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The House of the Dead, Overkill: A Review

Updated on July 4, 2013

Stepping into the House of the Dead

I'm not naïve to the House of the Dead series, nor am I unfamiliar with what it contains, who it's aimed at and more importantly, what you're aiming at. All I know is that it may have seemed like fun and games; you walk in laughing, but you come out with a hundred mile stare reeking of blood and your head rattles with the screams of the damned. It was the ultimate action horror game, topping the tension and body count of horrific classics like Resident Evil and Time Crisis at the time. One of the reasons why I put off playing these games though is because during early childhood, when I went to Wales with the rest of my mum's side of the family, I used to go to the arcades and play games like this. I even remember the original TC machines.... but House of the Dead was one that haunted me with its pitch black skies, its rainy grounds, the gritty 128-bit zombies and of course that rickety ol' mansion in the background.... the House of the Dead. So you can understand me being unnerved and not wanting to play this game. However it was £4.99 in GAME, and it wouldn't matter if it was Barbie's Little Pony Squarepants or whatever it is the kids watch these days, because it was a bargain.

The aptly named Headstone Games developed this game whilst Sega published it, releasing it originally for the Nintendo Wii in mid-February 2013, but the version I'm reviewing came two years later. The Director's Cut version came to be in late October 2011, but what does it add? Sod all. Apart from being a port from the Nintendo Wii and a new mode (which I'm not certain what it does yet, because it requires you to complete the original story mode), it adds literally nothing. Good job I only picked it up for a fiver, because if I'm perfectly honest, it's not worth much more than 10.

So rather than get teared up before my eyes get chewed out, it's time to jump headshots first into the rather comical House of the Dead: Overkill!

"Anything from household appliances to bottles of Jack Daniels will be lobbed at your head, and you'll have to shift your focus from a flesh-eating drone to a barrel thrown at you by Donkey Kong."

The Skinny 'n' Bare Bones

House of the Dead: Overkill, like all of the games in the franchise, is a first person rail shooter where players take control of the pale and featureless Agent 'G', and partner up with the F-carpet-bombing Detective Isaac Washington. Later on you get to play as the stripper Varla Guns, who chases after Papa Caesar, the one who's responsible for the zombie outbreak. In a way this feels very much like the never-released Kill Bill zombie game, and I can see it ending very much like Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (where all characters are related and come to a conclusion). The whole objective of each level is fairly simple: to blast through hordes of the undead (both kinds in modern fiction; bioengineered and supernatural) without taking too many hits yourself. Each kill racks up a certain amount of points, and obviously special kills will grant you more points. So blasting zombies in the head is all fine and dandy, but making their noggins explode? Get yourself some points, matey!

You'll start the game with very little and most of the time you'll be using the pistol over the other weapons in the game such as shotguns, miniguns and assault rifles, simply because it has unlimited ammo and decent stopping power. The best thing about this though is that weapons can be upgraded, allowing you to increase their damage, clip size, rate of fire and decrease recoil as well as reload times. Each of these upgrades cost money, and this is found by shooting piles of cash in the environment (you need a good eye for this though), and totting up all your points at the end. My personal recommendation would be to upgrade the reload times, because you've got no melee and you will often find yourself being attacked whilst reloading.

The zombies you'll face aren't varied and mostly consist of wide and thin undead, yet they do have a great variety of costumes so I can't say the enemies you face are limited. However you will come jaw to knee with crawling zombies and even ones that throw objects such as knives and bottles at you. Many attacks can be disrupted, particularly projectile based ones, but it's once in a blue moon that when you shoot an attacker's arm they recoil.

The co-op experience is both bonding as well as competitive.
The co-op experience is both bonding as well as competitive.

For those who don't know how these kinds of games work, I'd better explain. The term 'rail shooter' is like when something is on rails, not allowing you to go anywhere but where the tracks take you. In a rail shooter you have no control over your character except for the aiming and reloading of your weapons, and only at key points will your character move. In some games you can choose an alternate path, like when a railroad switches the tracks to go from one direction to another, but in this game it isn't the case. So this isn't like your - I dare say - 'traditional shooter' where you have full control over your avatar's legs; in order to move in this game, you have to clear the screen.

Many games like Time Crisis allow you to dodge incoming projectiles or take cover but with House of the Dead you have to think differently and shoot objects that head towards you. Anything from household appliances to bottles of Jack Daniels will be lobbed at your head, and you'll have to shift your focus from a flesh-eating drone to a barrel thrown at you by Donkey Kong. This is a common occurrence in boss battles, and seeing as you can't move unless the game wills it, it's kind of the only mechanic they can use. Mobility is something that makes a game exciting, and if Painkiller: Hell and Damnation's AI was fixed it'd probably make boss battles all the better. Heck, even MMORPGs like World of Warcraft should have learnt this by now - don't they see that's the reason why Shadow Priests can be so dull?

