Inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s return to grindhouse-style filmmaking, Sega returns to the world of lightgun mutant-blasting with the fantastic House of the Dead: Overkill for the Nintendo Wii. No prior knowledge of the franchise is required, as the game harkens to a simpler time and place, with automatic cameras and the only objective to point and destroy as much as you can before its game over. Its hardly rocket science, but seldom has the genre been done this well and with such a loving reverence for absurdity. This is the most fun I’ve ever had with the series and probably the best lightgun game ever made – its a blast!
The main story is absolutely ridiculous, grotesque, and is guaranteed to offend just about anyone brave enough to blast their way through it. Thank goodness for that, because it’s also one of the funniest rides I’ve taken in quite some time, and 100% free from any and all pretentiousness. A prequel to earlier games, Overkill introduces Agent G and Detective Isaac Washington as they’re on the hunt for the diabolical Papa Caesar and to pinpoint the source behind scores of the undead coming back to life. With winking nods to other games in the series (love those elevators), its best just to go with the flow and concentrate on the killing.
Sega promised the “hardcore you’ve been waiting for”, and they’ve certainly delivered. I’ve come to accept that hardcore as shorthand for “excessive violence and language”, and if the hundreds of brain-splattered mutants and multitude of f-bombs don’t grab your attention, nothing will. The game is stuffed to the gills with more blood, violence, and foul language than I’ve ever seen in a game, which should tickle Wii owners in all the right ways. But it’s all played for fun and so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take seriously.
Lightgun games are often maligned for their lack of gameplay, and while that may be true for lesser product, Overkill triumphs – especially with a good Zapper-ish case for the standard Wiimote. While the story mode can easily be conquered with the standard pistol, more potent firepower can be purchased with cash earned from splattered zombies (sorry, mutants) and helps give the game considerable replay value. Shotguns, assault rifles, and of course the Hand Cannon can be yours, provided you’ve got the skills and money to unlock/buy them up. Individual weapons can be ungraded and enhanced as well, so if you’ve got a particularly favorite boomstick you simply can’t part with, it may be time to trick that baby out and go to town.
Oh, the game also supports terrific cooperative play, which means you and a buddy can team up for twice the hilarity and hardcore violence. Or maybe you’d prefer to go it alone, handling both guns with a double-blast injection of vengeance and John Woo-style theatrics that only the best lightgun games can offer. For maximum carnage try unlocking the Director’s Cut, which increases the difficulty and limits your continues. Throw in some stock mini-game action and you’ve got a complete package that keeps giving long after the main quest is finished. Also worth mentioning is the ingenious use of slow-motion, which when triggered allows you to pinpoint your attack for some serious damage infliction. Even the audio slows down, and you haven’t heard a barrage of f-bombs until you’ve heard them crawling.
The game looks and moves great, with highly detailed backdrops that really help bring everything together. While the enemies themselves aren’t the most detailed models around, there’s such a wide variety and inventiveness on display that all is forgiven. Seriously, when’s the last time you had the chance to blast a few back-flipping circus clowns and genetically-enhanced quadriplegic baddies? One romp through a digital Sega arcade backdrop had me grinning like a fool, which is really all I ask for in games like these. There’s still the occasional hiccup, such as moments of slowdown or slight pauses sprinkled throughout, but none of these affect the overall experience.
The soundtrack is outstanding, and certainly the most ambitious I’ve ever heard in this style of game. Keeping up with the sleazy motif are full-length songs that help bookend each chapter and plenty of catchy instrumentals that play throughout. Also great is the voice-acting, especially the filthy and horribly typecast Detective Washington, whose flood of profanity and mannerisms gives the Gears of “Cole Train” War a run for black stereotypes. Be offended if you must, but keep in mind the context of the game itself and how overplayed everything is beforehand.
The Wii is a great platform for arcade-style lightgun games, and House of the Dead: Overkill is a great lightgun game. It’s also incredibly funny, perverse, and wickedly inventive in pushing the boundaries of good taste and decency. Developer Headstrong Games should be applauded for reinventing the series as black comedy, which after years of strange chapters is really where it belonged all along. Longtime fans are going to love this, and it’s easy to imagine a few new ones hopping on board, too. Definitely not one for the squeamish, Overkill is a definite winner.