An exercise in commitment
House of the Dead: OVERKILL (yes the caps are part of the title) is a light gun game drowned in the, almost topical, style of exploitation flicks and b-movies (think the Rodriguez/Tarantino joint Grindhouse from 2007). This means you will see lots of gratuitous and "shocking" violence (zombies shoving a guy through a meat grinder), oversexualized female characters, and racial stereotypes. Oh and there will be cursing. A lot of cursing. But it's all part of the game's appeal.
Like any so-bad-it's-good movie worth its salt, OVERKILL's best asset is that it knows it's bad. The game never once tries to convince you that its story is anything but a joke or that its main characters are anything but generic tough as nails Black cop and generic clean cut White secret agent. There are moments where tenderness and emotional stimulus are in fact presented to the player, but like any good b-movie, these scenes are very tongue in cheek, both in the delivery of the voice acting and the juxtaposition of the nihilistic nature of the rest of the game's content. These scenes never feel out of place unlike similar ones in games like Gears of War 2 (you know exactly the one I'm talking about).
Everything about the game, story, characters, dialogue, voice acting, soundtrack, cut scenes, just feels right. Your enjoyment of the dialogue will vary greatly depending on how sensitive you are to racial stereotypes and cursing, which for me meant that almost every line out of Detective Washington's mouth was met with at least a chuckle. For fans of crappy movies, it's hard not to recommend a rental of this game on the basis of the production alone.
The actual "game" elements of OVERKILL lead to the same recommendation. It's a light gun game. There's not much to explain. If you hate light gun games, this certainly won't change your opinion of the genre, but for those of us willing to put up with the conventions and looking to just try to have some fun, the game delivers on the simplest of levels. The controls are intuitive and well designed, working surprisingly well if you're using only the Wii remote and even better if you have a pistol shell like the Nyko Perfect Shot. The story takes you through seven levels, each concluding with a boss fight. At the end of each run at a level you're scored based on accuracy, number of headshots, collectibles attained, and your best combos. The combo system is based purely on accuracy. Every five consecutive shots connecting with a mutant raises you to a new level of violence, a score bonus, and the announcer fella shouting the corresponding violent name. After 25 consecutive hits you, ahem, achieve a goregasm. The accompanying scream of goregasm by the announcer and waving American flag in the score box are a great touch. Based on your score and certain in game actions you are awarded some cash to spend in the game's gunshop. Here you can either upgrade your current weapon or purchase new ones. I recommend the auto-shotgun, it's very helpful in reaching goregasms.
Another of the game's shining points its sheer amount of replayability. Lots of unlockables are tucked away including a second story mode with extra enemies and scenes, a dual wielding mode, concept art, videos, music, and posters. Most importantly it offers arcade style co-op, allowing a second player to join the mutant shooting madness. It's great for when you have some non-gamer friends over the house. They love light gun games.
Unfortuanetly the game has some technical issues. The frame rate can be attrocious at times. Normally the game will only throw at most three mutants at you, not to much of a problem, but enable the extra mutants mode in the level select menu and wow, welcome to slideshow town. The limitations presented by the Wii hardware are obvious. Enemies are limited too only a few models. Each level has two or three mutants specific to the stage, the backflipping clowns at the carnival for example, and the other 5 or so models are recycled throughout. I killed a ton of fat bearded identical mutants in plaid. Way too many in fact.
The gun shop is a good idea and implemented well, but in the end you can make it through most of the game without a challenge with just the starting weapon. If you do save up enough money to buy the better weapons, you'll find that they are way overpowered and suck any sense of challenge out of the game and the combo system. Speaking of difficulty, the game takes things pretty lightly until the last level, where you'll be assaulted nonstop by mutants. This massive dificulty spike is incredibly jarring, but just buy a stronger weapon and you'll be fine.
Ultimately House of the Dead: OVERKILL is an exercise in commitement; commitement of the development team to let every aspect of the game revel in the blood, tits, and f bombs of its grindhouse movie influences. Every aspect of the game oozes with that sleaze and I ate it up. It will surely scare away just as many players as it pleases and there's nothing wrong with that. The fact that this title was released on the Wii is reason enough to celebrate its existence, but its unique and uniquely adult presentation truely elevate OVERKILL above the confines of its genre, placing atop the best games on the Wii for those of us over the age of eighteen.