Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Release Date: 02/26/09
There’s a term for a certain type of humor known as an inside joke. It means that only specific people will understand the joke and anyone outside of that circle of people will not be able to understand the humor behind it. I’ve made inside jokes and I’ve been on the other side of them scratching my head wondering what was so funny, but I don’t believe I’ve ever played a game that was an inside joke.
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (which from now on I’ll just refer to as Eat Lead) is an attempt at satire of the entire action gaming genre, though it stops to take a few shots at other game genres every now and then as well. In order to make a game that roasts the genre, the developers created a character named Matt Hazard, and then gave him a complete history and back catalog of different games. Hell, they even gave the character a blog that has been updated frequently regarding the release of the game.
An action game that made fun of the history of action games sounded like an interesting idea to me, but can a game that is mostly about mocking other action games be a decent addition to the genre, or does it make the same mistakes as the games it insults?
Eat Lead starts out promising. The game begins by depicting the fake history of Matt Hazard, and how it started as a 2D side scrolling action series before it exploded in popularity with the release of Matt Hazard 3D. The opening movie goes on to explain how times turned rough when creative liberties with the license were taken, such as a water gun shooting game and a kart racer known as Haz-Matt Karts. After that Matt Hazard has been sitting by the sidelines waiting for his chance to become a popular character again.
The story is odd if only because it treats video game characters as if they have a life of their own after they’re programmed, and at the same time it also constantly re-enforces that the characters are code when they make references to archiving characters. For example, Matt Hazard has signed a lifetime contract to appear in games with the company in the game, except they also mention in the story that he could just be archived and put on the sidelines at any time.
In the game Matt Hazard is brought back to star in his first next-gen title. Or so he thinks. Turns out the new CEO of the company hates Matt Hazard for personal reasons and wants him killed off, preferably by the new action star that he wants to build his games around. Because of Matt’s contract he has to be killed off in a game. When Hazard is able to defeat the new action star Sting Sniperscope right away and makes a mess of these plans, then everything hits the fan. Matt Hazard works his way through the game while the CEO of the company sends assorted enemies and bosses made up from Matt Hazard’s past to stop him.
Like I said, it doesn’t make much sense. Mostly it just seems like an excuse to try and explain why they couldn’t just delete Matt Hazard and also to provide a basic structure for the game. During the story of the game Matt Hazard has to make his way through different levels and rescue some of his past video game allies as well as face previous bosses. It’s during the course of the game that the humor really hits its stride providing some truly funny moments.
I don’t want to spoil too many of the moments for you, but the game makes fun of everything from long elevator rides to tips given during cut scenes and lame one liners from action heroes. It feels like nearly everything is part of some larger joke in the game, even the fact that Matt Hazard went from side scroller, to FPS, to some lame games, and his next-gen debut is a 3rd person shooter that relies heavily on a cover system. There are some moments of humor where the game really shines. Then there are times when the humor gets completely in the way.
One running joke in the game is the constant gripe about different missing features or poor AI. This would be more amusing except the fact that those issues that are being made fun of for not being in the game are also issues that make the game less enjoyable to play.
There is at least one major positive for the game, even at times when the humor isn’t at its best, the voice work in the game is still great. Will Arnett voices Matt Hazard and does a surprisingly good job of voicing what is supposed to be a gritty over the top action hero. Neil Patrick Harris does the voice of Wallace Westly, the evil CEO of the video game company, and does a good job even with some silly dialog. In fact everyone from QA to the random voices of the different enemies are all well done, and the same can be said for the music. During action sequences a rock beat starts up and when you beat the enemies in the area it does a riff that lets you know the areas clears. When enemies from different periods of Matt’s games enter they generally enter with a specific music piece that represents whatever genre they’re from.
Graphically Eat Lead is definitely a current generation game, but there are also moments where you can tell that corners were cut. The fire graphics in the game aren’t very good, and some of the movies using the in game engine could be better. There is a moment when Matt is worried about zombies breaking through a glass door as they’re pounding on it, and even though these zombies trying to smash it the glass doesn’t shake or crack. These aren’t big things to complain about; just the small stuff I noticed while playing the game. On the flip side there are some great little animation details, such as the different between loading a super soaker and an AK-47. Matt Hazard’s facial expressions are probably the highlight of the graphics and while the enemy design is repetitive (intentionally I’m assuming) the handfuls of different enemy models are well detailed.
As mentioned earlier, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is a third person action game that makes use of the cover mechanic that was made popular in Gears of War. Honestly, there’s not much to say about the gameplay other than that since most of the game is taking cover and then shooting from behind it at other enemies who have taken cover. In each level you’ll guide Matt Hazard from room to room and as the developers “Ëœhack’ enemies into the game, enemies and cover points will spawn. From that point it’s just making good use of the cover and then killing all of the enemies so that the next area will open up, at which point the same thing happens again.
