Review: Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (PS3)
Genre: Action Shooter
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Release Date: 02/26/09
Have videogames been around long enough for other developers to start lampooning them? Have characters like Mario and Cloud Strife established themselves in our collective consciousness enough that a game can be made which relies on referencing them to an audience who may not have even played the games which brought them to popularity? The people at Vicious Cycle are apparently determined to find out. Let us join them shall we?
Eat Lead is a story about videogame characters living life as though they were real and not simply data on a hard drive somewhere. Imagine a world where Lara Croft is as big in her world as Angelina Jolie is in ours. Where characters aren’t just coded into new games, they are signed to contracts and act in them. That is the world of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard.
Matt Hazard is a videogame action star who had seen better times. Hazard fictitiously shot to the top of videogame stardom, signed a lifetime development deal and then made poor choices, wasted his money and found himself out of the limelight. A new CEO takes over Marathon software, which developed his games. Matt is once again asked to star in a game. Only it is soon discovered thanks to a “hacker”Â that Hazard is not supposed to survive the first level of this new game. It goes on, but what else can I tell you without destroying your sanity? It’s already too late for me. It must be, as after a while I actually started to enjoy the story.
Anyway, this hacker tells Matt that the CEO is doing to other old time game stars of the Marathon brand what he tried to do to Hazard, and so it’s up to Hazard to save the day by beating the game he was supposed to die in. Along the way you’ll run into a wizard who is voiced by a Bill Shatner sound alike (You know how comedians riff on him? Like that.), a clearly communist Mario spoof, Master Chef (yes I said Chef) and other random enemies who are inspired by characters and games from gaming history. At times the story reminded me of Reboot, the CG cartoon about the secret lives of videogame characters. Unfortunately Hazard is not nearly as endearing as Bob. What he is really is a spoof on Duke Nukem. Cheesy one liners after kills, enormous pistols overcompensating for things, ridiculous armor and misogyny, it’s all there, and the game does an excellent job of spoofing the 3D Realms star.
There was a point early in the playing of this game where I was longing for the simplicity of the Metal Gear Solid story. The game seemed to be trying to do more than it needed, and that in turn was annoying me. Happily after plowing through the first few levels things leveled out and started to make some sense.
Story Rating: Decent
I’m not sure if this was a result of developing the game for the PS3’s infernal programming, but the graphics in Eat Lead seem unfinished. There are points in the game that vary from looking really impressive to things which make me think the game probably should have been released on the PS2. The character model for Hazard himself looks really good, and so too the Hacker and Hazard’s various other buddies. But when you take any kind of look at the various levels it’s clear they weren’t designed to take full advantage of the PS3’s hardware. Textures are bare bones, and things like glass will sound like they’ve been shot but won’t look it at all. Some of the levels look like they weren’t coded to use various filters, making them look as though the game was still in a pre-build state.
Some levels on the other hand are ingenious. One in particular has you revisiting Castle Wolfenstein, touring its neon blue hallways while you yourself remain a fully 3D character. Another level (actually a boss fight) has you fighting a character from an RPG. The character is enormous. Statue of Liberty big. Why is he so large? Because in the old 2D RPGs, characters were usually very large in comparison to their surroundings so you could see them and differentiate them, and the developers clearly decided that this point needed to be made.
Throughout the game I encountered some noticeable slowdown at times. I don’t think they were doing it intentionally, but it reminded me of the very 8-bit and 16-bit games the developers were paying homage to.
Graphics Rating: Mediocre
Let me get it out of the way right off the bat. NPH has finally made his way to videogames. Actually let me double check that. Oh, I see he was in Saints Row 2. Well anyway, he’s in this one too. That’s Neil Patrick Harris to you heathens. He gives voice to the villain of the story, Marathon’s new CEO. Also in the game is Will Arnett, of Arrested Development fame. He lends his vocal talents to Hazard, and I pity them both, because they had to deliver some truly cringe worthy dialogue. I mean really cheesy. It’s intentional though. The developers know it’s bad. It’s the characters who don’t. So I can get behind that.
Aside from the cheesy dialogue, the most noticeable thing about the game is how good the music is. I don’t know, maybe they just happened to find the right amount of nostalgia for me, mixing Duke Nukem style guitar riffs with choirs and 8-bit themes. Either way, it wasn’t the music that had me groaning.
I feel that I have to shine a light on the brilliant secondary voice work done by the developers. You run into a variety of enemies in the game, goons if you will. These range from cowboys to Russian and Nazi soldiers to scantily clad fembots to zombies and space marines. Each of these enemies provides some amusing interaction for you. Yes you shoot, they die, but that’s not what I’m getting at. The zombies are the most intelligent zombies I’ve ever seen in a game, they actually feel pain. Shoot them in the head and they moan in pain. The Nazis yell at you. The space marines laugh at you when you die. I know this isn’t exactly new, but it’s done in a way I found endearing. There are also moments when you can hear various goons talking amongst themselves while standing on guard duty waiting on you to show up. It’s very funny.
