Sega’s House of the Dead franchise was in need of a reboot years ago. After the launch of House of the Dead 3 in the arcades, the series was dead to me. Never-changing gameplay, pathetic attempts at “stories” and on-rails shooting that a 5-year-old could master doomed one of my favorite light gun franchises. Notice, I didn’t even mention the awful, SMG-filled House of the Dead 4.
It appears as if Sega understood what needed to be done to their flagship arcade shooter to once again make it relevant. It can be a tough decision to reboot any franchise. Long-time fans can be easily alienated and if the new title doesn’t make the mark, the franchise could be relegated to Tomb Raider status. The publisher took a second risk when they signed on a green western developer by the name of Headstrong Games to re-invent House of the Dead. The company’s first act was to create the first HotD title to be designed specifically for a home console, House of the Dead: Overkill. This was far from their last change.
As soon as you start Overkill, for better or worse, you know the title is going to be a drastically different experience. The game presents the audience with grainy, dust laden presentation mocked up to be straight from 70s horror cinema. Players are then treated to gorgeous women — in little clothing — posing and prancing around… with a Wii controller. Headstrong doesn’t just let it go though. They keep the decision to mock the horror genre, the film industry, and even the video game you are playing, throughout the entire “Feature Presentation.” Tongue in cheek, for sure.
Art direction is all well and good, so long as it is complemented by solid gameplay. Thankfully, that is one thing that was not tampered with. House of the Dead: Overkill remains an on-rails shooter with the standard objective of killing whatever bad guy has pissed you off. But this isn’t your standard zombie shooter. In fact, the hordes of human-esque body parts that you blow off do not belong to zombies hungry for brains, but mutants. Yes, Agent G and his partner Isaac Washington are hot on the trail of Papa Caesar and his army of mutants.
Gamers are forced to begin the title in the standard Story Mode, although they are teased with the locked Director’s Cut from the get-go. In this mode, players earn points for chaining consecutive hits, discovering power-ups and hidden items, and dispatching the various mutants in a timely manner. At each stage’s completion — presented as movie segments — the score is tallied up and converted into a dollar amount. The dollars can either be horded or used to purchase weapons upgrades or entirely new weapons.
Headstrong delivers more of a typical story structure in Overkill, complete with faces and attitudes — oh man are there attitudes — behind the guns. Players will come across a collection of sentient beings, including the sexy Varla Guns, the aforementioned antagonist Papa Ceasar, Varla’s kid brother, and the ugly Warden from the nearby prison. While the story mode is short, it is not without its laughs, twists, and downright disgusting parts.
As much of a guilty pleasure as Overkill is, it is not without its faults. The title is plagued with a jumpy frame rate that can be experienced in any and all levels. A slight annoyance, until it breaks your Gorgasm and ruins your streak. The story mode, and worthy Director’s Cut, don’t add up to an entirely long experience. Aside from some minigames, additional art, and movies you can unlock, there is little reason to return to HoTD: Overkill once both story modes have been completed. The title matches your average game, offering about 10 hours of gameplay.
Faults aside, Overkill is, bar none, the best light-gun game currently available for the Nintendo Wii. It has toilet humor, incredibly cheesy dialogue, one-liners, sexual innuendo, gore, and a story point that you won’t soon forget… no matter how much you may want to. House of the Dead fans may balk at the changes, but they can’t deny that this is a worthy light gun title.