Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. Developer: Vicious Cycle, Publisher: D3 Publisher
When not playing an action game for review, the ‘rule of three’ is applied. I force myself to watch a game’s first three cinematics. If just one of the cut-scenes excites, or gives vital plot information, I will watch every successive in-game movie. However, if none of first three scenes captivates me, the skip button will be pressed for each subsequent cinematic. Call me jaded, but an estimated forty percent of all shooters fail this ‘rule of three’.
Recent Xbox 360 and Playstation release, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard hooked me during its opening movie. The game’s narrative follows the career trajectory of an 80’s action game star, from his early beginnings in a Contra-styled shooter, and early FPS hero, to his ensuing decent in a cart racer. The concept of an aging, fictitious game star is both original and fertile matter for game design. Since so many games rely on a set of tropes and conventions- from the requisite mine cart levels to the lava and snow worlds, Eat Lead has an abundance of material to form its farce around. Parodies of NES-era boxart, chip tunes, and pixilated graphics had me suitably mesmerized. Sadly, it’s Matt Hazard’s actual gameplay that disappoints; it’s somewhat dated and uninspired, making me ask throughout, “Is this part of the joke, too?”
Clearly the paramount element of Eat Lead’s gameplay is its functional and well-implemented cover mechanic. When close to an environmental object, a press of the ‘A’ button sends Hazard into a defensive position. From there, players can pop up, fire blindly, and scuttle to the next secured position. Occasionally, player will find themselves behind a destructible object, required Hazard to keep moving. Each Levels are typically linear, and while the theme changes, the gameplay largely remains static.
Sadly, enemy artificial intelligence offers more of a nuisance than a real threat. Foes either take pot-shots from a covered position or rush the player, if close. We wish CPU had evolved as much as Matt Hazard; unfortunately, it seems stubbornly stuck in the last console generation. In apparent homage to the golden age of power-ups, our protagonist can obtain fire and ice abilities, yet puzzlingly cannot use grenades.
Like the gameplay, Matt Hazard offers a competent graphical palette that rarely astounds. Luckily, the framerate is solid and each level brings a new video game parody, from space marines, cowboys, Nazis and zombies. Occasional flourishes like smoke leaving the barrel of Hazard’s just-fired pistol elevate the proceedings. Will Arnet and Neil Patrick Harris sound like they enjoyed recording the game’s comical voice-acting, which features a constant barrage of game and pop-culture references. While not all of the material is hilarious, it is at least consistently amusing.
Ultimately, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is an amusing game with a competent, yet uninspired engine. The title’s humorous narrative and solid voice-acting sucked me in, yet the pedestrian and repetitive gameplay had me longing for some substance. Matt Hazard’s greatest offense is succumbing to the same pratfalls and conventions the game’s skews. Play it for the guffaws, not for the gunplay.