It seems that Hollywood’s not the only ones who have a hard-on for franchise reboots and remakes. There are the upcoming next-gen Bionic Commando and Splatterhouse entries, the recent Wii remake of Rygar (which had already been remade years prior), hell, even younger franchises like Tomb Raider has had multiple reboots in the attempt to keep it fresh. One of these recent 'spot-on' reboots however is the new…'
House of the Dead: Overkill.
HotD, while certainly loved, never really attained its cult status through any really remarkable feat. It did one thing and did it well: threw wave after wave of enemy zombies into your light-gun crosshairs to go down in a fountain of gore. Sure, there was some half-assed back story about the death-obsessed Dr. Curien and whatnot, but rail shooters are very rarely heavy on the plot.
What makes HotD so special is that developer Headstrong Games don’t mess with the predecessors’ formula one bit. It’s still on rails, with you blasting scores of shambling horrors with your weapon, in this case the Wiimote. While the core experience remains untouched, the presentation took a long-overdue overhaul, eschewing the previous games’ generic, slightly Japanese atmosphere and replacing it with a deliciously trashy grindhouse vibe, and the results are completely amazing.
You take on the role of the mysterious Agent G, who teams up with Detective Isaac Washington to take down the sinister Latino crime boss Papa Caesar, who is experimenting with mutants and monsters (don’t call them the Z-word) with the assistance of the crippled genius Jasper Guns, who has been forced into working with Caesar to guarantee the safety of his sister, (the busty stripper) Varla Guns. Once all of this is established, there’s really little else in the way of development over the next 4 hours or so as the trio of G, Washington, and Varla chase the fugitive Caesar down through mobs of mutants in a quest for justice/revenge.
It’s all presented in such a excessive, tongue-in-cheek fashion that it’s hard not to love it. The presentation simply screams grindhouse, from the “print damage” filter to the deliciously trashy narration. Each level is treated almost like its own film, complete with lobby card and soundtrack. However, the actual humor and dialogue have more in common with Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror than the cinematic trash of the 70’s. But it’s really difficult to complain when it’s so well written, from Washington’s f-bombed rants to Papa Caesar’s Chinese food similes. Agent G’s final monologue about the word “motherf*cker” literally had tears streaming down my face with laughter. I cannot remember a time where a parody/tribute was so well executed.
The soundtrack, especially, reflects the care that went into crafting the game’s vibe. From Isaac Washington’s theme, a brass-heavy ditty punctuated by a soulful “What the funk!” to a horrifically sleazy psychobilly number that exclaims “I ain’t your daddy, I’m just the guy that f*cks your mama!” the soundtrack is quite possibly the best I’ve ever heard in a video game. Seriously, Sega, where the hell is the CD release for this gem?
It almost makes the actual shooter portion feel like an afterthought. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the game at all, because there genuinely isn’t, it’s just that Sega had already perfected the formula for House of the Dead gameplay-wise years ago, and the few additions that Headstrong brought to the table (a time-slowing powerup, between-level gun shopping) are minimal at best. If you don’t like arcade-style light gun games, this is not going to change your opinion in the least. For those of us that do love them, though, House of the Dead: Overkill is easily the best one out there.