Have you ever wondered how a dumb buddy cop B-movie would translate to a video game? Very well, as it turns out.
House of the Dead: Overkill is the first game in the long-running arcade series to be built from the ground up for a home console. Developed by Headstrong Games (formerly Kuju London), Overkill is a prequel to the other House of the Dead games that takes place in the Louisiana bayou. Agent G, a member of the secret government agency AMS, is sent there for his inaugural assignment to investigate some strange disappearances. When he arrives, he meets up with Detective Isaac Washington, who is seeking revenge for the death of his father by the villainous crime lord, Papa Caesar.
Detective Washington and the rest of the humorous voice cast have a strong propensity for cursing. To put it nicely, this game is not for the easily offended. While it is often times laugh-out-loud funny and has one of the most ridiculous endings I've ever seen in a video game, there is little to no tact in House of the Dead: Overkill. Everything from disabled person ridicule to incestuous relationships is tackled in this Grindhouse-inspired affair. The presentation is spectacular, with farcical level names (Papa's Palace of Pain, Ballistic Trauma) and awesome '70s-style funk music.
The controls are straightforward and work wonderfully. Using the pointer of the Wii Remote to aim and the B button to fire is very natural. Reloading is made extremely easy by a visceral shake of the Wii Remote. Occasionally, shaking the Wii Remote to reload can be bothersome; you can always just press the A button instead. Players change weapons with the 1 button and throw grenades with the minus button. To make the game compatible with Nintendo's Wii Zapper there is an option that uses the Nunchuk, which reassigns weapon-changing to the Z button and grenade-throwing to the C button.
The way Overkill plays out is relatively simple: you follow a cinematic, pre-determined path while mowing down zombies (or mutants, as Agent G prefers them to be called). You can use the pointer to move the camera slightly, but besides that, you follow a fixed course. Along the way you can pick up various power-ups, such as health packs for healing, grenades, collectable brains, and green molecules that enact Slow Mo-Fo Time, which slows down all of the action except the crosshair.
The core of the gameplay focuses on combos and hi-scores. The more enemies you kill in a row without missing, the higher your combo goes up and the more points you earn per kill. Every five kills, you go up a level. You reach Extreme Violence after five kills, and after 25 more kills in a row you reach the penultimate Goregasm, which is represented by a giant American flag in the upper-left-hand corner of the screen.
By getting hi-scores and achieving other goals, such as getting a certain number of headshots or killing several enemies gangster-style (the Wii Remote on its side), you earn money for new guns and gun upgrades. There are several guns, but only a handful are very effective. Sub-machine guns are nearly useless, as their quick rate of fire make it nigh impossible to keep up a good combo. Shotguns are overpowered because they have a large blast radius and can deal a lot of damage. Also, there are quite a few of unlockables, such as concept art, musical tracks, and 3D models, that are made available after you complete various objectives, like complete a level, collect brains, or kill a specific number of enemies.
There is a decent amount of variety in the enemies and they progressively get harder and more plentiful as the game wears on. The boss battles are fun, bombastic, pattern-based encounters, though they skew toward the easy side. One of the few sour spots is the Wii Remote waggling necessary to shake off certain enemies when you let them get too close; it really disrupts the flow of the game.
The game also stumbles when it's too dark, laggy, or both. At least once in each level there is a spot with very poor lighting, which makes it difficult to spot enemies. This might not happen with every TV, but I tried it on a couple and had to dramatically up the contrast (thereby washing out the picture) on all of them. Also, when the action is too frantic, Overkill's frame rate slows to a crawl. It never lasts too long, but it can easily screw up a combo.
Despite the darkness, Overkill's graphics look relatively nice where you're in the heat of a level. The zombies look delightfully gross as they lose limbs and explode. During the comedic cut-scenes the character models look a little rough, and anyone with long hair looks unnatural.
In addition to the drop-in-drop-out cooperative main mode, there is a director's cut and three different four-player mini-games. The director's cut, unlocked after completing the story mode, is a harder version of the story mode with added gameplay segments. The only bad part about it is that you must re-earn all the weapons and upgrades that you already got in the first mode. The three mini-games—Stayin' Alive (fight off an unrelenting horde), Victim Support (help civilians escape), and Money Shot II (a target test)—are all competitive events where the highest scores wins. There isn't too much depth to these, but they're all fun.
Overall, House of the Dead: Overkill is an absurd, playful, arcade-like experience. Every facet of the presentation is hysterical, from the music to the over-the-top plot. Despite some visual quirks, Overkill is a blast from start to finish and holds up well to repeat playthroughs.