Name: House of the Dead: Overkill
Genre: On-Rails Shooter
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Since its original release in 1996, the House of the Dead series has made its mark on the gaming industry with a number of arcade cabinets, a few console ports, and a hilariously bad film adaptation. Hell, there was even a typing game called Typing of the Dead, where zombies were killed only as quickly as the player’s words per minute. The arcade version’s difficulty and over-the-top blood and gore propelled the game above the Area 51s of the era, and filled a severely underserved zombie-killing niche. The newest entry, House of the Dead: Overkill, is the first in the main series created specifically for the Wii, and serves as both a prequel to the original’s story and a rebirth of the franchise, taking it in a different path and readying it for the inevitable death of the arcades.
Overkill is a fantastic, fitting subtitle for the game, and it truly lives up to its name. This iteration of House of the Dead draws inspiration from the grindhouse horror films of the 1970’s, and, more recently, Grindhouse by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. In creating a b-movie game, most of the blemishes of the Wii’s graphical capabilities are masterfully hidden under camera flickers and intentional film grain, giving Overkill a unique look. Sound effects and voice acting are both top notch in their parody, and the game’s cut scenes are hilariously campy, never missing an opportunity for satire.
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The satire continues through the game’s story, which couldn’t be any more clichéd in its narrative. An outbreak of some kind has turned humans into bloodthirsty mutants, a man named Papa Caesar seems to be behind it, and it’s up to a rookie special agent and a loud-mouthed police officer to save the world. The story mode will pull you through various locations, such as carnivals and hospitals, which usually just give excuses to fight different looking zombies.
Witty dialogue and humorous cut-scenes are interspersed throughout the levels, giving an excuse to continue playing aside from blowing apart mutants. It’s not Shakespearian, but it never once pretends to be, and Headstrong Games should be proud of the absurd script penned for Overkill. Before long, Detective Washington’s foul mouth and Agent G’s overacting might become overplayed, but they serve their purpose of furthering the grindhouse feel and never become annoying by any means.
At its core, Overkill is a typical on-rails shooter with little to shake up the mix. Players fight through levels, blowing apart zombies (or mutants) and controlling only their guns. By sticking so closely to the genre’s conventions, it misses a golden opportunity to create a mockery of the genre as well. While the presentation is obviously changed around and the developers created the game for consoles without the quarter-happy difficulty of old, it’s still an on-rails shooter, and isn’t far removed from its roots.
The areas where it departs from the other games are fantastic, though, and gives a glimpse into what could have been. Instead of weapons only being picked up for a limited amount of time as the levels progress, shotguns and assault rifles can be purchased in-between levels. Also added is my personal favorite aspect of action gaming – slow motion. Little green triggers can be hit to slow the pace to a crawl, allowing for headshots to earn more points. There are other options which spice up the mix just a bit, but it’s generally exactly what could be expected from an on-rails shooter. Hopefully in the future Sega feels comfortable enough to allow for more innovation in the genre, because although extremely fun, the game holds few surprises. Thankfully, the different multiplayer modes help keep it from being too stale, and the game’s story can be played cooperatively, just as it would be in the arcades.
House of the Dead: Overkill is a fantastic reboot of the franchise, and has saved the series from its rapidly approaching irrelevancy. The Wii-remote, by itself or attached to any of the peripherals available, serves as an entirely adequate light gun replacement, and the game controls as well as you’d hope it would. What was born in the arcades has moved to the home, and while the frights were replaced with winks, it still managed to retain all of the entertainment of the original. House of the Dead: Overkill is a must own for Wii owners looking to push a little more use out of their system.