There are a few things that keep this from getting too repetitive and similar to other games. The foremost thing is the fact that there are THREE different buttons for moving from cover. At first I couldn’t understand why this was added to the design, but it does work well enough. Because of this Eat Lead can at least make the claim that it’s one of the few games with a cover mechanic where you don’t have to worry about sticking to a wall when you didn’t want to or moving from cover unintentionally.
To move Matt Hazard to cover is as simple as moving him up against a wall or object and pressing the A button. In cover you can slide around the edges of cover by moving the joystick and the A button. To move away you just move the joystick backwards. To move to a different piece of cover quickly you can target another object’s surface and press the Y button. The slide horizontally from cover to cover is as simple as leaning in that direction with the joystick and then pressing B. While I thought this would be overly complicated, as I’m not a fan of taking something that only uses one button in another game and turning it into several button presses, this works. Of all the issues I had with Eat Lead, moving from cover to cover was not one of them.
The other controls are as follows: left trigger for aiming, right trigger for firing the weapon, left bumper for running, right bumper for reloading, and X for melee combat. In addition to the usual cover to cover shooting mechanics there are two different power ups that can be found in levels, one that makes Matt’s melee attacks into one hit kills, and another that makes him unkillable for a period of time. There are also weapon upgrades that get unlocked and recharged from killing enemies. One makes it so bullets also freeze the enemy, and the other sets them on fire. The fire one is mostly useless. It does cause more damage, but so does the ice one along with keeping the enemy from attacking.
The other piece of gameplay that makes Eat Lead unique is the different enemies. The enemies are pulled in from different Matt Hazard games, so at any one time you might be juggling zombies, Russians, 2D Nazis, enemies armed with squirt guns from his super soaker game, space marines, cowboys, etc. Each different enemy has different ways of handling them. The 2D Nazis can’t be harmed by melee attacks (since melee attacks didn’t exist in video games back then) and don’t need cover, they just turn sideways to make themselves less of a target. The Soak “ËœEm enemies are much more vulnerable to the water guns in the game. The space marines are hurt more by futuristic weapons. The robot babes get stunned and can be finished off quicker by a melee attack. Zombies can only be killed by being shot in the head.
Since Matt Hazard can only carry two weapons at a time, managing all of the enemies, running between cover spots, and grabbing weapons that enemies drop can be more difficult than it might originally seem. This is what keeps Eat Lead interesting; it was sort of refreshing to play a corridor shooter that wasn’t trying to be something cinematic or grand, it just provided areas where waves of different enemies attack and you have to quickly figure out how to make your way through them. Sometimes I just want to play a fun video game and Eat Lead is very aware that it’s a video game and of the experience it is trying to provide.
Between corridors of enemies are the boss battles in the game. Many of these provide some of the best humor in the game, especially the encounter with a JRPG stereotype. Many of the boss battles at the beginning of the game are standard Quick Time Events, and I was disappointed that that particular game mechanic wasn’t further mocked in the game.
While I was able to focus on what the game does well there are a lot of things that just don’t work. The game does stuff like point out boring tutorials and repetitive environments, but the game has a boring tutorial and repetitive environments. Sure it’s funny for a second when Matt Hazard groans about another warehouse level, except for the fact that as the player you have to actually play through another warehouse level. There’s one level where you make your way through a house, and once you’ve made it the game asks you to go back to where you were!
Not to mention some other irksome moments in the game, such as a boss with the ability to one hit kill the character with tentacles that are hard to avoid. Or powered up rifle shots that can kill Matt Hazard in one hit if you mistakenly pop out of cover at the wrong moment forcing you to repeat an area. Or walking into a room and taking cover then an enemy spawns right behind you.
The writers shouldn’t have kept pointing out missing features in the game. Giving achievement points for stuff that is missing in the game is cheap and just serves to remind the player how repetitive the game is and that there’s not much to do after the game is finished. I struggle to figure out what audience this game is meant for. A lot of the jokes revolve around older games or at a lot of different games. If you haven’t played Mass Effect would the elevator joke make sense? I enjoyed the shots at all the different games parodied in Eat Lead, but I’m not sure if a large audience would get many of the jokes.
Also, for the fact that the game references the previous Matt Hazard games, one of the ways that this game could’ve really helped the player connect to the fake history of the character and also kept the game fresh would’ve been to add a mock level of those games in-between the levels of Matt Hazard. Then again I hear that one of the “Ëœold’ Matt Hazard games are going to be released onto Xbox Live Arcade later this year, so I guess people will have a chance to at least relive some of Matt Hazard’s classic moments.
Still, after beating Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard I enjoyed it. The game had some funny moments and the action was fun even if it was repetitive. The game only lasted about 6-7 hours, however, so if you are looking to play the game, I’d recommend renting Eat Lead. The game is cheaper than most new 360 games, but you should be able to see everything the game has to offer within those 6-7 hours.
Story: Very Good
Control/Gameplay: Above Average
Balance: Above Average
Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
I truly believe Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is an above average game, but just barely and mostly because I liked the humor in the game. That said not everyone will get the jokes in the game, and even if other people do get the jokes they might not find them funny. I recommend at least renting Eat Lead if you are interested in the game since it’s a perfect weekend rental.