Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Review - The House of the Dead: Overkill

I used to love playing House of the Dead at the bowling alley. The game's plot played second fiddle to the zombie blasting – as you'd expect – and it was hard as nails. However, I managed to miss Overkill at its initial release, so I didn't know what I was in for. So, it was with some surprise (and delight) I discovered that as soon as you turn on House of the Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut, you're treated to a poledance from a buxom brunette with a six-shooter strapped to her hip. I don't remember that from the bowling alley.

Yes, House of the Dead: Overkill is something of a different animal – and it's a whole hell of a lot of fun. Gone is the grungy, Resident Evil-wannabe storyline, gone are the haunted houses (and those little swamp guys who come from nowhere) – instead, Overkill draws you into a lovingly crafted, grindhouse-based, ridiculous adventure which will make you howl with laughter, even as you stare in wonder at the oddly shoddy graphics.

So, story-wise, Overkill places up to two gamers in the shoes of a mysterious man known as Agent G, and a wise-cracking, incredibly foul mouthed detective called Washington, working to track down a mysterious, psychotic scientist known as 'Papa Ceasar', with assistance from a tattooed ex-stripper called 'Varla Guns'.

Yeah, if you haven't got the joke yet, Overkill doesn't take itself seriously – and it's a damn good thing too. The main campaign is built around a number of set-piece missions, taking you from an abandoned plantation house, or “Papa's House of PAIN!” as the grindhouse-style intro movie screams at you, onwards to a nightclub, casino and strip club, all of which have been overrun by the walking dead. Good thing then, that Washington et al come all tooled up with Magnums, grenades, and any number of upgrades and new weapons to buy with the piles of money dotted around the wide, lengthy missions.

Each of the missions is a good 15 minutes long, allowing your characters to banter (usually Agent G being dumb, and Washington cursing time and time over) and blow away thousands of shuffling, 'mutants'. “We. Don't. Use. The 'Z' word”, as Agent G would put it. This, unfortunately, is where the cracks begin to show in the blasting action. Sure, it's funny and fun to play an old-fashioned, on-rails shooter with such a fine pedigree, but beneath the deliberate grimy filter of the grindhouse feel, the game's graphics are pretty damn shoddy, especially for a PS3 – filter or not, there's no excuse for laziness.

Plus, though rose tinted memories live longest, I distinctly remember having to blast chunks out of the House of the Dead zombies in the bowling alley – not put them down with one shot to the chest, Overkill's just too easy, even on harder difficulties – especially with another player along for the ride. The boss battles are also ridiculously easy, involving repeating the same pattern time and time again, as the game moves your character for you on rails. Sure, the character and enemy design is pretty snappy, but when the boss battles are dull, you know something's up.

Thankfully, outside of the main campaign, the Extended Cut also includes a wide variety of minigames, from shooting ranges to room challenges filling your screen with zombies, and also included is a jukebox of the game's fantastic 60s and 70s score, which is filled to the brim with brilliant tracks – I'd buy a CD of Overkill's music alone, in an instant.

The control scheme - emulating the bowling alley's plastic guns with the PS3's Move controllers - works well enough, as does using the controller's joysticks – though this is, of course, more clunky and awkward. Overall, while Overkill is a simple, enjoyable blaster, it's not one I'd want gracing my shelf permanently. If you're having a drunken party and need a fun, exciting, hilarious blaster with some slow-mo zombie killing action, however... look no further.

*Reviewed on PS3