Taking the sarcastic video game satire fiction from the first Matt Hazard title, Eat Lead, Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond pits the purposely-generic "video game cult icon" in a side-scrolling environment and asks, "we had voice actors last time, what happened?" Only a franchise as self-aware as Matt Hazard could respond, "Poor reviews."
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond is Contra. It's cliche because its supposed to be. The whole franchise, if you're not aware, revolves around protagonist Matt Hazard, a fallen video-game superstar of the 80's trying to find his way back into the industry. With his arch-nemesis Neutranov hacking into his video game past, Matt Hazard embarks on a 2D side-scrolling quest designed for the PSN market. At $15 it's quite a steep investment, but Blood Bath & Beyond does show flashes of quality production.
Despite being a Contra-esque shooter, Blood Bath & Beyond mixes up the gameplay by allowing you to shoot into the background (craftily revealing Hazard's flat, 2D sprite weapon). You'll also be able to melee in close quarters, throw grenades, and stack up your arsenal with weaponry pick-ups. It's not the most complex of gameplay structures, but it suits its setting, and, without the ambition of Eat Lead, feels much more suitable to the franchise.
Having said that, the controls leave a lot to be desired here. Shooting and movement is handled with the left-stick, with a precise aim function activated by holding either the L1 or R1 button. Because Blood Bath & Beyond is so frantic however, you'll never be able to simply stand and pick your shot, leading to frustration. It also doesn't help that Hazard is apparently such a weakling. Whether his quickly depleting energy bar is an irony for his tough-guy exterior or not, you can't help but shake the feeling that you're dying a little too much in Blood Bath & Beyond, even on the easiest difficulty settings.
Playing through the game is rewarding thanks to a variety of great themed settings and boss fights (you go up against a lighthouse!), and the game genuinely has some solid writing and graphical prowess. It's just a shame the controls weren't given a more precise layout.
At $15, Blood Bath & Beyond is perhaps a little steep, but fans of self-referencing humour, and 2D shooters will find enjoyment. With multiplayer co-op and leaderboards filling out the experience, you won't feel short-changed, just a little disappointed the game lacks that final coat of polish.