Sound Rating: Great
Hazard is a third person shooter, so it controls like many other third person shooters. You can choose between looking over the left or right shoulder, in fact you can do so at anytime should you feel the need. Like other recent shooters, cover is very important to Hazard, and his health regenerates after taking damage. One new feature I haven’t seen before is the option to find the next piece of cover and simply pressing a button to run and use it. Sadly the developers decided to toot their own horn while instructing you on this new idea and it just sounds cheesy.
Eat Lead lives up to its name. During the game you will encounter enemies who toss grenades at you, but the only way for you to reply in kind is if you have a grenade launcher of your own. No tossing grenades for this action hero.
Another thing I had to point out was the inability for the player to crouch/duck while running. You can crouch while behind cover, but there was no way I could find which would allow me to do so while out of cover.
After you’ve journeyed through a portion of the game you will unlock a freeze ability and a fire ability, which can be activated once you have collected enough enemy code (like I said before, don’t ask.) This then turns whatever gun you are firing into either a freeze ray or a microwave of sorts. Predictably this allows you to either freeze enemies or inflict additional fire damage on your foes. Do not overlook these skills, they can mean the difference between surviving the level and restarting from a checkpoint.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Good
Eat Lead is a single player comedy game, and like many movies which break the fourth wall, the jokes are good once, maybe a second time. After that it’s the gameplay which will either kill it or keep it. While there are trophies to obtain (and Matt makes a remark when one is earned by the way) there is no multiplayer, and while I am the last person in the world to be disappointed by a single player only game, this one could have used some multi.
Actually I would say that playing the game a second time might be a benefit to the story, as it would be easier to figure out what is going on.
Replayability Rating: Poor
The game can be incredibly cheap. That works both ways though. At various times the Hacker will hack the game to give you an advantage of some sort, be it invincibility for a short time or Maximum Hazard, which increases the amount of damage you can deal out for a brief burst of time. On the other side of the coin you have some enemies who are far harder to kill than they should be. The water pistol brigade, for example, can take up to four headshots to put down, while the various Russians and Cowboys can be put down in one shot. I don’t care how good a helmet they are wearing, magnum bullets should do more damage than that. Later enemies like Space Marines do require more firepower, but they are properly armored, and so I didn’t mind as much. You will, during the game, have to avoid enemy fire to advance across a level. Sometimes it’s a sniper, sometimes it’s a flying robot. Whatever the case, it’s usually far more accurate than it should be. But the worst, the worst example of balance in the game is in the later levels, where one hit kills against you are not uncommon, even when hidden behind cover. The Hacker does warn you it’s coming by stating the enemies can do everything you can, but it still feels like a cop-out.
Balance Rating: Above Average
The originality of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is in the story, such as it is. It is the Airplane or Scream of videogames, spoofing past hits. I do not recall another game doing something like this. Sure there have been games in the past which have had little Easter Eggs, or snide comments about something which hardened gamers would understand. Never have they been this blatant.
The other thing worth mentioning here is again, the targeted movement system which allows you to run from cover to cover with the press of a button. I can tell you that much of my frustration with Gears of War and its sequel came from the times when I would be trying to get to cover only to get stuck on something else, causing me to die. That never really happened here.
Originality Rating : Incredible
Once you get your mind around the story the game is entertaining enough. I laughed quite a bit at points. It was those laughs that kept me playing. That only works for so long though.
Addictiveness Rating: Above Average
The game will appeal more to old school gamers who can appreciate the many in jokes (Bill Shatner the Wizard, Mario as communist Captain Carpenter, Ahhnold as Sting Sniper, the 2D Nazis from Wolfenstein). The gameplay certainly isn’t bad, but the game is clearly targeting the nostalgic player.
Appeal Rating: Below Average
The game isn’t just poking fun at the older clichés in the industry; they also go after newer ones. Helpful tips during Loading screens for example, are lampooned by the developers, who provide the various definitions for the word Tip during one loading screen. Elevator scenes which hide load times are also targeted. Touch the joystick the first time you get into one and Matt will chastise you, saying you wouldn’t be playing a videogame if you had something better to be doing. That really got me as I had recently been playing some Mass Effect.
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: BELOW AVERAGE
Final Score: ENJOYABLE
Short Attention Span Summary:
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is not a game of the year candidate. It is a tour of many clichés found in the gaming industry wrapped inside of a standard third person shooter with writing that borders on being too clever. If you remember playing through DOOM or Duke Nukem when they were first released, or if you have fond memories of games like Final Fantasy, give this one a go.