From the opening scene with real strippers it's clear that The House of the Dead: Overkill takes its subtitle very seriously. Literally everything in this game is completely over the top. And that's great! Especially since developer Headstrong took pride in making sure the presentation, content and story all fit together like a filthy, bloodstained glove.
Agent G and Officer Washington: Bad cop, baddest cop
The game is a prequel to the arcade classic The House of the Dead. You take control of Agent G and police officer Isaac Washington who are in Louisiana to stop a mutant outbreak caused by Mafioso Papa Ceasar who has an ingenious plan. A little later you’ll team up with stripper Varla Guns (which triggers a hilarious dialogue about her name) who joins in the chase. The story rapidly deteriorates into a completely pulp horror plot. This is absolutely not a bad thing though, the story is a great vehicle to carry the style and atmosphere of the game. Especially as Washington has a vocabulary that basically consists of f-bombs with some other words mingled in between. Your whole trip through Overkill will be a pleasant mix between shooting zomb...eh mutants, offensive language, gore, more offensive language, shooting more mutants, a very thin storyline and some very shocking events (my God at the end of the game).
All of this is done with an enormous amount of humor, but if this is not your type of humor you'll likely hate every single part of this game, because everything, even the lyrics of the songs, is drenched in this vulgar Tarantino-esque sauce. The voice acting in the game is very well done, but the star of the show are the dialogues. It's really been a long while since I genuinely had to laugh while playing a game, but it happened to me throughout Overkill. Again, if you're someone that can’t appreciate this type of humor please stay away from the game. I really have to stop myself from writing down some lines of dialogue in this review, because it would spoil some of the fun, but man the writing in this game, tasteless as it might be, is top B-movie quality. Subtlety is definitely something Headstrong didn't have in mind developing this game.
Overkill doesn't make any secret of its influences
The inspiration for the style is clearly seventies and eighties B-movies. Everything is visualized as if you are watching a one-dollar film in a shady theater whose projector needs a replacement. The game offers a nice grain filter, you'll see black stripes "walking" over the screen and burn spots. Everything to reproduce the grindhouse style in which a lot of these cult films were made. There's even a scene that says "Missing Reel" as if a roll of film went missing. The graphics are absolutely beautiful and feature an impressive motion blur. The various types of mutants are very detailed and polished and limbs can be dismembered with well-aimed shots. The seven different locations you'll visit have lots of variation and unique atmosphere that’s set by a small intro with a very cheesy voice over and a title in retro film fonts. Bloodstains will stay on the carpet and the lighting is superb. The bosses that you'll have to beat at the end of every level are well designed and original albeit a bit on the easy side. The circus level, called Carny, can probably compete for best lightgun level ever. Not only do you have to shoot mutant clowns and the musicians of a band, but the ghosthouse ride that's included will have you replay the level over and over again.
The use of sound in the game is absolutely outstanding and is unequalled on Wii so far. All dialogue is acted by memorable and fitting voices, adding further depth to the excellent characters. The sound effects feature lots of detail and impressive sounding guns. Overkill features an all-original soundtrack that consists of very cheesy Country & Western and Funk tunes that will stick in your head long after you’ve stopped playing. It wouldn’t surprise me if it wins a few “Soundtrack of the Year” nominations in December. Like mentioned before, even the lyrics are suited to fit the overall atmosphere of the game and one has only to listen to the words in "I'm Not Your Daddy" to comprehend the level of detail that’s been put even in the songs.
The lighting and character models are very well done
Like mentioned before; the visual presentation in this game is top quality and among the best we've seen on Wii so far. The graphics are great, the style is original and well-implemented throughout the game. It's therefore a real shame that there are some technical issues. In some areas you’ll encounter unstable framerates and framedrops, which would be bad in other genres but in a lightgun game that is all about highscores it really shouldn't happen because every frame counts. Strangely the framerate is stable no matter the amount of mutants on screen (which is a lot), but seems to drop when lots of fire, particle and smoke effects are displayed. I therefore don't understand the decision to let style go over gameplay in this case at all. Simply reducing the amount of visual effects would probably have stabilized the framerate and therefore greatly improved the gameplay. Another bug I encountered was a nurse-mutant that got stuck behind a wall and since the game doesn't progress until everyone on the screen is killed I had a problem, because there was no way I could hit her. If I wouldn't have had a grenade on me, which you can find in the levels, I would have had no other option than to restart. I've played through the game five times now and that only happened once, but still it's an issue. Now don't get me wrong, 90% of the time you won't encounter any problems while playing and the game is too good to ignore based on these issues, but I hope that the inevitable next Headstrong game will be a little bit smoother in the technical area.
