Last year, Sega tested the waters for Wii rail shooters with ports of Ghost Squad and House of the Dead 2 and 3. Now it's enlisted Headstrong Games to create the all-new House of the Dead: Overkill. Does it stink of rotten flesh or make a mother proud?
This tale is definitely not to be taken seriously. Embracing the cheesiness of the previous games and infusing it with a grindhouse vibe, Overkill is practically a parody of itself. Even Agent G's enigmatic name is made fun of multiple times.
Every conceivable element goes way over the top. G's partner Isaac Washington constantly drops the F-bomb. There's a hot chick on a motorcycle named Varla Guns, and villain Papa Caesar makes hardly any sense with his bad accent and off-beat analogies. In one scene, G has to shove his hand into the gut of a defeated monster to answer Caesar's enormous cell phone, and the shocking final boss has no fear of sexual depravity. It's vulgar, it's disgusting, and it's hilarious.
Overkill's action unfolds over seven episodes, about 20 minutes each. It isn't huge by any means, and you have unlimited continues for the price of half your score. Completing the game unlocks a director's cut, which does limit you to three lives and theoretically includes longer versions of each level, but you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Player two can jump in at any time, and unlockables do their part to extend the experience. You can add extra mutants to levels you've beaten or turn on dual-wielding, to let a single player shoot with a Wii Remote in each hand. High scores are converted into cash to buy new weapons and upgrades to boost attributes like recoil or clip size. Players can also tweak options to calibrate aim or turn off the crosshairs. The game also includes a few quick fire mini-games that provide four-player support, but don't add much.
Overkill has most of the options fans are looking for, but it's still quite short for a game designed to be taken home instead of munching quarters at the arcade.
As with any rail shooter, House of the Dead: Overkill is about accuracy and quick reactions as you try to tackle hordes of approaching enemies and keep your gun loaded. Camera movement is automatic, often quickly scanning the room, requiring you to think fast or plan ahead to snag bonus items, including grenades, slow-mo power ups, and point-boosting golden brains.
While the Z-word is taboo, House of the Dead's mutants don't really stray from the undead status quo. Some throw knives, and a few wear helmets or carry shields, but there isn't much variation aside from costumes to match the location. Mutants react to where you shoot them, and you can blow away limbs or chunks of torso or shoot them in the face. Their stumbling gait can make headshots difficult at times, and each weapon has a recoil factor to contend with, making the screen jump with every shot.
Boss creatures are more interesting, including fights against a telekinetic cripple and a giant insect on a train, but weak points and shot timing are clearly pointed out to the player, removing much of the challenge. Bosses can still put up a fair fight if you're playing by yourself, but if a second player joins in, the whole game feels a bit too easy. You can add more mutants in story mode, but there aren't any additional means to make the game tougher.
Much of the fun comes from conquering high scores, and a combo meter challenges you to consistently hit your targets and not take damage. Each rank from extreme violence to goregasm awards you with bonus points for every kill, pushing you to be more careful and conservative with each shot. There may not be a lot of content, but the gameplay makes the most of what's available.
Overkill's grindhouse approach totally makes the experience worth it. The visuals are augmented with a scratched film filter and overexposed lighting. There are movie posters made up for each level, volume dials that go up to 11, and a completely extraneous pole dancer to start it all off. The clichéd characters and narrator all scream B-movie greatness with genuinely funny acting sells it all. The soundtrack is great and features unlockable versions of songs with zombie make-out lyrics to turn your stomach. It's not technically up-to-snuff, but the presentation is so fun that it rarely matters.
House of the Dead: Overkill is undeniably fun. Its crude humor, non sequiturs, self-referential jabs, and brevity are practically overcome by smart level design and surprisingly deep gunplay. If you're of age, it's about as good as rentals get, but with the stunted length and challenge, only those who live to score high should sign a mortgage for this house.