of the vehicle in slow motion. It’s an effect that never gets old, plus it’s fun to hit and kill enemies with the open car door. Oh, and pressing down on the right thumbstick will sound the horn which is something you simply must do in each vehicle. Some of the horn sounds are hilarious.

All of this is easy enough to remember, but sometimes the controls don’t respond as they should. When you want to wall jump, you run up against the wall and hit the L1 button but you have to be in the right position. It’s frustrating to try and line up against the wall for a wall jump when ten guys with shotguns and machetes are bearing down on you. Vehicles are also frequently sluggish or overly sensitive with very little in the way of a middle ground. You get used to it after a while, but the controls should have been calibrated a heck of a lot better than they were.

Total Overdose is such a wild beast of a game it borders on insane. One minute you’re gunning down banditos in the corner bar, the next you’re running for your life through a huge slaughterhouse, and the next you’re playing a mini-game as a crazed Mexican wrestler on the streets. Remember when the middle of From Dusk ‘Til Dawn went completely crazy and introduced Mexican vampires into what you thought was a heist film? Now imagine a game with that sort of turn-on-a-dime insanity every other mission, and infuse it with Mexican clothing, culture, and mayhem. Such is the world this game presents and it is both hilarious and action-packed start to finish.

I love how you don’t even play as the main character until the third mission. It helps build the story bit by bit, as do the cinematics in between missions of your brother telling the story to a DEA official. The story may not be deep, but it sure is fun to hang onto while the ride lasts. In the meantime, you can rack up any number of combination kill moves just to see how high a score can be achieved.

Kill combinations are nothing new to fighting games, but stringing them along by using a wide variety of firearms, jumps, maneuvers, and vehicles all at the same time rules. In one move, you can drive a truck over people, open the door and hit someone with it, leap out of the moving vehicle in slow motion while blasting away with your guns. The vehicle will then smash into something else and explode, and all of this combined will net you combo after combo. This is entertainment I didn’t know existed.

You also will encounter challenges scattered throughout the game. Completing these will boost different skills, give you special moves, and even unlock additional challenges. The downside is that sometimes you have to play through a few of these to get to the next story mission, but they prove entertaining enough by themselves. One knock against the game is the lack of a decent map, because all you’re left with is a small mini-map in the bottom left-hand side and it does not show where the save points are, nor does it show any details other than points of interest. It’s basically a circle with a few dots on it pointing out where the next challenge or mission is, and is made useless by the ability to instantly jump to a challenge or mission from the menu screen. Hit Select and then jump to whichever challenge or mission you want. Therefore, the in-game map winds up being there for no better reason than the developers wanted to have an on screen map.

The major caveat is what was previously stated: You will have played everything in this game before. The difference is that both the world of Total Overdose and the storyline are worth investigating because both are a heck of a lot of fun. It’s also neat to blow up everything in sight, but when is that not the case? The game’s story takes some surprising turns throughout, and even if you have seen this all before please keep in mind the phrase “it’s not the story, it’s the story teller.” This game has a lot of fun circumventing typical action movie clichés, while simultaneously managing to revel in them. To make a long story a little bit shorter, this game is non-stop fun top to bottom and it’s absolutely worth checking out.

It is also easy enough to beat the challenges the first time through, and collect all of the hidden points, so playing through multiple times is just for the action. Due to the sluggish vehicular controls, I can’t recommend it as an alternative to Grand Theft Auto because the cars in that game simply zip around whereas the cars and trucks in this one feel like they’re all on the verge of stalling out. This might be the point where the fine line between what belongs in reality and what belongs in a video game merits a separate discussion.

It’s fine to mimic the real world in a video game to give the player the feeling that they are actually affecting the world around them, but there is little need to do that in a game where the main character can run off walls and shoot people in slow motion. At that point, fairies could pop out and it would make more sense than a world where driving is important yet all the cars are about six years overdue for an oil change and tune-up. This tends to hurt the first run through of Total Overdose, and subsequent times will only reduce a person’s tolerance for a poor design decision. Enemies and pedestrians also don’t vary their routines, nor does the plot ever offer divergent story lines, so every time someone plays this game they will get the exact same thing. It’s fun for a while, but eventually it might wear thin for some people.

I will say that if you look past some of the problems, then this game is a ton of fun. It has several different challenge missions in between the story missions, and all of them are fun to one degree or another. The missions themselves are long and tricky, and the best part is that you can save during each mission. While the game does rely on save points, it auto-saves in between missions so re-loading your progress is not really an issue.