It gained a lot of attention for its real-video style, bearing similarities to recent Hollywood westerns. It featured on the 1992 series of GamesMaster as the last challenge of the very first show, and then later in the 1992/1993 series as a celebrity challenge with Josie Lawrence playing. Both contestants were successful in their challenges.
The player assumes the first-person role of "the stranger", a nameless individual who rides into a small, peaceful, unnamed town and finds that the mayor's daughter has been kidnapped by a gang of outlaws working for a villain named Mad Dog McCree. He is given a short introduction to the aforementioned girl by an old prospector, and the possibility to go through target practice involving bottles on a fence, and some being tossed in the air and shot by the player; after this, the Prospector fills him in on the situation. The stranger is told that "Mad Dog McCree and his gang have taken over the town" and that both the mayor and his daughter are imprisoned in the gunfighter's hideout, while the sheriff has been locked up in his own jail by the gang. It is at this point that the first enemy appears and attempts to shoot the prospector; like all others, the gang member must be shot to avoid losing a life, one of three.
Mad Dog McCree set the trend for most future American Laser Games releases, driving the action forward by having the player shoot villains, with few other decision-making situations. The action takes the stranger through several locations, including a saloon, where a man named One-Eyed Jack holds the keys to the prison cell holding the sheriff, a bank in the middle of a robbery, a corral and a jail. One must also find a map, hidden inside a mine, to Mad Dog's hideout, reach the hideout by correctly following road signs, free the mayor and his daughter, and confront Mad Dog in a final showdown, all the time eliminating members of the man's posse.
The game is the first of several to use the same simple engine, in which almost all possible actions are performed using the player's six-shooter, controlled by a mouse or light gun in the PC version. The gun is useful for eliminating villains, choosing paths, selecting locations, reloading and shooting cow skulls and spittoons, which temporarily gives the player additional ammunition. Three difficulty levels are available from the beginning.
The main portion of the game is interspersed with several different types of showdowns with random villains, in which the stranger begins with no ammunition and must quickly reload and shoot at the right time, in order to shoot the enemy first. In parts of the game which are not showdowns, reloading can be done an unlimited amount of times and at any time during gameplay. Shooting a bystander or getting hit by a gunfighter results in the loss of one life out of three and is followed by a clip showing an old undertaker commenting on the player's actions.
The arcade edition of the game has been released with four different hardware setups, using a laserdisc player, a 3DO, and a PC-based system. Home versions were released for the Sega CD, PC, CD-i, Mac CD-ROM and 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. Mad Dog McCree was the first in a series of American Laser Games releases to be reissued by Digital Leisure with updated video and sound quality in 2002 for DVD, playable with a standard DVD remote. In the DOS version, two-player support is available. There is also a single save/load slot, which can be used to save and restore the action at any time.
Many players found that the 3DO edition of the game was easy to cheat. Whenever an enemy popped up and shot the player too quickly, the player could just as easily pause the game, select "Continue", and find that the game would jump back a couple seconds in the video before the enemy arrived. This would allow the player a second chance, who would then be prepared for the enemy to appear in the same spot as before and effortlessly take him out.
Later versions of the arcade game weren't without their problems either. In some builds, the laserdisc player was replaced with a customised 3DO, which allowed for more video. However, these new units proved unreliable, as the seek motors in the CD-ROM drive burned out rapidly.
Also, the arcade version had an exploit. You could hold the light gun upside down and your ammunition would automatically refill itself every time you fired a round (rather than the "correct" way of tilting the gun down to the ground to reload, which left you vulnerable for a brief period of time).
A sequel was released entitled Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold.