Title: House of the Dead: Overkill
System: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Publisher (Developer): Sega (Headstrong Games)
ESRB Rating: “M” (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
Pros: Intense action, great graphics, solid design, surprising replayability, hardcore…on the Wii!
Cons: Tries too hard to be funny (and fails), frame rate issues, gun is sometimes unresponsive, bosses are too easy
Overall Score: One thumb up, one sideways; 80/100; B-; * * * out of five.
I’ve spent the past week crying blood from my own eyes. The only thing more enjoyable than doing this has been telling people about it. Most think I’ve finally lost my mind. The rest know I own a Wii, and immediately want to know if House of the Dead: Overkill really is “…the hardcore you’ve been waiting for.”
The answer to that is yes, provided you’ve just been waiting for hardcore. House of the Dead: Overkill (HotD:O) is as hardcore as the Wii gets (at least until next month when Sega releases Mad World). When I played it with my father-in-law, he said, “I can’t believe this game’s on the Wii.” Fact of the matter is that HotD:O is perfectly suited for the Wii, as you couldn’t do an on-the-rails light gun game like this on any other system. And considering the relative lack of Wii hard core titles, HotD:O is bound to get more attention than it would on the Xbox or PS3.
As you all know by now, HotD:O is a new title in the series, built from the ground up for the Wii system. The graphics are a huge improvement over the previously released House of the Dead 2 and 3 Return, which was little more than a port of the old arcade games. Tremendous attention was paid to the look and feel of the game, which pays homage to the grindhouse movies recently repopularized by Quentin Tarantino. This design carries all the way through the game, where each chapter is presented as its own mini-movie. Even the menu option screens keep up the illusion, which makes for a fun, tight experience.
The game itself plays like your traditional on-the-rails shooter, but it feels much more natural. Your characters (the infamous Agent G or the new Detective Washington) looks around now as a real person would. For instance, when walking into a large room, the camera will turn to show zombies at the top of the stairs. But, they’re far away, and there’s a banging at the door, so the camera spins back to the door. No one’s breaking in, so your view again reverts to the zombies on the stairwell. You run up, and only now get the option to shoot anything. When those zombies are dead, the camera spins one final time bak to the large door, which the zombies have finally broken through. There are a lot, so you instead shoot a chandelier to take them all out at once. It’s all very cinematic and makes the game feel much more realistic.
Two new features have been introduced to the game that make the mayhem much more fun. First, there’s “slow mo-fo mode,” which basically drops the game down to “bullet time” if you shoot the proper icon. This makes it quite easy to get off accurate head shots and take out large numbers of zombies with ease. It’s especially great for enjoying the glorious gore before you. Second, if you’re playing with the Nunchuck (not necessary), you can control the “danger cam,” which allows you to turn a little bit to the right or left to get better shots at the zombies.
Unfortunately, this all comes at a price. The graphics are at the top of the Wii echelon, which often leads to poor frame rates. Throw a multitude of zombies on the screen at once and add fire effects and flying limbs, and the game will occasionally slow to a crawl. Worse, this often causes you to miss secret items and makes it impossible to get a shot off. Numerous times I was pulling the trigger trying to shoot a nearby zombie, and the gun wouldn’t fire at all despite being fully loaded. This is annoying on the easier levels, and incredibly frustrating on the harder levels where every shot counts.
And yet, frame rate issues aren’t the most annoying aspect of HotD:O. It’s the narrative. The dialogue in the original House of the Dead games was hilarious because it was so bad. Here, the developers were trying to be funny, and they failed for pretty much everyone old enough to actually buy the game. The swearing is relentless, which kills the comedy that could’ve been obtained by using swear words only at key moments. Instead, it’s just numbing. Plus, the foul-mouthed seasoned detective and the “clean-cut” rookie agent dynamic never really takes off, mainly because it never changes. The same jokes are repeated ad-nauseam, and even throwing the spunky stripper “with a heart of gold” into the mix doesn’t liven it up…she’s as vulgar and obnoxious as the other two. The between-level movies are often far too long, are full of jokes that just fall flat, and do nothing to make you want to keep playing.
But there is reason to keep playing, because the levels themselves are a lot of fun. The bosses, although probably too easy, are at least innovative. Plus, upon finishing the game, you unlock the Director’s Cut, which includes more enemies and “deleted” scenes. Sega also included mini games: Stayin’ Alive (who can survive the longest?), Victim Support (don’t shoot the civilians), and Money Shot II (shoot the targets, not each other). I’ve always viewed House of the Dead as a great game to pick up and play with friends, and this makes it even better, especially considering up to four people can play the mini games simultaneously.
There’s no denying that House of the Dead: Overkill is a lot of fun for hardcore gamers. If you’ve been watching this game’s development and enjoying the trailers, then yes, it’s exactly what you wanted it to be. The action is intense, the gameplay is tremendous fun, and the design is pitch-perfect. There are numerous frame rate issues that’ll hurt the experience, but they’re brief, and it’s easy to get past them to stay in the game. Unfortunately, the terrible script tries too hard to be funny and cool, and fails at both. It may actually have you crying blood from your own ears.
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