Before I get started, a small caveat—I have not played the Wii version of this game. This might invalidate my opinion to some, but I’m fairly confident that I’m approaching this review with a pretty common perspective within the Wii’s player base—the curious, guilt-ridden procrastinator who perpetually mutters “Oh yeah, that. I’ve been meaning to play that.” With my humble head held low and my perspective in check, I’m ready to dig into one of the most criminally underplayed bloodbaths on the Wii.
Now, the game has been splattered all over the PS3 with Move support, new stages, new characters, new creatures, and a whole lot more “new” wedged into its brain-smeared holster. With all of its fresh content, is House of the Dead: Overkill Extended Cut worth a second purchase to fans of the original game, or is this just another lazy Move port meant to regurgitate the thrills and chills from a sadly ignored Wii classic?
As just about any Sega fan will tell you, the House of the Dead franchise has never offered the most complex of experiences. Even as far as on-rails shooters go, the series formula is exceedingly basic—the camera pulls you to your next area, you shoot the zombies, collect a couple health or power ups, and move on to a simple lumbering boss. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Overkill is no different. I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting it, but I found myself mildly shocked at just how little you actually do in this grindhouse gore-fest. A handful of added perks like the ability to purchase upgradeable guns and pick-ups like slow mo and grenades help to flesh things out a bit, but really the core gameplay has barely changed over the years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—the simple fun of popping a few zombie heads at the local arcade is quickly fading, and no game in recent memory delivers that same basic experience as this one. It may be one-note in its execution, but the entertainment factor still holds up, at least for the bulk of the game.
Besides, the real magic of this game is in its presentation. Built in the style of 70s grindhouse film, there isn’t a moment in Overkill that wouldn’t feel out of place in a cheesy, dirty theater forty years ago. Little touches like the “Intermission” load screens or gritty trailer-style cutscenes at the beginning each stage make this game something that any cheese-fan would adore. The stage concepts are all wildly entertaining and full of creativity. The bosses, while identical in gameplay and occasionally grating in their repetition, still offer some of the funniest designs I’ve seen in some time. Overkill has a relentless sense of humor, and while a bit childish and easy, it’s always energetic and never fails to charm.
One of the most celebrated elements of the original game was the dynamic relationship of protagonists Isaac (MOTHERF*ING) Washington and Agent G. Their dialogue is never particularly well-written (in fact, I often found myself cringing at just how flat some of the jokes ended up falling), but some of the best bits of the game came when the bloody action stopped and these two dimensional characters just sat down and pontificated about philosophical Tarantino-style nonsense. It’s very hard not to like these guys, even if they are about as deep and refreshing as a pee-infested kiddie pool.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about their female counterparts. Varla Guns, a formerly unplayable member of the original game’s cast, is now a full-fledged gun-toting character. With a nice story of vengeance as her inspiration (her brother is the first deformed boss you face), Varla seems like a logical character to add to the playable roster. It’s just a shame that the stereotypes and shallowness that service Washington and G so well simply don’t offer her the same graces. Just about all of Varla’s dialogue feels forced and awkward, lacking the same earnest charm that make the original stars of the show so watchable. Maybe I’d like her a bit more if she wasn’t accompanied by someone as insufferably irritating as her partner, Candy Striper.
The only never-before-seen character added to Overkill Extended Cut, the brainless Candy Striper is Varla’s brother’s stripper girlfriend. Running on the same threadbare side story as Varla, Candy feels like nothing more than a menial placeholder meant to fill the void during Varla’s exclusive new levels. Built solely on tired blonde stereotypes of stupidity and promiscuity, nearly every word that spills out of Candy’s mouth is a flailing stab at humor, almost none of which connects at all. For example, in one particularly awful bit, Candy switches out any angry curses with the word “nothing.” Why, you ask? Oh, because her mother always told her, “If you can’t say anything nice, just say nothing, you.” Buddum-tsh.
Luckily, despite Candy and Varla’s flat execution, Extended Cut’s exclusive new stages don’t share that same lack of character. In fact, when looking back at the entire campaign, both of the new environments stand out amongst the best of the game. Naked Terror has you gunning through a burning strip club, eventually facing a pair of horribly deformed Laurel & Hardy-style team of strippers in the basement. Creeping Flesh puts you in a decrepit meat factory, where you’ll face a cow corpse with a meat cleaver and an udder as its only weak spot. While you do have to listen to Varla and Candy quip some pretty lazily written lines, these stages still manage to be as thoroughly exciting and hilarious as the rest of the game.
If only the rest of the additional content was as consistently enjoyable as these new stages. The crossbow is an admittedly cool addition, serving as a nice BFG-style bonus meant to beef up your combos, but other additions like the new wall-crawling babies are barely present and do nothing to change up the gameplay. The “Shoot the Sh*t” mode is underwhelming and disappointing, adding nothing to the game but bleep-able subtitles. The Hardcore mode is just that—a harder difficulty. The added pick-ups like Sin City-style comic book pages, audio tracks, and character models are somewhat uninteresting, but are a welcome nonetheless, as they provide a little more incentive to return to the game after you’ve finished.
The last bit that may have some considering a purchase is the addition of standard controller support. Even as someone who enjoyed playing some House of the Dead 2 on my Dreamcast without a light gun, I have to admit that I had some real trouble switching out the Move for standard control scheme. The stick is far too sensitive, and as far as I could tell, altering that sensitivity was not an option. I will admit that I didn’t take a whole lot of time adapting to this, and because the gameplay is as simple as it is, it can be very forgiving if you want to take the time to train yourself with a new scheme. That being said, if I didn’t have a Move controller, I’d have a hard time justifying a purchase.
House of the Dead Overkill is a game that any fan of light gun titles of yesteryear needs to play. The classic HOTD gameplay deserves to live on, and this entry in the series does an admirable job of both celebrating the simplicity of the series and progressing its aesthetic to something new, interesting and better than ever. Extended Cut does its damnedest to flesh out these successes even more, but all it does is pepper an already amazing game with hit-or-miss fluff to justify an asking price that’s just ten dollars less than its price on the Wii. The new missions and the crossbow do deserve your attention, as does the improved technology (from what I’ve heard, the Wii title can get quite glitchy), but unless you’ve never tried the game or you’re aching for something to do with your Move, it might just be more worth it to get yourself a cheaper copy of the original.
House of the Dead Overkill: Extended Cut is a great game, pulled down by hit-or-miss extras. If you’ve never played it before and you’ve got a Move, now’s your chance to pick up one of the best on-rails shooters of this generation. If you’ve burned through the original already, there’s simply no reason to put down another forty for a menial handful of additional content.
Final Score: B