The House of the Dead: Overkill
Screenshots are not my own and are taken from various sites.
Usually I donít mention graphics in my reviews. I tend to think that unless something about the art or graphics is particularly distracting or prevents me from fully enjoying the game, going into detail about graphics is pretty pointless.
This game is an exception to that rule.
One of the first things I must say about this game, right off that bat, is that itís made to resemble those grainy, B-movie horror and exploitation films from long ago. Think Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
(Varla is a probable reference to this movie) or, more recently, the Grindhouse
movies. Of which, Planet Terror
is noted as being such a strong influence that, after the designers watched the film, they changed the theme from steampunk to B-movie. So this should give you a general idea of the overall style and theme this game is going for, and the art design really does a good job playing this up.
There is an insane amount of blood in this game. So much so that itís completely unrealistic and funny at times. The game also has that grainy quality often attributed to movies of old, and the character models all look violent and gross. The overall look is very reminiscent of old, cheesy horror movies, and itís great. Itís probably one of the most fun parts of the game.
Not everything is perfect about the art and graphics, though. First of all, and most notably, the game has some frame rate issues at times. Itís most obvious in the beginning of the game, when you donít quite have the best weapons yet. This means many enemies can swarm the screen at once, and when you throw in the aforementioned over-the-top blood splatters and dismemberment, things can get a little choppy. This would be okay, since frame-skipping is also attributed to the movies this game is styled after, but this game is very combo-central, and the skipped frames can lead to some missed shots. Itís very frustrating, very distracting, and puts many off of the game. I did manage to either get so good it didnít matter, or get used to it, but itís still a pretty terrible flaw.
Also, while the zombie models look great, there arenít nearly enough of them. Donít be surprised to find yourself in a situation where thereís four of the same enemy running at you.
Iíll also point out that during cutscenes the charactersís mouths donít match up with what theyíre saying, but I donít care about this and neither should you.
I was really worried about this. The HotD series is a fairly well-established one, and Agent G has always been a pretty mysterious character. So to put him in a prequel with some guy whoís new to the series, and then throw them down in Louisiana, well, I didnít have high hopes for the story. However, the story wasnít complicated or vital to the enjoyment of the game, as is the case with so many modern games (which is a shame). The story was just enough to get you going: each character has a little backstory, but just enough to explain why theyíre there and why theyíre doing what they are. And thatís all we need to know, really.
The story is told through cutscenes, which are hilarious. The dialogue is perfectly cheesy and rude, and thereís throwbacks to B-movies in discontinuity, missing scenes, and more. Thereís even a little nudity in it, which is fine because thatís how exploitation films are. However, exploitation films generally contain much more, so (and I canít believe Iím actually saying this) more nudity would have made the game better and would have suited the theme. And while weíre on the subject of vulgarity, this game actually got the Guinness World Record title of most swearing in a video game with 189 instances of our favorite f-word, along with a slew of other profanities.
While the story is told in cutscenes, the tone of the game really comes out during the levels themselves. Iíve already mentioned the art, but the dialogue between the two main characters is great and adds a lot of flavor to the experience. Itíll have you laughing at least once or twice, I promise, and to give you an idea of what it sounds like, Detective Washingtonís character is modeled after Samuel L. Jackson in every movie heís ever been in (seriously, thatís what the developers said).
One thing I didnít care for, however, was that the bosses werenít always played up enough. Sure, they all more or less fit the theme of the level you were in, but thatís about it. There really wasnít anything to them beyond that, and for an end-of-the-level showdown, I really wanted more from them. Only two bosses were really seen throughout their levels, and one is only seen during the level if you have a very good eye or if youíre playing the level on Directorís Cut, a mode unlocked only after youíve beaten the game. There were plenty of opportunities for the boss characters to appear in their levels, and this would have built up some suspense.
Thatís the video game
reason I wanted to see the bosses more, but remember, this game is styled to resemble a movie.
