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I consider myself a huge fan of the light gun genre. You get to hold a plastic gun and shoot at things on a screen. You’re actually involved. The Wii is a great system for light gun games and does have a good selection and it’s only a shame it doesn’t have more. Light gun games is one of the main reasons I was even interested in the PlayStation Move. Over the years, arcades have housed numerous games in the genre, some of which were ported to home consoles. I think one of the most popular franchises is easily The House of the Dead. I never actually played the original, I have played two and three but never beat them, never played four, but have played and beaten The House of the Dead: Overkill quite a few times. Developed by Headstrong Games and published by Sega, The House of the Dead: Overkill was released for Wii in February, 2009. For this review, I played the Extended Cut which was released for the PlayStation 3 in October, 2011. The Extended Cut features the same gameplay but with new levels, new bonus material, high definition cut scenes, supports 3D televisions, and is compatible with the PlayStation Move. I played this using the Sharp Shooter gun shell which, in my opinion, is one of the more badass looking gun shells for the system. But you can, of course, acquire others. I feel I should mention that when this game originally released, I believe it was one of, if not the most profane video game in history.
The story in The House of the Dead: Overkill is hilarious, over-the-top, disgusting, and is surprisingly one of the best parts of the game. Years ago, during the Cold War, the government began experimenting with a superhuman formula but the project failed and the bunker used for the experiments was shut down. You play as either rookie AMS Special Agent G or police detective Isaac Washington, depending on if you’re player one or two. If you play solo, both characters can be heard during gameplay so they’re always together. I believe the story is set in 1991 and Agent G is sent to Louisiana to hunt down crime boss, Papa Caesar. Due to the outbreak of mutants, G teams up with Detective Washington who is also hunting down Caesar to avenge his father’s murder. The two encounter a stripper, Varla Guns, and she, too, is on the hunt for Caesar for her own reasons which is explained throughout the storyline. The game plays out in movies, which I’ll now refer to as chapters, and there are two new chapters introduced in the Extended Cut that let players take on the roles of Varla and another stripper, Candi Stryper. The entire theme of the game is clearly inspired by classic grindhouse/exploitation films which is transparent in both its writing and presentation. Detective Isaac Washington is easily the standout character here and the banter between him and G is nothing short of hysterical. If you enjoy excessive violence, crude humor, foul language, and over-the-top characters, this game may be right up your alley.
There are three game modes to play through including Story Mode, Director’s Cut, and Mini Games. Director’s Cut is a harder version of the Story Mode with tougher enemies and a limited amounts of credits or continues. The chapters are longer in Director’s Cut, some chapters have you starting from different locations and you’ll traverse through different areas in addition to the ones seen in the Story Mode. Like most traditional light gun shooters, you don’t really have to do much, just aim and shoot, and you can reload weapons manually. The gameplay is on rails so you have no control of when or where you move. The Story Mode and Director’s Cut require you to complete each chapter in order. You can, of course, replay any already completed chapters. You move through each chapter killing tons of zombies or what this game calls “mutants” for points and your score at the end of a chapter determines your letter ranking. Killing multiple enemies in a row without missing or getting hit results in a combo and increases your multiplier. The higher the multiplier, the more points you earn for kills. Bonus points are acquired for rescuing civilians but you’ll lose points if you kill them so you need to watch where you’re shooting. You will come across money lying around the environments and if you shoot it, you can acquire money for buying weapons and weapon upgrades. Even if you don’t care about setting high scores in games, you should still try to achieve the highest score possible in each chapter because your score determines how much money you earn. And money can be spent on new weapons and weapon upgrades in the Gun Shop which can be accessed in-between chapters. You can equip two weapons before starting a chapter and switch between them at any time during gameplay.
When you first start playing, the only weapon you can equip is the AMS Magnum Pistol. You need to earn enough money to buy the other weapons. You can buy a shotgun, automatic shotgun, SMG, assault rifle, and a hand cannon. The automatic shotgun is one of the most effective weapons for scoring big points. There are also some other weapons that must be unlocked first before you can purchase them including a minigun and crossbow which fires explosive bolts. Money can be spent on weapon upgrades like recoil, clip size, firing rate, reload time, and damage inflicted. I usually make upgrading the reload time a first priority with every new weapon because the default reloading time usually takes a few seconds, leaving you exposed to enemy attacks. Knowing what weapons to bring and when to switch weapons is crucial. When I would equip the automatic shotgun, I would also equip the SMG because even with the reload time maxed out, the shotgun still takes a few seconds to reload and switching to the SMG may be a more efficient option than waiting when you’re about to get attacked. Throughout the environments are two pick-ups that can be acquired by shooting them and they will aid you in combat. Shooting the grenades grants you one grenade which can be thrown to kill multiple enemies at once and you can hold up to a max of three. The other pick-up is Slow-Mo which will briefly slow down time when shot, making it easier to kill enemies.
