canuckeh's Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (Xbox 360) review

The Axl Rose of gaming.

Eat Lead : The Return of Matt Hazard : A Meta-third person Meta-cover-based Meta-shooter.

Forgetting that Eat Lead is billed as a spoof of the video game industry, lets talk about the gameplay first. Your objective, more often than not, is to go from Point A to Point B in a level and shoot…well most of the enemies that move. If the chance to run by an enemy presented itself, I sure as hell took it. The game has a cover mechanic akin to Gears of War, but it’s certainly not as well thought out as Gears of War, being that most of the time, Matt’s crouching animation was taller than the crate he was leaning by, but despite his vulnerable head, I was still safe from enemy attacks thanks to some nimrodic AI. In fact, the lack of intelligence made me question the use of cover questionable; they’ll stand in their single location, either alternating from cover to fire at you or just stand there, striking a pose while firing their penis extension. That, or they’ll bum rush you with little regard for their own health, which in of itself seems like a smart strategy since Hazard’s clumsy controls make him slow to react. Often I found the best tactic to be to soak up the damage (your health regenerates itself quickly) and execute enemies with the clunky, pre-programmed three-hit combo, which I guess makes this game partially a crappy Meta-beat em up too.

Bosses are a nuisance and tend to comprise of someone shooting at you while lesser enemies respawn at an annoying rate. And there’s some annoying sniper sequences sprinkled around just to help me remove stars from the final score. The selection of weapons consist of the typical array of handguns, machine guns and ragdoll physics to accompany the chaos. Level designs include of your typical warehouses, restaurants and other attempts at real world settings, so I guess you can call Matt Hazard a painfully average, run of the mill shooter, except with cowboys randomly spawning in the area. Now, for the story…

Story : Video game companies are akin to record labels or movie studios, and video games are filmed on virtual sets, like movies, in the Matt Hazard universe. Matt himself is this supposed first person shooter icon, like a Duke Nukem without the sense of humor or a Doom marine without the common sense to stay quiet. After his career is sabotaged by a kart-racing side project, he attempts to make his comeback starring in a Red Steel knockoff (is that really a good idea?). However, Tron-like outside programmer forces are sabotaging his efforts and Matt must take action into his own hands. Do you remember in kindergarten, when you played Make Belief with the kids, and there was always the one kid whose superpower was that he had every superpower and every time you struck him with an imaginary lightning bolt, he’d suddenly declare that he was invincible to lightning bolts? Matt Hazard is that kid. He makes a terrible dick joke at the introductory cutscene and he comes across more as a whiny child than the parody of a testosterone-fueled action hero.

I have a theory, and this seems like a safe bet. Eat Lead was originally going to be a serious action game, where a serious action hero goes through warehouses and other realistic settings fighting realistic enemies. But upon realizing that this game was turning out to be a sub-par, cliché, uninspired bargain bin accomplice, the developers switched directions and decided to make fun of their own bland creation. Matt makes jokes about the insipidness of his enemies, locales, the presence of a tutorial, and so forth, but the game’s self-deprecating humour to itself doesn’t make it funny, or the bland gameplay conventions anymore enjoyable. There’s a free Xbox Achievement called “Multiplayer Master!” that points out how the game doesn’t have any multiplayer. I guess I shouldn’t complain about a lack of multiplayer being that no one else should want to play this online.

There are a few moments that put a smile on my face. The presence of power-ups that make Matt invulnerable or strengthen his attacks (called Maximum Hazard) are fun little throwbacks to Doom and the like. Matt has a few good lines, and I can’t help but enjoy the 80s-style power chord theme song that reminded me of hokier days. But many of the jokes are rather juvenile. When was the last time an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator was funny? But I almost want to say that Eat Lead’s biggest crime is that it takes itself too seriously at times. Many of the cutscenes don’t have any joke but exist to add exposition to the whole “game within a game” notion, like I’m supposed to treat this like a serious plot.

The Simpsons Game was a similar case; it was a basic beat-em-up disguised as a scathing parody of the video game industry. Except that game, for its faults, never ran out of good jokes and was built from the ground-up to be a comedy piece. Get that game if you want a humourous way to spend fifty bucks. Eat Lead is amateurishly written, making the most predictable jokes in a vain attempt to cover up its game’s weaknesses. As an action game, it’s a poor man’s Gears of War, a rushed, low-rate shooter with faulty and dull gameplay. And for Matt Hazard, this is a comeback on par with Chinese Democracy.

2 stars

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