Date Released: February 10, 2009 (USA)
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
On-rails shooters have had a good run on the Wii with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Ghost Squad, and The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return. And this on-rails shooting fun doesn’t look to stop anytime soon with both Dead Space: Extraction and Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles announced to be coming to Nintendo’s current console. HotD: 2 & 3 Return was (as you could probably guess) a port of both the second and third House of the Dead games. It sold pretty well and saw mostly favorable reviews. Though it was really just Sega testing the water, but now with an original game titled House of the Dead: Overkill, they’ve jumped all the way in with a cannonball and a slash.
House of the Dead: Overkill does a few things noticeably different from the previous arcade games. The most noticeable is the 70’s grindhouse style. The story is pays homage to the cheesy, zombie filled pulp horror films of the 1970’s. All of this is complete with cheesy dialogue, over the top violence, a hilariously clichéd and awesome plot, and a very unique graphical style.
The story is both well written and hilarious. As just about everything in the game, it seems the Headstrong gang watched just about every zombie flick they could get their hands on to craft the wonderful plot that Overkill presents. You follow the journey of the mysterious Agent G and profanity spewing Detective Isaac Washington on their way to take down the evil mastermind behind the mutant invasion, Papa Caesar. The story takes them to a variety of locales from a swamp with redneck mutants to a carnival with mutant clowns and carnies.
With the excellent story comes some great characters and hilarious chemistry between Agent G and Detective Washington. There are some funny jokes than turn into “inside jokes” with their frequency of use, particularly ones involving the G in Agent G’s name and elevators. Along the way the two meet up with a stripper named Varla Guns and she adds to the great dialogue even more. All of this is voice acted intentionally cheesy and it’s really enjoyable. My only gripe is Washington’s over the top swearing. It’s funny and some people will feel it fits the game and the grindhouse feel perfectly, but I found it to be a little bit too much at times.
As far as the gameplay goes, Overkill clings to some traditional mechanics, while bringing some fresh ideas to the table as well. First and foremost, the controls work great. The IR makes getting head shots and shooting tiny objects all the easier. It’s standard shooter controls for the Wii remote: B to shoot, to reload press A or flick the cursor off the screen light gun style, and the + button for grenades. It’s all very simple, intuitive, and a breeze to play with.
Each level in the game has you killings hordes of zombies, collecting items like health and grenades, and fighting bosses at the end of each. There’s a lot of fun zombie killing with heads bursting into unrealistic explosions of blood and gore and a powerup that instigates Slow Mo-Fo Mode for some excellent slow motion thrills. In between levels you can use money you’ve earned to upgrade and buy new weapons. The end level bosses were usually the biggest disappointment of each level for me. Generally, they’d be easy and predictable. There were only one or two that were memorable and fun. One of the worst had only one attack that he did over and over. With all the great level design Headstrong put into Overkill, it would’ve been nice of them to make some bosses of that same caliber of excellence.
House of the Dead: Overkill really succeeds in all the innovations it brings too. One being the Danger Cam, which lets you shift the screen a bit both directions so as to prepare for what’s coming and set up for kills, rather than having the screen locked in a position like most on-rails games. The other unique design that Overkill uses is a combo system that makes you fire with accuracy on your mind rather than pulling the trigger every time something moves. As the combo progresses higher and higher so will the bonus points that comes with each kill until you reach the awesome Goregasm that rewards you with 1000 extra points every kill and ensures you a spot high on the high score board if you can maintain it.
Speaking of scores, House of the Dead: Overkill handles retries very well too. In the arcades a continue screen that required credits was perfect for making the machines money and making players strive to not get a game over. But when these kinds of games are ported over to consoles the challenge is diminished, as it’s just a button press and you’re off onto the same level again. In Overkill it cuts your score in half, generally taking a lot of points, and returning that urgency and desire not to lose.
On-rails shooters aren’t known for their length, but House of the Dead puts up a fair fight. The story mode will clock you in around three to four hours, then you’ve got Director’s Cut, which has more zombies, extended levels, and an upped difficulty to play through. There’s also a coop mode that works wonderfully, three multiplayer-focused minigames that provide a short burst of fun, and Dual Wield mode, which is unlocked after completing both the Director’s Cut and the original Story Mode. You’ll want to play through levels again and again to beat high scores, get any little things you missed, and just play the addictive game some more. Unfortunately there aren’t any online leaderboards to speak of, so the only high scores you’ll be beating are your own. Headstrong really missed the boat on that one, seeing as it would fit perfectly with a score driven game like this one.
And finally we come to the visual and audio presentation of the game. In a word, it’s exceptional. The entire game has a visual look of a grindhouse, B-movie flick. Filters and lines indicating scratches and dirt marks are present through the entire game and make the game’s visuals really unique. The overall graphics are also really great and some of the Wii’s best, though the game suffers from some severe frame-rate problems. While I consider myself a versatile gamer and a gamer at that, I’m not quite like the journalists and game developers, meaning I can’t tell whether a game runs at 60 or 30 frames per second. And I generally can’t tell when a game stutters or not. But even I could see just how much slowdown there was in Overkill. Just about time a zombie was shot a something new appeared there was slowdown. But in the end it doesn’t take too much away from the experience and you’ll actually forgive it, seeing just how great the rest of the game is. On the audio side, there are some wonderful 70’s style songs and overall is a stellar soundtrack to compliment the gameplay and graphics.
With it’s combo meter, Slow Mo-Fo pickups, and all the zombie blasting fun you could ask for, Overkill is a treat and an addictive one at that. Despite the slight issues of lackluster bosses and some prevalent visual slowdown, House of the Dead: Overkill is an entertaining on-rails shooter with a great grindhouse style and an enjoyable, well-written story (that is both intentionally cheesy and intentionally fantastic).
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