Each chapter is set in a different location including a mansion, hospital, carnival, train, swamp, prison, strip club, slaughterhouse, and bunker. The environments are infested with mutants and they do vary in type and appearance. Besides the bosses, most mutants are of your stereotypical zombie variety. Some may slowly walk toward you, some crawl, and others come running. As you progress through the chapters, new enemy types are introduced including mutants with helmets requiring you to shoot their bodies to inflict damage, mutant babies that crawl along walls and ceilings, mutant birds that fly at you, mutants carrying shields which can be broken, mutants that move quickly and can explode releasing bile that can hurt you, and then there’s the enemies that rush you and require you to quickly shoot the targets that appear on the screen which result in your character engaging them in melee combat. This enemy type in particular is my least favorite just because you have no real control over the melee combat and these encounters can take time which slows down the pacing. Other than that, you’ll be moving quickly through the environments, shooting at anything that moves.
Overall, the enemy variety is good and most mutants will try and slash away at you if they get close, some will throw shit at you and you’ll need to shoot down the thrown object before it hits you, and others wield melee weapons. Whenever you take damage, you lose health and once your health is depleted, you die. In the Story Mode, if you die, you can continue playing by spending your acquired points on a credit to continue and you do have an unlimited amount of credits. In the Director’s Cut mode, you won’t have to spend points to come back to life but you only have three credits. Luckily, all purchased weapons, upgrades, and unlocks are shared between the two modes. You will come across health packs lying around and shooting them grants health should you need it. The gameplay becomes gradually more challenging as you progress but buying new weapons and upgrades will make things significantly easier. Even with deadlier firepower, achieving a high score is all about timing, precise aiming, and memorization. You’ll most likely replay through chapters several times whether it be to acquire money or collectibles or to simply try for a better score. Your first run through a chapter may result in death as you learn where things are and what enemies are thrown at you. Because you have no control over movement, you may be shooting in one direction, kill all the enemies, and then your character quickly turns only for you to be face-to-face with a mutant. Knowing when to reload is key because if you don’t pay attention, you can easily take damage during a reload. It’s also good to memorize the enemy placements because you may have to prioritize one enemy over another to avoid taking damage when encountering multiple enemies at a time. Some parts of the environments can be utilized to your advantage like shooting a chandelier or sign, both of which will fall on and kill enemies. Every chapter ends in a boss battle and most of the bosses are large and disgusting mutants. Most of them hurl or fire projectiles of some sort which can be shot down and others will slowly get closer and closer to you before performing a melee attack. Shooting bosses will slowly drain their health but at certain points during most boss battles, a second health bar appears and if you drain it before they attack you, they lose a large chunk of health. But you need to be quick or you’ll take damage. All boss battles boil down to memorizing their attack patterns. Once you have that down, the battles become a breeze.
You can easily blast through the Story Mode in a few hours but it’s the fun gameplay and all the unlockable content that will surely keep you playing. Throughout the environments are collectibles, or what the game calls memorabilia. And you need to play through both the Story and Director’s Cut modes to collect everything. Since you can’t move your character manually, you need to keep an eye out for comic pages, models, audio tracks, and posters scattered around. Shooting these unlocks 3D models, music, concept art, posters, and collecting all the comic pages results in a comic book story that acts as a prelude to game’s story. Some memorabilia is in plain sight but more often than not, you’ll really need to look carefully to find them. Sometimes you only have a few seconds so you really need to pay attention. But you also need make sure you don’t let enemies attack you which can happen easily if your attention is diverted for other reasons like trying to look for and shoot memorabilia or pickups. Shooting collectibles also comes with the risk of losing your multiplier because if you miss, your multiplier is lost. The gameplay is really well balanced overall and trying to do better each time you play just becomes addictive.