Please keep this in mind; itís central to an understanding of the game. And because this game is a movie game
, as Iíll call it, thereís an even better reason to have the bosses more central to the levels: monster movies are just that, movies about the monster, the bad guy. Think about great horror movies. How many times does the monster appear? How many times does it attack, kill something, etc.? Is it just during the last five minutes as the good guys take it down? Probably not.
In a game thatís a throwback to great, classic movies and exploitation films, itís important to give the bosses a little time to shine. For the sake of spoilers, I wonít go into detail about exactly how this could have been accomplished in each level, but if you play the game once, it will appear obvious enough to you. At least you get to hear the boss scream before the beginning of each level, but really, the end boss fights would have been more meaningful and more memorable if the boss was hounding you and causing problems around the level, even if it was just in the background.
Overkill is a rail shooter. This means that the game moves on its own, while you just point and shoot at the enemies as they appear on the screen. If youíve never played a rail shooter, think FPS, except someone else is moving the character for you, while you control the aiming reticule.
Not only is this a great setup for the Wii, but it suits the movie theme perfectly. Overkill is a very passive experience, and doesnít ask you to do much. Normally I donít always like games that leave you sitting there, not having to worry about strategy, time management, or anything else of the sort. This game, however, is just a little more interactive than watching a movie, and itís great. It really does feel like youíre inside a movie at times, and this is exactly what the game was going for.
Levels begin and end with cutscenes, and usually I hate this, but it gives you a nice break from aiming and shooting while telling you the story just as a movie does, and this is half the fun of the game.
Not a whole lot to say about this. You use the Wii Remote to aim and shoot with B. A reloads, or a shake of the remote reloads. You use 1 or 2 to change between your Primary and Secondary weapons. If you have Danger Cam activated, you can aim off the screen to move the screen a little in that direction, which is helpful sometimes.
However, Danger Cam is hard to use in Co-op mode, which requires both players to move in that direction. You need to coordinate in order to use it effectively with a friend.
This is one of the best parts of the game, honestly. The sound effects are good and they get the job done, the dialogue and voices are great, with the exception of Varla (I hated her voice), and nothing sounds like it doesnít belong. The music is what really takes the cake, though.
I cannot describe how good the music is in this game. Not only is it fitting, but itís good. I canít link you to any of it, or really play any of it at all, due to vulgarity and language (for example, thereís a song wherin a man graphically describes his relations with a female zombie to a young boy he is raising as his son), but youíll have to take my word for it: itís good. Most importantly, itís fun. And while some of the boss music is repeated, the music that plays during the menu screens more than makes up for it. I actually have the soundtrack to this game in my car as we speak. Itís simply fun, and thatís what this whole gaming experience is all about.
Iíve recently lost track of the amount of times Iíve played and beaten this game. The fun part is playing it over and over with different people, because everyone has a different reaction. My brother had one reaction, my friend another, and my girlfriend, a completely
different one. But half the fun was knowing something was going to happen and just waiting to see how others would respond.
Normally Iím not one to attempt to go and unlock everything, but the unlockables in this game were actually worth it. All of the music can be unlocked, and thereís some great artwork and two modes to unlock. The unlockable system has flaws, though. Some things can only be unlocked by storing and saving a certain amount of cash, which you get for beating levels, completing certain objectives (get so many leg shots, head shots, etc.) or beating high scores. The only problem is that between all three story modes, these bonuses are one-time only. If youíre not smart with your cash, and you spend it as you get it, you can actually prevent yourself from getting all the unlockables. I didnít know this at first and had to start a new file just to unlock everything, which was annoying. Sure, you can get money by beating your high scores, but itís not much, and after youíve played a level a few times, itís hard to earn a lot of cash from it.
As for story modes, though, you start out with just plain old Story Mode. Play through seven levels and beat the game. Then you unlock Directorís Cut, which is a little harder, has more ďdeleted scenes,Ē and many more zombies. This is really the full experience. Beat this, and you unlock the Dual Wield option, which really isnít a game mode proper, but itís such a different experience that I labeled it as such. Ditch the friend and play with two remotes in your hands. Aiming is impossible, but hilarious and fun.
Youíll be replaying this game just because itís fun. Period.
