“As you well know Isaac, I enjoy pain,” lauds sinister antagonist, Papa Caesar, into a comically outdated mobile phone. “It’s like a good Chinese dinner you know, with the sweet and the sour.”
Papa Caesar’s exceptionally idiotic analogy applies to House Of The Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut. This PlayStation Move powered remake of the classic Nintendo Wii rails shooter is certainly a game of two antithesising parts, spanning both brilliance and downright disappointment.
House Of The Dead: Overkill is an atrocious game. But in a twisted kind of way, that’s a compliment to developer Headstrong’s aims and objectives. See, House Of The Dead: Overkill pulls its inspiration from the grindhouse horror movies of yesteryear — low-budget, gore-ridden flicks defined by their poor attention to detail, sloppy effects and nonsensical plots.
Grindhouse has seen something of a comeback in recent years, with established directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez trying to ape the grubby cinematic formula with their movie double-bill Death Proof and Planet Terror. Overkill shoe-horns the same silly format into its presentation, culminating in a familiar old-school arcade experience with an extremely distinctive style. Grain and cinematic flicker effects overlay the game’s washed out colour palette to provide a period appropriate feel, but Headstrong’s presentation goes much deeper than visual effects, delivering a hokey plot, curse-heavy dialogue and atrocious voice acting.
It all culminates in a game that can be embarrassing to play around certain types of people; sensitive types won't want to hear most of the truly sour dialogue blaring out of your speakers. But that’s also partially the point — Overkill tries so hard to be outrageous and exploitative, that it just ends up being dumb. And that’s grindhouse in a nut-shell.
The wafer-thin plot pairs Agent G — old-school SEGA fans will remember the classic “Suffer like G did?” line from House of the Dead 2 — alongside the dramatically cliché Detective Isaac Washington. Thrust into a largely unexplained zombie apocalypse, the duo are required to investigate the cause. Or something. The plot never really makes much sense (but again, that’s partially the point) and is packed with twists and revelations that never go anywhere.
The appearance of sexualised badass Varla Guns adds some much needed sass to the storyline, and also serves as inspiration for the PlayStation 3 release’s additional two exclusive campaigns. While Extended Cut is largely the same game that released on the Nintendo Wii in 2007, these additional missions see Varla accompanied by air-head stripper Candy Stryper as the pair blast their way through two new locations: a strip club and an abattoir.
While these new locations include fresh dialogue, enemies and boss fights, the manner in which they’re aggressively slotted into the main campaign can break the pace of the original a bit; while it’s cool to get a glimpse of what other characters are up to during the main narrative, the outcome is ultimately pointless. We would have preferred to have seen the additional missions form some kind of epilogue, rather than be integrated into the main plot.
But for all its flash and vigour, House Of The Dead: Overkill can get a bit tedious at times. Shootouts become repetitive, no matter how many different zombie types Headstrong throws on screen. Once you’ve worked out the attack patterns of each of the bosses, the fights become little more than an exercise in whittling down an impossibly large health bar.
House Of The Dead: Overkill rarely shoots for the kind of set-piece variety that occupies competing rails-shooters. Think of the likes of Time Crisis: Razing Storm, Deadstorm Pirates and even arcade based House Of The Dead titles, and Overkill seems a bit flat in comparison. Some levels can definitely start to feel like a slog.
Thankfully the experience is enhanced by its emphasis on two-player co-op. Simply adding another player to the experience can infinitely improve the stupidity of the plot and the excitement of the gunplay. If you haven’t got two PlayStation Move controllers to hand, then a DualShock controller can be utilised in the motion device’s place, but whoever gets stuck with the analogue stick is going to have much less of an enjoyable experience. House Of The Dead: Overkill should be played with the PlayStation Move.
A clever combat system rewards accuracy, with scores being shared in online leaderboards. You’ll be able to compare your performance against friends as well as the rest of the world, a feature which extends the game’s replay value far beyond its Nintendo Wii release.
Rails shooters are often criticised for not offering much replay value, and developer Headstrong has clearly taken that on board with Overkill. Each level is packed with posters, comic book pages, models and audio tracks to collect, and while the inclusion is not guaranteed to prompt multiple replays, it at least offers incentive.
An alternative Director’s Cut mode unlocks upon completing the game, providing an alternative and more challenging route through the game’s same main districts. The Director’s Cut mode is also lavished with some additional challenges, which act like mini-achievements on each stage. Earning them all will take a serious amount of investment.
We’re just not convinced the gameplay is varied enough to encourage that, but at least the game also rewards you with new weapons and play filters the more you invest into it. One mode — called ‘Shoot The Sh*t’ — has you censoring the game’s own potty-mouthed cut-scenes, by bleeping out any forthcoming curse words. It’s dumb, but it all adds to the appeal.
Being a PlayStation 3 title, House Of The Dead: Overkill has received some pretty big visual upgrades. The game’s grubby grindhouse feel is enhanced by the high-definition image output of the PlayStation 3, and both the game’s lighting model and frame-rate have seen equally impressive improvements.
Overkill also comes with full 3D support, in both stereoscopic and anaglyphic guises. Stereoscopic obviously provides the better image performance, but there’s a charm to the red-and-blue glasses of the anaglyphic implementation that feels suitable for House Of The Dead: Overkill’s retro B-movie sense of style. In addition to the great visual presentation, Overkill’s killer jazz soundtrack is still in tact, really adding to the atmosphere and providing some memorable tunes along the way.
If you want something simple and a little bit stupid to play along with friends — and you’ve got a couple of PlayStation Move controllers spare — there’s no better option on PS3 right now. It’s like a good Chinese dinner you know, with the sweet and the sour.
House Of The Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut doesn’t quite leave the same lasting impression as it did over two years ago on the Nintendo Wii, but it still provides an extremely silly on-rails experience for anyone willing to cringe through it.