Overkill, like every The House of the Dead game, is as arcade-like as they come. It’s a typical lightgun shooter, which means your movement and camera are all controlled by the computer. You’ll only have to worry about blasting the mutants that are heading towards you. Sounds easy, but the mutants are fast and there are hundreds of them. And most of them need several hits to bring down. Not only that, but the camera movement is fast and unpredictable, really testing your reflexes. In Overkill you'll get everything from the previous games in the series and then some. There are more and faster mutants, more and bigger levels and a complete bonus playthrough with alternate paths called the Director’s Cut. Like any lightgun shooter on Wii you only use the Wii remote, in my case embedded in a Nyko Perfect Shot, to aim and shoot (B trigger). Reloading is done by tilting the Wii remote or pushing the A button.
There are lots of different mutants to shoot
There are a few "waggle" moments in the game. If you get caught by a certain enemy you have to free yourself through shaking the remote. This is basically impossible with a gunshell, so you really have to eliminate these bastards before they reach you. You earn points by killing mutants and hitting the Golden Brains that are spread throughout the levels. The big catch is the combo system that can earn you massive bonus points. You earn the combos by hitting the mutants or targets, once you miss or get hit by an enemy you have to start over again. The ultimate goal is to reach the Goregasm level (which also triggers the stars and stripes to be waving on your screen, British humor I guess.) where you'll earn a massive 1000 points per kill extra. If you die you can continue from the exact place you died, however this will cost you half of your points. Your ten best results for each level are saved in a highscore list. It's really a missed opportunity that there are no online leaderboards for this game, since collecting high-scores is really the thing that gives the replay value and will be the thing hardcore gamers will do.
Not only can you earn points but money as well. The cash can be won by beating certain achievements in the game, like finishing a level with a certain hit rate, doing a lot of headshots or having a long Goregasm-streak. You can either spend your money on upgrading your current gun or buy a new one. The available weapons are very basic, there’s the handgun, shotgun, minigun and assault rifle, but their behaviors is very different and will lead to different play styles. You start off with a regular handgun with pretty weak properties, but buying upgrades will quickly improve your weapon, like gaining faster reloading, bigger clips and less recoil for example. Since speed is everything in this game these are absolutely necessary to beat your highscores. It will take several replays before you have collected and upgraded all weapons extra space here.
New is the "Slow-Mo-Fo" (yes, I kid you not), a shootable item that triggers ten seconds of bullet-time. There's something grossly satisfying about blasting off limbs and heads in slow motion and it also adds a slight level of strategy to the game. Sometimes its use is obvious, in the first level for example you're standing on a balcony and below you are eight mutants which without the slowdown you'll never be able to shoot but most of the time the timing is essential to get the most out of the power-up. For the real lightgun fanatics the crosshair can be switched off, resulting in the old-fashioned arcade (or Duck Hunt) gameplay of aiming your gun at the screen. Calibration is easily done by shooting the corners of your TV screen. The calibration works very well and I felt I was totally in control of my aiming. Obviously the game will be a lot harder when you don’t see a reticule on screen, but it will give you a great level of satisfaction. For obvious reasons this mode only really works with a gunshell and not with a bare Wii remote.
After finishing the normal mode the Director's Cut is unlocked, which when finished will give you the option to carry two weapons in single player (cheaters can simply start a two player game alone though). This mode is harder and follows different paths through the levels. You can't share weapons between this and the story mode, so beating it will take some serious effort. Gaining and upgrading weapons is also a lot harder because most of the big moneymakers are already unlocked in normal. In the Director’s Cut you only have three lives to finish the level, so there's no unlimited playtime. All in all, the Director's Cut will take a little longer to finish than the story mode, but with a little over three hours still a bit short.
Make them crawl
Lightgun games have never been known for their length and Overkill is no exception. You'll need some three hours to finish the seven locations of the normal mode and another three plus for the Director's Cut. But obviously arcade games are perfect for replaying and oldschool highscore gathering. And Overkill offers loads of that. As mentioned you’ll have to replay quite a few times to unlock all the weapons and gathering the Golden Brains is definitely a challenge. It will be rewarded with all kinds of extras like remixes of the songs and film posters. The story mode has a “More Mutants” button that increases the already impressive amount of enemies in the levels. There are also three minigames included that support up to four players. These don’t add a whole lot to the game, but nevertheless are a nice inclusion, especially because of the multiplayer aspects. Everything in the game can also be played through in co-op mode, which is loads of fun and adds a lot of value to the package.
While its technical flaws keep The House of the Dead: Overkill from being a truly outstanding game, it is the best lightgun shooter on Wii so far. It features a unique style and lots of humor. The presentation is also among the best on Wii and the grindhouse look and feel is implemented in all aspects of the game. Time will tell, but I think Headstrong and Sega released a cult classic with The House of the Dead: Overkill.