For evidence that video games are undermining the foundation of contemporary society, lawmakers need to look no further than The House of the Dead: Overkill - Extended Cut. If it weren't for Headstrong Games' pitch-perfect sense of hyperbolic humor, Overkill would be almost unplayable for most gamers with a conscience. The game is filled with every visual indiscretion of the filthiest NC-17 exploitation cinema, save for actual sex acts. The dialogue isn't profanity-laced; it's profanity-saturated — immersed in a vast lexicon of dirty words and every possible combination thereof. When a studio can take this much cultural trash and make it not only hilarious but also a great deal of fun to play, it's certainly on to something.
Sometimes, developers focused on creating art trainers and movie tie-in titles for the Nintendo DS must cut loose. And cut loose Headstrong does. For all I know, funding Overkill's development was a cheaper option than all those inpatient psychiatry bills for studio staff. Whatever the reason, the PS3 catalog is far better off for this HD remake of a Wii cult classic.
Originally, The House of the Dead was a 1997 light-gun arcade machine from Sega. In the console era of Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation, arcade graphics took a hit dumbing down to home machines, and implementing light-gun mechanics was dependent upon gamers buying single-function peripherals supported by few titles. When the Wii was released, it created new light-gun opportunities, and adult owners of the console became an obvious market for games like Overkill. At the introduction of PS Move, the PS3 also gained support for light-gun play. Overkill - Extended Cut on Sony's flagship console, with HD video and far better graphics performance, is the standout home version of The House of the Dead franchise — returning to, even improving upon, the original arcade glory.
In Overkill's story mode, players, either alone or with a local co-op partner, guide Agent G and Detective Isaac Washington in simple on-rails shooter missions against deadly mutants, each level culminating in vaguely differentiated boss battles. Along the way, you can shoot power-ups for grenades, health replenishment and a brief slow-motion mode. Also littered among the various power-ups are perks like comic book pages, 3-D models and access to audio tracks in the game's jukebox mode. While the comic pages and 3-D art are of questionable interest, many of the music tracks are both funny and good. Keep an eye out for the framed gold records in levels and shoot them when you can. After you've completed levels, they can be replayed for high scores and unlocking treats you had missed.
The story, such as it is, focuses on the stars' attempts to defeat bad guys Papa Caesar and Clement Darling, both having wreaked havoc on backwater Bayou City with their nefarious scientific experiments. It's same old, same old, but blasting away at mutants with upgradeable weapons is great fun, and the boss battles, though uniformly uninspired and adherent to basic boss-battle design, aren't frustratingly difficult. If anything, these levels are too easy, though overall, boss battles should be swiftly soluble rather than mind-numbingly hard. Starlets Varla Guns and Candi Stryper take center stage in a few missions, although gameplay is the same no matter who you're playing.
You can play through the whole story mode in a couple of hours. Arcade-style continues are unlimited, although they cost half of your accumulated score at the time you died. Finishing the initial story mode unlocks Director's Cut, which is the story mode all over again, though with longer levels, limited continues and more damage-resistant mutants. The PS3 version of Overkill adds Hardcore mode, in which mutants can be held off with covering fire, but only headshots will kill them. Now that is hardcore.
PS Move control is smoothly integrated, and although the game supports the Sharp Shooter gun peripheral, it's superfluous in Overkill, since all modes are on rails and only the Move wand is necessary to play. The game requires you calibrate every time you start a session, and I experienced no problems with aiming. The manual reload is mapped to the Move button, so it's a little awkward when you're trying to reload and aim at the same time. Some of the power-ups and unlockables can be difficult to shoot, and the allotted time to hit them is usually very limited. They don't vanish into thin air, but the game's rails quickly move you along to a point where they're no longer visible on the screen. It gives you all the more reason to replay levels, which are enough fun that intentionally complicating unlockables doesn't feel like the artificial gameplay extension it is.
Officially, Overkill is PS Move compatible, not PS Move only. You can use a DualShock or Sixaxis controller and aim with the analog sticks. Don't do this, not even for co-op. You've been wanting a second Move wand, so here's your excuse. (Overkill supports Sixaxis controllers like any PS3 dual-stick controller, but the game does not support Sixaxis motion control.)
Overkill can be played in stereoscopic 3-D, supporting those pricey 3-D HDTVs. Headstrong has also built in anaglyphic stereoscopic 3-D features, requiring only a pair of the familiar red-and-blue-lensed paper glasses. The anaglyphic 3-D effect isn't as sharp or dramatic as the more technically robust stereoscopic effect of 3-D HDTVs, but it looks surprisingly good, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper to enjoy.
This title is no slouch in solo sessions. In single-player mode, various weapons and upgrades earned playing through the levels can even be dual-wielded, if you like. By far the best way to play is co-op mode. Overkill is a send-up of low-budget, shock-horror films, and just like those movies, it's also more fun with a friend sitting beside you. The on-rails mechanic with automated movement means there's no split-screen hassle, either. Online features via PSN are limited to mere leaderboards, not networked co-op. There are high technical hurdles implementing networked co-op with Move controllers, but even if it weren't an issue, there's little point to an online mode in Overkill.
The House of the Dead: Overkill - Extended Cut mocks women, the disabled and racial minorities. It's astoundingly gory, gruesome and profane. The controversial content is deftly handled with slick humor, but if they enjoyed this game, sophisticates may question their presumed elite status. That's OK. They can keep it in the same drawer where they hide their John Cusack and Drew Barrymore DVDs.
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