The Western shooter is quite an untapped genre for the FPS market. However, maybe this is for a reason, as the old style Western shooter with one dimensional primitive weaponry and basic tactics can't even survive in the action packed world of Hollywood these days, why would the gaming world be any different? Unfortunately for Human Head Studios, this reality might be all too accurate.
As expected, this is no wagon painting adventure, Dead Mans Hand is based on the classic story of vengeance. El Tejón, a member of the deadly gang "The Nine" and the player controlled character, has been betrayed by his former leader and now seeks revenge. He won't rest until every one of his former gang comrades is pushing up daisies. This isn't necessarily an original story by any means, but I guess not having to save the world is a nice change of pace for an FPS.
There is no question that Dead Mans Hand runs off arcade based gameplay. Besides the points system which rewards shot accuracy and kills amongst other statistics, you have your standard 'boss' character to face throughout some scenario endings, which, as expected, seem to feature life points much greater than your usual enemies. In fact, normal enemies are usually one shot one kill, which keeps the pace up and does create a reasonable amount of action. This also keeps the gameplay smooth, as you are almost always walking forward. Unfortunately, forward may not always be the right way though, because like many FPS titles in the past, Dead Mans Hand can sometimes fail to inform, leaving you with no real sense of which direction to go or what path to take. Although the levels are generally very linear, the environments are almost always maze like, so finding the correct door or tunnel is quite a challenge in itself, and can become quite tiresome.
Whilst I'd love to say the A.I. is solid, it is hard to describe the sense you get from this game when it comes to the computer controlled enemies. It is almost as if the game is a "Time Crisis" style shooter which automatically moves you through the levels, with enemies taking the same cover and undergoing the same animations if you were to do it over again. Of course, this isn't true exactly, you do control every movement of the player while he is on his feet, however with the one shot one kill style combined with easy aiming, you could practically tape the "W" key (i.e. forward) down on the keyboard as it is almost like your finger never leaves it. On the other hand, the levels which put you on horse back are indeed "Time Crisis" styled, all you have to do is aim and shoot, so in reality, while the A.I appears pretty solid, it is hard to find fault in something that isn't dynamic, all the enemies have to do is one basic animation, fire and in most cases, die an easy death.
Unfortunately, this fact means the game becomes quite boring and repetitive quickly. As you move seamlessly throughout the levels, it becomes apparent that the only aspects that really change are the weapons you can access and the bosses you have to face. Most of the levels look the same, most of the enemies look and act the same and hearing the "I'm gunna get chu boy!" remark merely seconds before you plant the poor bugger with two shotgun shells over and over gets quite repetitive, if not down right annoying.
Visually, Dead Mans Hand is pretty basic, whilst the game does run very smoothly frames per second wise, the textures are not very high resolution and the models are not what I would call highly detailed either. The engine features some rag doll physics with body models, which can sometimes be over exaggerated, but then again, it is hard to tell if this is not deliberate considering arcade is certainly the priority here, not realism. Overall, the visuals in Dead Mans Hand won't require a beast of a PC to play, but it probably won't impress you either, with the recent FPS titles out I'd say it looks slightly below par.
The question remains of what exactly Dead Mans Hand has to offer over other titles out there, for roughly the same price you can get games like Deus Ex 2 or Far Cry. Unfortunately, there isn't anything significant it does offer that is new or improved, whilst it is focused on the reasonably untapped genre of a Western Shooter, that is not enough to save Dead Mans Hand, and hence, it is probably best to leave this one on the shelf until it is moved to the bargain bin. If you've been dieing for a Western FPS, Dead Mans Hand might tide you over, but the distinct lack of fresh gameplay means it probably won't remain on the harddrive for long.