Speaking of boss battles, every level has one at the end and they're not as simple as shooting the boss in the head, though that is the general consensus. You first have to reveal their weakpoint, and if it's a duo you need to face, one will likely be the attacker and the other the puppeteer, so it's the former you want. But if it's a duo, that also means one will be using projectiles whilst another is trying to attack you in close quarters, as shown in the second boss battle of the game. These fights are tough, that's no lie, but they're not impossible to do and keep full health. You need to know that projectiles can be shot down, and know how to reserve ammo before reloading. The first boss battle sets the tone for what the rest will be like with multiple phases and boss tactics, which increase in number as the villain gets weaker.

"My favourite thing about this game's graphics is that it doesn't try to be horrific, but instead parodies the Grindhouse genre."

The last thing to cover in the gameplay would be the collectables, and much like money these are such a pain in the backside to get. Finding them isn't the issue a lot of the time because they're fairly visible and are where you'd expect them to be, but it's obtaining them that's the problem. These collectables come in many forms such as busts (severed heads on a stand), records for more tracks of the OST and comic books (for more story). To get them you have to see them and shoot them before the screen changes, but this is easier said than done. By the time you see them, zombies have already stood in front of said collectables and you can't penetrate them so you hit both targets in a single shot. Even when these collectables are in sight and the zombies are few, the screen might change because you don't always have to clear a screen in order to move on, so it's also down to trial and error. These items don't glow like money and health kits either, and thanks to mostly dark environments you're going to have trouble finding them (especially if you play in ghastly 3D), the hardest being the comic books. Oh, and expect to lose health when aiming for these things, because by the time you do hit them, you're probably an inch away from death.

Death in this game isn't something to fear because if you've been good and racking up points, you'll have enough to continue the game. Each death causes you to lose a certain amount of points upon resuscitation, and if you're in a boss battle the boss doesn't recover all that much health (and on many occasions, none at all). So this could be tweaked a little for higher difficulties.

What kind of witchery is this? THINE EYES! THINE EYES!
What kind of witchery is this? THINE EYES! THINE EYES!

Eyes 'n' Ears

The game's visuals are really good and while they're not stunning, I'd say they make the zombies look convincing. House of the Dead has never been about realism, so it's easy to say that the undead don't look like Romero zombies and what have you. The environments too are great, especially as you're moving along, adding to the arcade experience. In fact, it captures the mood of an arcade horror game far more than Time Crisis 4, and if I had the Move gun, it'd probably feel far greater. You can also play the game in 3D but it's with those ancient red & blue paper shades, and it doesn't work all that well. I know it's intended as a joke, and the zombies do indeed look as though the could come out of your screen, it's awfully distracting. The 3D mode can be played on standard, HD or 3D TVs with few problems. My favourite thing about this game's graphics is that it doesn't try to be horrific, but instead parodies the Grindhouse genre, and reminds me greatly about how Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez treated the film reels of Machete and Death Ride (by throwing them into a lorry unprotected as they went from location to location, just to get the grainy and spoilt look). You'll see a lot of film grain, especially in the cutscenes which tries to look like a gritty 70s movie, and the soundtrack also aids it. The hours I've wasted just listening to that same song on the PS3 dashboard are uncountable, because the OST is that good.

Indeed, this game has a rather funky soundtrack as well as a bit of attempted rap here and there that I'm not too fond of. The voice acting, particularly Candy Stryper's is annoying, but it's what I expect from a game that's humour is similar to that of Lollipop Chainsaw. So to conclude, it's good all round.

Remove the head, or destroy the brain

Finishing up here, I have to say that House of the Dead: Overkill was a pleasantly surprising experience that has proven the rail shooter sub-genre can continue to be as satisfying as before. While the novelty has been long lost, it also goes to show that it can be entertaining without it, and this could damn well be the best zombie game I've played since Stubbs the Zombie in: Rebel without a Pulse and Left 4 Dead. A great arcade shooter that will allow you to kill time without worries of progression, yet it will be rewarding!

For this House of the Dead: Overkill scores an EIGHT OUT OF NINE, as well as the "Chainsaw Hero" accolade! It was so close to getting the Machete accolade but it wasn't that adrenaline fuelled, nor did it capture the grindhouse mood to its full potential. What could've improved this game was additional levels, more weapons and upgrades, and more customisation options. If this were added, it'd get the fully blown 9 outta 9! It does what it's supposed to for an arcade shooter and goes the extra mile with collectables and upgradable weapons, as well as a story that's easy to follow and remember! So until the next time I thank you for reading, and have a pleasant day!

Terrific arcade gunplay that doesn't stray from the original formula, paving the way for more potential rail shooters of its kind, and increasing the chances of us seeing another HotD game!
There's not that many levels but they are quite long, and because it's on rails it's hard to modify the length of them. A good game that offers so much replayability.
The fluency is top-notch with the analogue controller and doesn't remove any immersion whatsoever. The game doesn't take advantage of the Sixaxis, though it is Move-compatible.
Replay Value
By replaying older levels you can go back to get those collectables, aim for the highest score and earn cash to upgrade your weapons. There's so much replayability to be found here!
Nothing particularly special about the game's graphics, but there's enough gore to go around and the character enemy animations are superb. I wish I could say the same about the cinematic cutscenes though
One of the best and funkiest OSTs I've heard on the PS3, definitely a nice change from all that other rubbish!

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