House of the Dead: Overkill

House of the Dead: OverkillIt’s hard to imagine a more successful game, if you judge success by the extent to which the developers achieved what they set out to do. I am of course assuming that I know what the developers set out to do. But in this case I think that’s safe: make an unreasonably entertaining light gun game.

From the very start, horror movie pastiche is the order of the day. There’s knowing absurdity to match Planet Terror, and ludicrous swearing to rival Snakes on a Plane. Both these films are clear influences, but why not? It’s expertly implemented, and very funny as a result. Besides, Overkill has plenty of original mockery to offer, largely aimed at games, and it delights in confounding your expectations. Plus some of it is really, really sick.

So the tone, presentation, cut-scenes and so on are basically faultless. It doesn’t look as slick as any number of games on rival formats, but frankly I don’t care.

The mechanics are straight from the path well trodden. Pun vaguely intended, because being a light gun game, it’s on-rails – and all the better for it. Without responsibility for movement – particularly in boss battles, which are impressively imaginative, not to mention horrible – you can, unhindered, get on with the business of shooting the arse off the undead. It’s this, and the ability to continue after dying at the cost of half your points for the level so far, which makes it an uninterrupted delight to play. That is to say, there’s no pesky restarting to get in the way of making blood go everywhere.

It’s not a hard game, in the sense that it’s no real challenge to see the end credits. But that’s a massive simplification, because there’s plenty of achievement to come from getting to the end of a level well – without dying, for example. And as you’d expect these days, the game rewards such behaviour.

That said, it’s a slightly odd difficulty curve: with only a basic gun and no experience, the first couple of levels are reasonably tough; then with improving weaponry things get easier; until the final couple of levels throw bloody great waves of mutants at you to make life more difficult again. But it’s always exciting: be it because of increased firepower or intense hordes of freaks.

Levels are self-contained and of only moderate length, so with rewards up for grabs not only is replay value high, but it doesn’t demand an unreasonable investment of time. Though for those with plenty of time, a director’s cut mode offers harder, longer, more varied versions of the same levels.

What more do you want? Blood?

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