Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Headstrong Games
Release Date: February 10, 2009
The Wii may not have a proper light gun, but it certainly seems to be the platform of choice for developers looking to preserve the old school shooter-on-rails gaming style. Sega's House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return double pack did well on the Wii, leaving gamers clamoring for more. Instead of creating a sequel, though, Sega's gone back to the beginning with House of the Dead: Overkill, exploring the origins of the series in a very distinct way.
Inspired by the buddy cop shows of the '70s, Overkill pairs two agents as they investigate mysterious happenings in the area. Agent G and Detective Isaac Washington are quick on the trigger, have no problems with smart-ass commentary and are able to cuss up a storm. Yes kids, this isn't a game for virgin ears. Though we only got to play two different levels of the game, it's safe to say that Overkill earns its M rating in more ways than one.
We started in "Papa's Palace of Pain," which was a fairly standard zombie-infested house level, before skipping ahead to "Fetid Waters," which took our crew out into swamplands that were still crawling with the undead. All of the House of the Dead staples are here, with bonus items, headshots and, of course, saving the innocents (or not, if you're one of those players who can't aim with any sort of precision).
Before starting a level, you can choose from a selection of weapons, equipping two on your character. Each weapon has a distinct effect, so it's advisable to play around and experiment a bit. Matching the precision of a handgun with the stopping power of a shotgun seemed to be an effective combination. Weapons can be switched on the fly, and switching is faster than reloading. It's a nice feature to have when you're in a tight spot and need a few more shots right now.
One of the neater modifiers that we saw was a slow-motion pick-up. Shooting this nifty green item slowed down time, making it a lot easier to pick off the attacking zombie hordes with precision shots to the head. It's also worth noting that although the game is on rails, you have the ability to look around, which is helpful because some of the better bonuses are either just out of sight or only flash into view briefly. The only way to get them all is to turn your head and take a look in their general direction.
In between levels, you can hit the shop to upgrade your weapons. Weapon upgrades appear to be permanent, so the more you play, the better your chances of surviving until the end. Gamers who make it through the entire game will unlock a Director's Cut, which gives you a different path through the game, revealing different goodies that weren't seen the first time through.
Perhaps the most promising item on the unlockable front is the dual wield mode. Yes, it's possible to dual wield two Wiimotes John Woo style and just go to town busting up zombies left and right. With two players, that's a total of four Wiimotes and a hell of a lot of on-screen carnage. Nice.
The story behind Overkill is fairly straightforward, with our two heroes chasing after the evil Papa Caesar, who has taken advantage of the poor genius Jasper and forced him to help with Papa Caesar's nasty plans. After Jasper turns into a putrid monster (and fights you at the end of the first level), his stylishly sexy sister, Varla Guns, starts her own quest for revenge against Papa Caesar. You don't get to play as Varla, but preteen boys will surely appreciate Varla's, ahem, "guns."
If the two boss fights that we saw are any indication, the designers have kept with the classic multi-stage pattern combat. Each boss has multiple styles of attack, but each attack moved in sequence in a fairly predictable way. Learn the pattern, and taking them down is fairly direct.
When it comes to updating a classic, developers have to walk a fine line between creativity and preserving the features that fans have come to expect. With House of the Dead: Overkill, Sega appears to have done a great job of walking that tightrope. The core gameplay hasn't changed, but it's surrounded by a wrapping that feels fresh and creative. Check back for our full review when the game ships.
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