Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Reviewed: The House of the Dead Overkill (Wii) + Extended Cut (PS3)

Platform Reviewed: Wii + PS3
Also On: PC

A game as bloody, foul-mouthed and downright outrageous as The House of the Dead: Overkill is something of a rebellious prospect on the Wii, a console synonymous with family fun, mini game compilations and software designed to help us fight the flab. After all, you can’t even get past the introductory sequence without being taken aback by the usual boring logos and publisher information teamed with…an FMV video of a dancer swinging around and grinding against her pole? Is this the right console? Oh wait: now she’s licking a Wii remote suggestively. Better not boot this one up next time the family gather around Nintendo’s little white box…

The introductory dancer clip is merely a prelude to the game’s relentless barrage of no-holds-barred swearing, explosions of blood and gore and cut-scenes that could well leave you in a mild state of disbelief. Providing you have no objection to this utterly tasteless in-your-face content however, Overkill will have you grinning from ear to ear. The madness is fuelled by an equally eyebrow-raising soundtrack featuring a charming, upbeat song about necrophilia as well as the hilarious ‘Critic’s Choice’ track which features such refined lines as “a street corner prostitute said, “I would suck that guy’s d***””. Overkill simply doesn't hold back and you'll absolutely love it for its daring approach as well as the sense that the game was created purely to offend and also appease those who were more offended by the Wii’s soft and cuddly public image.

The previous HotD arcade games – like many movies – tried to broach the idea of a zombie outbreak as a serious subject, ultimately gaining popularity through the cheesiness of the end result and unintentionally awful dialogue. Shaun of the Dead poked fun at the clich├ęd zombie apocalypse theme to great effect and The House of the Dead: Overkill takes the same approach with its own tongue-in-cheek spin on blasting the undead. Developer Headstrong pack humour as their weapon of choice while modelling the game on the trashy B-movies of yesteryear for a stylish romp that never loses its ‘cool’ factor. The game’s plot sees a younger version of series’ mainstay Agent G team up with Detective f****** Isaac mother******* Washington (he likes using the F word in case you didn’t know) as they investigate the villainous Papa Caesar and his heinous experiments which have naturally resulted in the town being overrun by zombie-like mutants.

The B-movie inspiration is ever-present thanks to the scratches and interference on the screen to mimic an ancient movie projector, an effect that really lends Overkill the 'rubbish movie' appearance while never becoming intrusive. Accordingly, each level is presented as a riff on a classic horror movie, complete with a 1950’s/60’s style poster that wouldn’t be out of place on the billboard of a drive-in theatre from the same time period. Take a journey through such delightful stages as ‘The Fetid Waters’, ‘Scream Train’ and ‘Carny’ where you can unload bullets into trashy horror flick staples such as killer clowns, hideous mutations and a swamp monster. Don’t forget the obligatory infected hospital level (‘Ballistic Trauma’) complete with worryingly sexy zombie nurses.

Aren't you supposed to get better in hospital?

Of course, style over substance hasn’t always been a recipe for success but thankfully Overkill - despite being produced by a different developer to the 'main series' HotD games - retains the fast-paced, on-rails light-gun action of the arcade coin-guzzlers that made those games so much fun to play. The adrenaline rush from the arcade versions isn't as prominent in Overkill (likely due to the remote’s pointer being no substitute for a true light-gun) but the game is still immensely satisfying to play regardless; shots blow limbs away, heads explode in showers of crimson and the action rarely lets up with waves of often fast-moving enemies rushing towards you, intent on grisly murder. These guys don't mess around but handily, you can absorb nine hits before having to use one of an unlimited number of credits…at the cost of your score being slashed in half each time that is.


This is where the game stumbles slightly since having an infinite number of credits at your disposal means that the eight stages can be completed in a matter of hours. Fortunately, Headstrong have done as much as they can to extend Overkill's lifespan and keep the disc spinning away in your Wii's drive, starting with the in-game achievements. These achievements include clearing levels on a single credit or stockpiling a certain level of reward cash - to name two – and reward the player with concept art, music for the jukebox and secret video clips. Naturally, these challenges demand a hefty amount of replaying to fully clear and act as the main incentives for doing so. Then there is the gun shop where money can be spent to purchase new hardware or upgrade various aspects of your shooters such as reload speed, clip capacity etc. My favourites are the beastly ‘Hand Cannon’ revolver and the ultimate high score chasing companion – the automatic shotgun. It also helps that the dialogue and cut-scenes are so funny that they take a long time to outstay their welcome. Playing through many times is hardly a chore with this kind of entertainment on tap.

Of greater interest however is the Director's Cut mode, a beefed-up version of the story mode with longer levels and an increased enemy count sporting heightened aggression. In keeping with the upped ante, the Director's Cut grants just three credits per level so making it through in one piece is slightly harder. This elevated difficulty makes the Director's Cut the place to go for those craving a more testing experience but the challenge still pales noticeably compared with the past arcade versions - one of Overkill's weaknesses. For high-score chasers however, the Director's Cut - and its increased enemy numbers – is the best way to grab more points and take full advantage of Overkill's combo-based scoring system.

The Daily Mail weren't impressed...with the state of this caravan park.