You can play through the entire game with one friend, except Dual Wield. This is the best way to play, although sometimes your friend makes it harder to aim; all weapons have a level of recoil that shakes the screen a bit, which is hard to anticipate unless youíre the one doing the shooting. Expect fewer combos in multiplayer. Also, the aiming reticule for first and second player look very similar until you get used to them. Thereís a little colored trail that comes from them when they move enough, but this still isnít enough.
The good news is that if your friend kills an enemy right before you shoot him, your shot doesnít count as a miss if the conditions are right, which has saved many combos for me. Obviously Headstrong Games anticipated this and made adjustments for it, and for that, I applaud them.
There are also some modes you can play with up to four people. Theyíre pretty self-explanatory and you wonít be buying this game just to play them, so I wonít cover them in this review, but be aware that there are three mini-game-like modes for up to four players to enjoy.
Thereís actually not a whole lot of it in this game, compared to what I was expecting. Sure, there are some references to the other games in the HotD series, especially if you wait until after the credits (donít you love it when thereís an extra scene at the end of the movie for those who stayed in the theater?), but whatís more obvious is how this game detracts from its predecessors. Most notable to me was that the names of the bosses werenít actually taken from Tarot Cards, but the most striking was that Curien was never mentioned at all. This is a blessing in disguise, though, because this game is a series reboot and needed to stay true to itself more than the already established series in order for it to work, and it did.
Overall, Iím honestly not devoted enough to this series to give an accurate representation of the level of fan service this game employed, but if I had to take a decent guess, Iíd say thereís just as much for fans to cheer about as there is to jeer about.
What Makes This Game Great
This game is pure fun, has plenty of replay value, and does a good job of re-creating the B-movie experience within the parameters of a video game. Whatís more, itís very self-aware. The entire game is full of clichťs and sexism, which one of the characters points out at the end. The game keenly objectifies women in the same way the movies do, and even takes it a step further in the last level. As Detective Washington says, the game is fairly limited in its interpretation.
Basically, though, itís a solid title on every end, with a few flaws, and a few missed opportunities. Which follow below.
What Could Make This Game Better
First off, letís fix the frame rate. More discontinuity would be better, as, except for the first level, none of it was all that obvious. And then thereís the problem of Varla.
Varla is a character I never really liked, and thatís one of the reasons why I didnít care that she was so sharply objectified, used, and exploited in the game. Her character wasnít sympathetic, despite what she goes through, and her voice just doesnít make her believable. In other words, she was a main character that I just didnít care about, and while that works on the sexism angle, I feel like making her a strong female character would make the objectification and exploitation even stronger.
So letís go ahead and add more unlockable content. Like Adaís missions in RE4, Varla could have easily had her own levels. We see her with two weapons in the game, but she uses neither. So letís give her two unique weapons in her own levels, and you can either play these levels on your own in Dual Wield, or play with a friend, one person controlling each of Varlaís weapons. There are plenty of times throughout the game where Varla was separated from G and Washington, and her levels could take place in the background of the main story. For reasons I wonít spoil, Varlaís levels would have to be early in the game, but she could have easily broken in the back way of the house in the first level, while G and Washington went in the front, chased the train from her motorcycle during that level, find her way to the hospital in time for the end of that level, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to let her shine and make her look like a badass, instead of an annoying stripper who gets what she deserves. The feminist angle would be so much more accentuated this way, while adding to the level count, adding two more weapons to the game (which could be unlocked in normal story mode) and adding to the replay value.
The boss battles need a lot of work as well. Iíve already mentioned how Iíd like to see more of the bosses in their actual levels, but thereís more to it than that. You actually have to make the boss battles hard
. These were the easiest bosses Iíve ever seen in a HotD game. If youíve played HotD 2, the very first boss is harder than any of the bosses in this game. The boss fights should be epic and memorable, but theyíre easily the weakest part of this entire game.
The Bottom Line
This is a good game that could have been great. It does a lot of things right, but it also misses a lot of big opportunities. Worth playing at least once, just for the experience, and overall an above average game.