Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Review: The House of the Dead: Overkill EC (Ps3)

 "Are you holding my hand? "Yes" "Let go, I ain't your momma!"
 SEGA week continues with a review for one of SEGA's most beloved arcade series. Except this title was developed with home consoles in mind and hasn't made its way to arcades as far as Im aware. All other main entries started within those arcade cabinets of yesteryear. House of the Dead launched in 1998 with an (unfinished) port released on the Saturn & PC a little later, House of the Dead 2 launched in 1998 too with a port a year later on Dreamcast, House of the Dead 3 launched in 2002 with a port to Xbox in 2003 and  House of the Dead 4 (a interquel of sorts between 2 & 3) launched in 2005 with a port to Ps3 in 2012. So how does Overkill fit into the storyline?
Its a prequel to the series. In 1991, AMS Special Agent G is given his first assignment and sent to a small town in Louisiana called Bayou to investigate a series of disappearances and hunt down a deranged crime lord, Papa Caesar. Due to the presence of mutants, G is forced to team up with Detective Isaac Washington who is out to get revenge on Caesar for apparently killing his father. The game begins with you storming a mansion owned by Caesar and so you journey begins. Headstrong games decided to go with a grindhouse theme which fits the game perfectly (more on that later) as it acts like a prequel. The story isn't too bad. Its overly B-Movie with over the top dialogue that just oozes fun, but hasn't House of the Dead always been like that? A cheesy narrator sets up the action for each level, and a popping/scratching filter mimics a '70s film reel to keep you fully entertained. The story makes its way through 9 levels, 2 have been added that weren't in the original Wii release. These 2 levels, Naked Terror & Creeping Flesh, also contain a new character called Candi Stryper who just so happens to be a little dim-witted in an amusing way. Still not much for those looking for a lenghly campaign I suppose. We are looking at a light-gun shooter after all so its to be expected. A Directors cut version of the game is unlocked upon completion though which features the same levels, but extended with alternate pathways and extra dialogue. What will more than likely keep you coming back (It does with me anyway) is collectibles. There are Vinyls, Comic pages, Posters and models to collect which builds up within the Memorabilia section on the main menu. When I say theres a lot of this stuff, I mean theres a LOT as some of its only available on the Directors Cut arc too which means your gonna want to play through that too. To mix things up even more there are options you can unlock too like the ability to add more mutants into a level, remove crosshair etc which multiplies your score and the Directors Cut also features challenges to complete. The higher your score at the end of a level, the more money you receive. The money can be used to buy and upgrade the weapons you'll use. New weapons have also been added over the Wii version too like a Crossbow. The entire game can be played through in 2 player co-op with 2 Move controllers for those with the full set-up, which would no doubt be worth doing for a few chuckles. There's also 4 4-player game modes that can be played too which have more of a competitive edge to them. Online leaderboards have also been included for each level. Lightgun shooters tend to be short unfortunately, but Headstrong have at least done enough to warrant multiple playthroughs of each level and theres enough here to keep those trophy hunters entertained while doing so. About 8-10 hours id say in total, which isn't too bad for a lightgun title. Co-op & Competitive multiplayer is also a bonus but you'll no doubt tire of the game eventually due to the type of gameplay it offers.
Gameplay is strictly in the lightgun/arcade shooter ballpark. As a Move shooter Ive sampled the game with that and also gave a little run through with the Dualshock for the sake of this review. House of the Dead: Overkill feels great with the PlayStation Move, as you would expect for a peripheral that replaces the lightguns we used as kids. You could use a DualShock controller if you wanted to, but the aiming isn't anywhere near as precise and the fluid aiming of the Move is just not available on the Dualshock.. I spend all of my time with the Move since I first bought the game at launch, and the accuracy of the device makes it a must have for this game. Pulling off headshot after headshot is great and as satisfying as you'd expect. Once you get used to the shooting, mastering the onscreen combo meter is a must. Hit zombies without missing, and the combo builds for extra points, going all the way to Goregasm (+1000 points each kill!) but miss a shot and you lose it. ALL of it. Before I continue I need to mention a minor issue Ive come across. Ive tried with 3 Move controllers and I still see this happening. Every so often the cursor will drift slightly to the right by about an inch. Considering Ive tried it with multiple calibrated controllers, I'm going to lay the blame squarely at the developers feel which is even worse considering the game has not been patched to fix it either. Like I said though, its minor and infrequent enough to not be too bothersome. The game plays as you'd expect. On-rails through a linear path before facing the boss at the end. Problem is that the game isn't really that challenging though. Bosses are quite easy as their weak spots are always easy to hit and they don't do much in the way of attacking you. Plus when you die, you can use your points to respawn so you effectively have infinite lives. The difficulty (or lack of) will either disappoint you or may, like with me, allow you to enjoy the game a little more. Either way, you know exactly what you'll be getting on the gameplay front from House of the Dead, so its all really boils down to how much you like your arcade shooters.
As I alluded to in the first section, the game aims for and hits perfectly the Grindhouse/Exploitation theme. You can tell the game has been ported from the Wii though at times. Character models and the like are still a little blocky and theres always some amusing clipping going on with clothes and hair. Still, it all adds to the B_movie charm of the game. The levels themselves have been spruced up quite nicely though and look a lot better on the Ps3 with an improved 720p resolution. The framerate issues that plagued the Wii version at times has been put to rest on this Extended Cut. While its not a huge leap over the original, the improvements visually are noticeable. The sound is awesome for this game. The soundtrack in particular is a major highlight with its lo-fi 70's vibe. Its so good that I have it on my Mp3 player. The voice acting can come across as a little stiff at times but whether thats intentional or not I do not know. The game manages to wrap all this up with a perfect Grindhouse presentation. There's a nice film-grain effect overlayed on the screen during cutscenes & gameplay, plus the audio sounds as though its been recorded on tape. Its incredibly immersive for those fond of Exploitation cinema. Those that aren't may find the games content a little excessive.
3D - The 3D was added onto this port and actually looks quite good. Theres a noticeable amount of depth and at times some characters will reach out of the screen towards you. Those moments are worth a chuckle and fit the theme perfectly. It must be said that the game stays almost as sharp as when playing in 2D so there doesn't appear to be a drop in the games resolution to compensate. As an added bonus, anaglyph 3D is available for those without a 3D TV and works almost as well stereoscopic from what I tried. there are a few different colour options to choose as well in case the Red/Cyan variety isn't to your liking.
Overkill has a lot going for it. Its Grindhouse theme is perfect with an amazing soundtrack to back it up. The gunplay is satisfying with the gore & dismemberment's ensuring each hit is visual treat for arcade shooter fans. A few niggling issues do detract from what is otherwise a superb piece of entertainment though and whether they will effect your enjoyment is dependant on your tolerance. Think of Overkill as being bitten by a zombie. You'll make the most of those final few hours of life you have, making sure its as fun & fulfilling as possible, but you can only hang on for so long.


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