Points are awarded for each kill with bonus points for consecutive on-target hits. There are several tiers of combo (with a string of 5 accurate shots taking it to the next level) starting with 'Extreme Violence' and culminating with the charming 'Goregasm', a status that awards a 1000 extra points per mutant killed. Headshots predictably yield fatter standard points but naturally, the small target puts your bonus at risk and thus a nice risk/reward element is born. The biggest satisfaction of this scoring system stems from making the Goregasm bonus last as long as possible (cut the childish snickering at the back!) and racking up huge scores that you can strive to better through replaying the levels.

Unfortunately, Overkill doesn’t always set the high-score where polish is concerned. For starters, the reasonably impressive visuals are marred by graphical inconsistencies, occasional glitches and generally ropey areas that should really have been given more attention. The dodgy lip-synching could be considered an intentional effect to add to the crap movie theme but it’s unlikely that the random software errors that demand a system reset fall into the same debate. Then there are the occasional instances of slowdown and the targeting reticule failing to move smoothly, two issues that become particularly offensive since high-scores rely on well-placed shots. Consistently popping caps in the heads of zombies isn’t always easy when the on-screen reticule suddenly stutters without warning for example. Is it a game breaker? No but there is always the inescapable feeling that the hardware is struggling to keep up and keep the game stable.

You will quickly come to hate these speedy, exploding freaks. Waggle that controller!

While irritating, it must be emphasised that these niggles shouldn’t put anybody off giving Overkill a shot (see what I did there?) since it really is a case of the good outweighing the bad by a long way. The House of the Dead: Overkill is an excellent experience which proves that the light-gun genre still has a few bullets left in its clip yet, especially when married to a killer Tarantino-stroke-Grindhouse style. Gore-soaked, unashamed and a joy to play, it really is 'the hardcore you've been waiting for' as the pre-launch trailers were so keen to make clear. Just be aware that the F-bombs and blatantly offensive content probably isn’t a sensible substitute for Wii Sports next time Gran comes round.

Several years later, Sega surprised a few people by following up with an ‘Extended Cut’ edition for the PS3. Sadly it seems to have gone ignored at retail but it really deserves to be played as it takes everything in the Wii original while adding new content, improved presentation and – crucially – superior stability. Thanks to the superior grunt of the Playstation, the random stutters and sense that the console is straining to match the break-neck pace of the action are no more. The graphics too have been noticeably overhauled while support for the Playstation Move motion controller ensures that you can play Overkill properly although compatibility with the standard pad is there but who would seriously get much fun out of playing it that way? I won’t go into detail on the Move and its dubious aesthetics (since I already spoke about it in a previous update) but Overkill: Extended Cut is one of the few titles that make it worth keeping Sony’s ill-conceived Wii remote copycat around.

Extended Cut also features two brand-new levels slotted in between existing stages. These welcome additions see stripper Varla Guns team up with fellow dancer Candi Stryper as they first blast their way through a strip club in ‘Naked Terror’ before mooching around a cattle slaughterhouse in ‘The Creeping Flesh’. Two new levels may not sound like much but factor in the new cut-scenes and it’s a genuine case of a little going a long way to bulk out a short game into something more pleasingly substantial. The crossbow joins the weapon roster and each level now sports a checklist of new achievement-style challenges to take on. A number of new gameplay settings and support for the included 3D glasses round out a great package that is currently criminally cheap to pick up on the used market.

The new levels in Extended Cut are most welcome.

Obviously there is nothing despicably wrong with the equally cheap Wii original but if you also have a PS3 beneath your TV then I would go as far as to say that it’s worth investing in the Playstation Move along with a copy of the Extended Cut which is superior in every way to the original. Don’t forget that the Move can also be used with Time Crisis Raizing Storm and the PSN download of House of the Dead 4, the only home conversion of Sega’s fourth arcade instalment of the main HotD series.

Bonus!

Detective Isaac Washington really loves the F word and I mean really. Rather than coming off as an example of unnecessary shock value however, the family un-friendly language is simply ridiculous in an amusing way. The entire game has such a sheer number of quotable lines and cut-scenes that the only way to do the script anything close to justice would be to transcribe the entire thing but that's probably already available on the 'net somewhere. Instead, I present to you my five favourite Isaac Washington quotes...

1. Level = "Overkill"

Washington (after nearly being caught by a mutant in a ventilation shaft): "F***. That motherf*****r nearly had me. Shit!"
Agent G: "You ever feel like dialling down the cursing, Wash?"
Washington: "F*** that motherf****r!"

2. Level = "Carny"

Agent G: "This...does not look good"
Washington: "Good? There ain't nothin' good about this whole motherf*****g situation!"

3. Level = "Scream Train"

Washington (when faced with the giant mutated insect boss): "You ain't protectin' yo' papa now you bug motherf*****r!"

4. Level = "Papa's Palace of Pain"

Agent G: "So what's the plan? You...restrain the subject and I'll lead interrogation?"
Washington: "F*** that Columbo; shoot to maim!"

5. Level = "Carny"

Agent G (speaking to Varla): "His name is Washington...Isaac Washington"
Washington: "Named after my Daddy! And that shit's biblical so I'd advise showing a little more motherf*****g respect!"

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