Not only can you can collect memorabilia but you can also unlock various what the game calls “game modes” for the Story Mode and Director’s Cut. To avoid confusion, I’ll refer to the “game modes” as gameplay modifiers. Some Gameplay modifiers must first be unlocked by beating the Story Mode and Director’s Cut. Beating each mode unlocks different modifiers. The Extra Mutants modifier adds more mutants to the chapters, Dual Wield allows you to dual wield weapons, Hardcore is a headshot-only mode, Classic lets you play through chapters with only the AMS Magnum Pistol, and Shoot the Sh*t makes cut scenes more interactive, you need to shoot the foul words before they are spoken. When playing through Director’s Cut, Extra Mutants is always turned on and the mode includes challenges that can be completed in each chapter. These include things like rescuing all civilians, setting the high score, collecting all pick-ups, no deaths, and more. These challenges are just more reasons to hone your skills and replay through chapters.
If you ever need a break from the storyline, there’s three mini games you can play which support up to four players – Victim Support, Stayin’ Alive, and Money Shot II. In Victim Support you have two minutes to protect civilians in your color from getting killed by mutants. You score bonus points if the civilians manage to reach a green exits without getting killed. Every and now and then, things will crank up meaning more civilians and mutants appear. In Stayin’ Alive you have two minutes to kill as many enemies as you can. The enemies come in waves and successfully finishing a wave results in extra time. When the timer runs out or you die, it’s over. In Money Shot II you need to shoot targets for points. Shooting Blue Targets rewards you with bonus points and shooting bombs will result in a loss of points. These are pretty fun for what they are and are probably more enjoyable if you have some friends to play with. However, I can’t say any of them held my interest for too long.
If you’ve played the Wii version of Overkill, the Extended Cut on PS3 will look significantly better. The HUD was redesigned for this version and everything is more crisp and clear, although I think the shadows look terrible. Facial animations are still extremely stiff but the characters models look a lot better than their Wii version counterparts. Now I don’t own a 3D television so I can’t comment on the 3D aspect of the visual presentation. The entire game is presented in a grindhouse style that comes complete with a grainy film quality. Shooting a mutant’s head may result in a bloody explosion, blood may splatter on the ceilings, and mutants caught in a grenade blast will result in body parts lying all over the ground. I don’t know if this is intended but I noticed character models disappear sometimes right before a cut scene fades to black or models that appear during gameplay when your character quickly turns to face another direction. The soundtrack is a mix of different genres including rock, funk, country, and pop, and most of the songs are pretty catchy. I believe the music was written specifically for this game and successfully manages to capture the sound and feel of the 1970’s era. And the lyrics in some of these songs are hilarious. The sound effects are pretty great across the board. I only wish the SMG sounded a little more powerful. The rest of the weapons sound pretty good and loud, enemies will roar, growl, and make typical zombie noises. As for the technical aspects, the frame rate will noticeably dip in certain spots, usually when there’s a lot happening on screen and the load times seem to be a bit on the long side. I should mention I was playing the digital version.
I had an absolute blast with The House of the Dead: Overkill. It manages to retain the series arcade roots but places a bigger emphasis on the narrative, characters, and style. Now I think I enjoy most of the light gun games I play and many games in this genre are ported from arcades and therefor are usually very difficult and also very short. While Overkill won’t take you very long to complete on your first run through it, it gives you plenty of reasons to return. Furthermore, it never feels impossible, I guess since it was designed for consoles and not to eat your money. While the gameplay does become challenging the further you progress, the real challenge is trying to go for the highest scores in each chapter which can become an addictive process. Not just because pointing a plastic shell of a gun at your television and shooting enemies is fun but because of all the content that can be unlocked. That’s what should keep most players coming back. Add in the gameplay modifiers and multiple game modes, and you have a game that should keep you occupied for quite some time. It’s fun to play in short bursts or long sessions and you can even have a buddy join in on the fun.
The House of the Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut is easily one of the best light gun shooters for consoles to date and I would absolutely recommend it to fans of the genre, shooters, and action games. If you can’t get passed the profane language and some of the more disgusting aspects, this may not be the game for you. Although, you will be missing out. This is a light gun shooter that’s both accessible to newcomers and also caters to veterans of the genre. It’s got a ridiculous story that’s comical from start to finish, it doesn’t take itself seriously, it pays homage to the classic B-movie grindhouse style of films, and it’s all about shooting enemies and scoring points. I would recommend the Extended Cut over the Wii version but that would also mean you should acquire the PlayStation Move products. One positive aspect of the Wii version is that you can simply use the Wii remote that comes with the console. While the Wii version is perfectly fine, it lacks the extra content and HD visuals seen in the Extended Cut. Either way, if you’ve never played this before you should definitely check out either version because this is one of the best light gun games you’ll ever play.