House of the Dead: OVERKILL
The Wii doesn’t get a lot of love these days. Games companies seem to mainly see it as a breeding ground for the newly emancipated gamer – people who haven’t necessarily got the years of playing that has turned them into cynical XBox owners, sniping at the PS3’s apparent lack of content. So, it’s shovelware galore, with dodgy film tie-ins, internet mini-game ports and now, showing that Nintendo aren’t beyond trying to make a fast buck, rereleases of GameCube games with gesture controls grafted on top. So, when something comes along that tries to buck that trend my little ears (the ones hidden beneath the licensed pointed rubber Link ear extensions that I always wear when playing with my Wii) perk up.
I like light gun shooting games. From the days of my dad’s BBC Micro, where we had a ‘tap em up’ using a light pen, to Operation Thunderbolt and House of the Dead in the arcade (never finished the first level of HotD, but completed Operation Thunderbolt during an otherwise rather boring holiday to Majorca during my ‘rebellious’ teen years) to House of the Dead 2 on my Dreamcast (never got past level 2), there is a strange pull that giving me a moulded plastic facsimile of a weapon and pointing it at an oversized television incites. Ever since my abject failure at all shooting games, a situation that ties in nicely to my general mediocrity at computer games, has become to much too bear I’ve avoided the light gun shooter, preferring to remember my Operation Thunderbolt glory days rather than humiliate myself with another running out of credits before a first level’s boss. However, as my Wii has been sitting in the corner pining at me (well, flashing its slot in a “There’s new stuff to download! Go on, turn me on. I’ll promise I’ll be good and not get in the way. PLEASE PLAY WITH ME” kind of way) I decided to give it a bit of love and grab the new House of the Dead – Overkill.
I read an interview with the creators over on the British Gaming Blog and they’ve taken a slightly different approach from the previous games. Rather than have cheesy dialogue which people laugh at despite an effort to make it serious they have now embraced the ridiculousness and taken things to the next level. Tarantino and Rodriguez, especially Mr Rodriguez with his Planet Terror, have a lot to answer for and despite the claims in the BGB article of all the various films that the dev team worked there way through to put together the game you can see its main influence prominently placed upon its blood stained sleeve.
The game is very much as you’d expect – zombies come at you, you shoot them in the face, their heads explode, more zombies take their place. This hangs together in a framework of over the top exploitation parody, with painfully stereotyped characters, a plot that makes no sense, articifially distressed visuals (thankyou messrs Tarantino and Rodriguez) and even a borrowing of the Planet Terror ‘Missing Scene’ conceit. Despite the potential for this to descend into a painful bowel of awfulness it manages to be so deliberately shocking (although my unfortunate inability to be shocked by anything apart from that one special scene in the 3rd season of The League of Gentlemen does mean I am guessing a bit here) that it strangely works. Whether it be the appearance of the female lead, Varla Guns, wearing little but a belt and cleavage, the constant cliches falling from Isaac Washington’s mouth (along with a stream of ‘oedipal expletives’) or the painful dialogue stretched over scenes of characters peeing down their legs or ‘returning to the womb’ it pulls together well and provides a nice surround for the rather limited, but fun, gameplay. Added to the visual style and story is an excellent soundtrack of horror b-movie tunes providing enough ambience behind the bangs, thuds and sticky explosions to keep you amused even between headshots.
Added to the Wii’s plasticky arsenal comes the HOTD HandCannon – listed at £15 but generally knocked down to a tenner to try and show people that there is some level of value left in the world – a heavy duty plastic shell to slot your wii-mote into. It’s not a bad bit of kit – it’s solidly made, the remote doesn’t rattle around and it just about fits in my hand – and matches the game quite well, looking vaguely like the in game hand-cannon, a very expensive in-game power-up that I’ve yet to get. It’s also not too badly weighted, despite having the heavy wii-mote up front, leading to a mildly knackered middle finger that the whole weight will rest on and try to pivot around. I was going to whinge about the reloading controls, but just had another go and found that an upward tilt of the gun does that – a rather nice mechanism, even if I couldn’t find it anywhere in the light on detail but otherwise excellent and amusing manual.
The gameplay is solid, the graphics very much Wii-like and there are slowdowns from time to time that really hamper gameplay. However, on ordinary mode I still managed to drag my not-great-at-games arse through the entire game, and I didn’t even have to use too many of the infinite continues (each continue taking half of your remaining points – I’m not sure what happens when you get to 1pt left…). So, it’s easy. After your first run through you get a chance to go again with ‘deleted scenes’, more zombies and limited continues, but it’s still not all that hard and even with the second run it won’t take more than a few hours to rumble through it all. It does have a pretty good ending sequence, featuring one the most worrying sound effects I’ve heard in a while as well as some of the best dialogue in the game, and it pretty much makes up for the comparative let-down of the final boss. There’s enough fun in the gameplay that even if you are going to skip all of the previously seen cut-scenes there’s something to go back to.
Overall a nice enough game, very much added to by its style and soundtrack but pulled down by the technical limitations of the system. However, there’s not many games on the Wii that even approach an 18 certificate, as this has proudly emblazoned on its box, and on that merit alone it’ll fly off the shelves. Luckily it does have enough to back up that inevitable popularity.