Sega's classic shooter franchise meets 70's exploitation horror in The House of the Dead: Overkill for the Nintendo Wii.
Developer Headstrong re-imagines the House of the Dead franchise in Overkill, a prequel to the series that takes us back to a simpler time, when men were men, women were half-naked, and black policemen use the word motherf***er as often as humanly possible. The game tells the story of a young Agent G, teaming up with Detective Isaac Washington to take down Papa Caesar, a deranged, Chinese-food loving crime lord who seems to have turned the inhabitants of Bayou City into a horde of bloodthirsty monsters. You know, the usual.
Does Headstrong's B-movie take on The House of the Dead series hit its target, or is Overkill firing blanks?
Exploitation, In A Good Way: The House of the Dead: Overkill is positively soaking in a retro 70's exploitation horror vibe, from the menus to the music to the game's actual story presentation, which features an overly dramatic narrator reading overly dramatic titles for each overly dramatic episode. It's bombastic and over the top at every turn, and you cannot help but love it.
Colorful Characters, To Say The Least: Overkill replaces the more generic characters from earlier entries in the franchise with a series of exaggerated, cliched characters torn straight out of a 70's B-movie. You've got your trash-talking, tough-as-nails cop with a grudge, your cool and confident government agent, and your mouthy stripper hell-bent on revenge. The voice actors do an excellent job of bringing the characters to life, sailing through raunchy dialogue with ease and never failing to bring a somewhat guilty smile to my face.
Play that Funky Music: The soundtrack for The House of the Dead: Overkill is an eclectic mix of vintage music styles, with my beloved funk represented in abundance. It's the sort of soundtrack I'd purchase in a heartbeat, despite the fact that one of the songs seems to feature sex with a corpse. Graphic sex with a corpse.
Point and Shoot: Simple point and shoot gameplay mechanics are bolstered by an inventive combo system that rewards players with higher scores and bigger rewards depending on how steady their aim is. It's not just about staying alive - it's about stringing together kills and being as accurate as possible with your weapons of choice. The mechanic extends the replayability of an otherwise short game immensely, driving the player to go back through and aim for a better score. Completing the main game unlocks the the Director's Cut version of the game, featuring tougher enemies and limited continues. Complete that, and you've unlocked the ability to dual-wield Wii remotes. I don't think there is a better feeling in the world than taking down mutant clowns with dual Wii remotes.
Extras and Unlockables:The House of the Dead: Overkill contains plenty of extras, both unlockable and available from the get-go. A trio of mini-games is available for those wishing to take a break from the story, featuring a nifty little shooting gallery that I probably spent far too much time playing. Then you've got your standard artwork, video clips, and 3D models, unlocked as you progress through the game. There are also weapons you unlock by purchasing them with money or earning them through playing, essential if you want to really rock in the game's ultimate unlockable, the aforementioned dual-wielding mode.
Canned Visuals: Headstrong goes a great deal towards getting around the Nintendo Wii's graphical limitations by employing various filters to the game's graphics to make the whole game feel as if it's playing out on an old reel-to-reel projector. Dust and scratches play across the screen, further immersing the player in the grindhouse feel of the game. The film effect is used to particularly evil effect later on in the game, though I won't spoil it for you.
Can A Game Be Too Gratuitous?: Within minutes of first loading House of the Dead: Overkill into my Wii I had already heard the F-word at least five times, and that's before I even got to a menu, much less played the game. The profanity and adult humor are novel at first, but towards the end of a play through they wear really thin. With tons of profanity, allusions to incest, and that one particular song that had me turning several shades of green, Overkill has a tendency to go a little bit overboard.
Shoot The Red Circle: When it comes right down to it, a light gun shooter is all about pointing and clicking, but the boss fights at the end of every level should offer something different to spice things up a bit. While several of them do just that, a few of the boss fights simply amounted to shooting a red circle until the big bad guy was dead. The first few episodes ramp up the difficulty nicely, only to have the third completely let me down. Things picked up nicely towards the end, but it seems like Headstrong phoned a couple in just to pad things out.
How entertaining can a light gun shooter be? That's a question I've been pondering since the Leipzig Games Convention last year, when McWhertor popped into the pressroom carrying a press kit disguised as a 70's horror movie on VHS. Headstrong's answer? Pretty f***ing entertaining. Fully realizing the limitations of the genre, Headstrong crafted a solid shooter and then set about infusing it with a unique 70's grindhouse style, resulting in a title with more personality than any light gun game deserves. The exploitation horror-film vibe has been so fully realized that you'll completely forget that you're simply moving a cursor about the screen and pushing a button. You might need a shower afterwards, but its a good kind of dirty feeling.
The House of the Dead: Overkill, along with being a brilliant relaunch to an aging series, is a rare game that manages to highlight the unique features of the Wii while delivering a unabashedly adult experience to the console.
The House of the Dead: Overkill was developed by Headstrong Games and published by Sega for the Nintendo Wii. It was released on February 10th for $50. Played both normal mode and Director's Cut mode to completion, and tried out each of the mini-games at least once.
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