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SummaryOverkill, or Overboard?
The GoodHouse of the Dead: Overkill attempts to continue the tradition of SEGA's gory gun games. Typically, players take on the role of a plainclothes agent in an attempt to stop the mega-lo-maniac intentions of a global corporations CEO. But what makes this title the bastard-child in the series is that unlike every other House' title, there was no arcade machine released to build an audience. A small consolation may be that previously featured on the Wii were the ‘classic' House' games numbers 2 and 3. Released on a single disc with various adjustments, this title had already found a natural home and a somewhat successful reception. Could ‘Overkill add to the series constructively, or was it an unnecessary addition to the now decade old (or more) canon?
With its speckled and dust-scratched appearance and muddy, warbled audio, ‘Overkill – in its entirety – is a complete homage to B or even C grade ‘Grindhouse' films of the seventies and eighties. This has a refreshing and kitsch flavour, and shows that the developer has put some thought into making the title unique where possible. The choice of stylisation gives the game an identity, and artistically it conveys the dirty, underground world of shock cinema well. Obviously, this feature of the game is purely aesthetic, and it's apparent pretty quickly that although the detail is there, it has absolutely no direct effect on the game play itself. In essence, the ‘Grindhouse' flavour is really just a skin to a horror-themed light-gun game.
The BadThe filmic flavour extends to the presentation of the games levels, as each chapter is presented as a possible movie in itself: “Papa's Palace of Pain” (clever alliteration and the only ‘house' level in the game), “Ballistic Trauma” (a goofy mix of mutants, firepower and a hospital. Here, the reference to Rodriguez's “Planet Terror” is more than subtle). The given scenarios range well, and we're given trains, carnivals, prisons and other video game staples, yet unlike every other entry in the House of the Dead series, the range of enemies in the game is stunningly limited. Mutants (not Zombies, as the game itself stresses through its voice-over dialogue) are overwhelming the most common of enemies. These are represented by a handful of character models and are re-used throughout the entire game. Granted, they are fairly well modelled, but I can't help but think how much more interesting things may have been with some more location-specific mutant creatures.
Game play itself is a mixed experience. Taking out countless mutants is the main task of the game. And how you do this is via a selection of firearms: pistol, shotgun, sub-machine gun etc. The aiming reticule is optional, and re-loading is performed by either the A-button, or by pointing off-screen. The latter method is not as successful as other House of the Dead titles, especially when the motion confuses itself after a compulsory enemy shake-off waggle (unlike Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, an enemy close-encounter is both an annoyance and a guaranteed loss of health).
Unlike other titles in the House of the Dead series, ‘Overkill asks little of the players' dexterity. Enemy after enemy stagger towards the player from the centre of the screen – while this may be more realistic behaviour, it makes little challenge for the player. Ninety percent of enemies are shot at close-to-mid range, and their behaviours vary little. Occasionally, one or two of them get creative and (gasp!) throw a bottle or knife, but these are easily dismissed with a single shot. In other words, the game has a limited variety of action. I find this baffling, as the game is ‘on-rails' (no free-movement), and so particular creativity and care is required to hold interest in what could otherwise be classified as a very repetitive game play premise: (aim, shoot, reload ad infinitum). Titles such as Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and even the House of the Dead release mentioned earlier make efforts to challenge aiming, speed, pattern recognition, timing. ‘Overkill only grazes past these concepts, rather going for a higher-body count and bigger calibres together. This approach is fine for the short-term, but modern gamers often require more than this.
There's talk of ‘Overkill having issues with its frame-rate and responsiveness. I want to confirm that these problems certainly do exist. Again, I find this baffling, and can only chalk it up to lack of experience on part of the development team. Of course, it does not ruin the experience, but it certainly undermines it, especially when much simpler and less ambitious titles have perfected frame rate issues. Hell, even a launch title “Rayman Raving Rabbids” had smooth and responsive on-rails first-person-shooter sections. I'm not sure what could have caused this stuttering effect that the game suffers from, but it certainly harms the experience.
Musically, the title is both varied and confusing. A lot of effort has gone into providing a soundtrack to the experience, and for the most part it is suitable. Other times, you find yourself distracted, as if the developers wanted you to feel simultaneously frightened and amused – a near impossibility. Killing mutants in grotesque, half-dark environments could be scary, but doing it to an absurd funk song is confusing. It elevates the experience almost to a parody and seems to land the game somewhere between a nerve-wracking scare-fest and a silly shooting gallery mini-game. Audio effects are good for the most part, with loud shot-gun blasts and mutant screams. Strangely, the voice-overs from the two protagonists are mixed unevenly. Washington (the detective based lazily on characters such as Shaft and Jules Winnfield) spouts his garbage loudly and clearly, whereas Agent G's conversed rational and sensible comments are often mixed under the music, resulting in a poor, mumbled reproduction. On another note, it is never explained why these two are put together, and even more ludicrously, it is never shown or explained which of these two men you play as! I find particularly irritating for some reason.