Giant Bomb Review26 Comments
The House of the Dead: OVERKILL Review3
by Ryan Davis on
Snappy support for the PlayStation Move makes it easier to appreciate the loving grindhouse aesthetics stitched over this otherwise familiar light-gun shooter.
I’ll admit, when it originally launched on the Wii in 2009, I was quick to dismiss House of the Dead: OVERKILL. I was immediately taken with the game’s exploitation sensibility, and how much of a departure it was from the badly translated Nippo-Gothic monster mash of your usual House of the Dead. After one level, though, the swimmy sense of lag that the Wii Remote introduced proved a high enough barrier to keep me from wanting to dig any further. Trappings aside, it was an old-fashioned, by-the-books zombie shoot, with all the pop-up zombies, blind corners, and carpal-tunnel-aggravating gunplay that entails.
The guts of the thing remain unchanged in House of the Dead: OVERKILL Extended Cut, but swapping out the Wii Remote for the remarkably more responsive PlayStation Move controller makes all the difference in the world. (The game can, theoretically, be played with a standard DualShock controller, but come on. If that’s how you’re going to be, I’m done trying to talk to you like a reasonable person.) OVERKILL is still a fundamentally shopworn experience, but it’s a game you can now cruise through to savor the grit and gristle of the sights and sounds.
Sure, OVERKILL owes just about every profane, mutilated ounce of personality it’s got to the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse double feature, from the lint-lashed policy trailers and lurid XXX warnings to the crass characterizations of rule-book-burning renegade cops and revenge-fueled strippers--hell, even the narrator, whose guttural delivery makes every forced alliteration sound lewd. But the very fact that OVERKILL hits so many of those little details with such perfect pitch makes it work. That said, OVERKILL’s characters--and indeed, certain machinations of the plot itself--are scaldingly misogynistic and foul-mouthed. Were the tongue not planted firmly in cheek, it might be genuinely offensive. Even as it stands, the hail of “fucks” and “motherfuckers” has a numbing effect within the first few levels. It’s not even creative cursing, though the game provides enough self-aware moments of clarity to let you know that it, too, knows just how filthy and juvenile it is.
Each chapter is framed as its own red-light tale of terror, trauma, and titillation, and these introductions can be an obscene joy. They also serve as locations changes for the starring quartet of dirtbaggy weirdos (including Agent G, the game’s only explicit, inexplicable tie to House of the Dead of yore) as they chase the evil kingpin responsible for the current outbreak of flesh-hunger and freaky monsterism through a plantation house, strip bar, slaughterhouse, carnival, swamp, and so on. The game’s overall structure is established in the first level--cutscene, shooting, cutscene, boss fight--and then adhered to slavishly for the eight subsequent levels. Though the bosses tend towards graphic, plus-sized grotesqueries, most of the game is spent cruising along the path provided, popping gaggles of garden-variety shamblers over and over.
OVERKILL is also bursting at the seams with collectibles, and it seems like you can’t walk down a hallway without spotting gold records, posters, comic books, grenades, piles of cash, slow-mo power-ups, and first-aid kits. In between levels, you can also upgrade your standard handgun and unlock a whole armory of shotguns, assault rifles, submachine guns, and the more exotic. As much as these baubles and upgrades might ring your bell, OVERKILL’s snotty, deliberate abuse of the expletive and the sheer repetitive exhaustion of pulling that trigger over and over again make it a game for sprints, not marathons. If you don’t spread the three-or-so hours it takes to see the story your first time through over a couple of play sessions, you will burn out fast.
If your first run through OVERKILL somehow left you hungry for more, you’ll have unlocked the Director’s Cut of the story mode by then, though the appeal of a slightly longer version of the game you just finished is a little elusive to me. There’s a trio of minigames that are good for about one play a piece. A fistful of bulletpoints differentiate the Extended Cut from the original release of OVERKILL, including a couple bonus levels, some new weapons, and a handful of oddball gameplay modifiers, though some of that content is oddly buried. The most significant differences are inherent to the shift from the Wii to the PlayStation 3, with the visuals and the controls receiving a noticeable bump in fidelity. This is clearly the better version of OVERKILL, but I’m not convinced that it’s better enough to warrant a second purchase for those that already played it on the Wii.
House of the Dead: OVERKILL Extended Cut so relishes wallowing in its own filth, that at a point it’s easy to start questioning whether the stuff that’s terrible about it is that way on purpose. (Spoiler: some of it is, some of it isn’t.) It’s the most shameful of guilty pleasures, brain-dead and proud of it, best suited for those with a lust for the minutiae of cinema's seedier side.