Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
I’ve always felt there was a difference between being humorous and having a sense of humor. It is actually a slight distinction because to be funny you need to be talented enough to craft a good joke. Having a sense of humor though is different, because you’re willing to take a joke from any angle, and appreciate what it is, even if it fell flat.
Well you might be wondering why the hell I’m talking about this at the start of a review. Well, the game were dealing with has a sense of humor about itself while being mildly humorous. Eat Lead, The Return of Matt Hazard is a gamers game, a game that is the SNL for electronic entertainment. But the last laugh will unfortunately be for anyone who purchases the $50.00 disk, thanks to a lazy game design as a whole.
The premise is so ridiculous it almost makes sense. You star as Matt Hazard, a video game character and action star who, thanks to going into the kid market, lost his star and is now out of work, until a young CEO of Matt’s parent company hires him to be the star of his next-gen shooter. However, a plot twist to kill Hazard in the first level goes horribly wrong, giving Matt the chance to finish the game, and fight an endless parade of zombies, cowboys, space marines and paper cutouts.
The game works only in one way, and that is the way of parody. Each item in the game, each character you interact with, is a staple or a parody of the video game world. The opening credits alone have references to Bioshock, MarioKart, Sam and Max, and Duke Nukem. Other parodies include Super Mario Bros., James Bond Games, Contra, and Wolfenstein, to name a few. There is even a boss battle against a Cloud-look alike, where the character used turn based combat against you, as you pelt him with a shotgun!
And these parodies are helped by some witty writing. The games sole saving grace, besides the ridiculous premise, is the writing staff. If you are a gamer, you will get most of the jokes that come up throughout the game, be it the funny quips from Hazard or his enemies, to the little nuances and cameo appearances you see from other characters. Hell, I never thought I’d see Mario look like Arthur the Samurai from Soul Calibur (which might have been done purposely.) and talk about how he hates working in a barrel making factory.
But, despite the well written aspects of the jokes and the great presentation of them, most of the jokes will, no doubt, go over the heads of most casual gamers. Even some seasoned vets will probably miss the punchline at first. The writing is not perfect, but the moments that do put a smile on your face are well worth it in the end.
Sadly, that’s about all that’s worth it in the end. The games design as a third person shooter is really archaic, which makes me wonder if that was done purposely as well. Hazard is an old character, and moves incredibly slow in the game, even when running. He can also carry a combination of two guns at a time, which in itself is not too bad, although most of the guns in the game are really inaccurate, even if you stop to aim it. Thankfully the enemy A.I is made of cardboard, so you don’t have to worry about being killed too much.
Another aspect that’s not fully utilized is the cover system, which borrows from Gears of War heavily. Pressing one button to cover yourself and another to fire your gun either blindly or accurately is a workable system, but feels sticky and tacked on in Eat Lead. The cover system also has the same problem as Gears of War, meaning if you press one button while leaning out of cover, you move into the line of fire, which could mean death if you have ten or so enemies actually shooting you at one time. Other things like quick time events and the boss battles are really a pain to deal with, and are honestly not even challenging.
Graphically the game is bland as well. The character designs are pretty good, but the level designs are boring and uninspired. Again though, this may be a throwback to linear corridor shooters like Doom and Wolfenstein. The games lack of texture is also strikingly apparent, making me question whether or not this actually is a next gen game at all.
Thankfully, the voice acting is really good. Will Arnet stars as Hazard, and his gritty, almost monotone voice suits the character well, especially with his 80’s one-liners constantly (and never annoyingly) popping up. Neil Patrick Harris, who plays the games primary villain, is absolutely perfect as a megalomaniac who is hell bent on destroying a virtual character. And suffice to say, the bonus scene in the end out a smile on my face as well. The games music and sound effects are itself parodies of various games, themes, and clichés you would find in any action title, and like the dialogue, it will probably bring a smirk on your face.
Eat Lead, The Return of Matt Hazard is so bad its good game, plain and simple. This is the type of game that will likely be a cult classic in ten or so years, one that’s design is really not that good in terms of gameplay, but its style helps in keeping it from being a shovelware title. Easily a rental game, Eat Lead is the type of game you need to play once, a type of game that has a sense of humor in what it does and is pretty funny at the same time.