"It's Hazard Time"
Release Date: February 26, 2009
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
ESRB Rating: Teen
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Every now and then comes along a game that does not have any outstanding qualities such as incredible graphics, amazing soundtrack or excellent multiplayer gameplay. A game that is devoid of any real features beyond the regular game, one that is plagued by loose controls and that is completely un-original in every respect, but is a blast to play and should be experience by everyone all the same. Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is such a game.
In Eat Lead, gamers take on the role of Matt Hazard, a former video game legend. At the peak of his career, Matt Hazard starred in many popular video games establishing himself as a viable franchise. His publisher, Marathon Games signed him to a lifetime contract. Marathon Games eager to exploit Matt Hazard's name release a series of cheap-spin offs such as "Hazard-Kart Racing" that destroyed his name. Marathon Games then merged with Megasoft Games to create Marathon Megasoft which was now under the control of Wallace Wellesley. Wellesley announced a new Matt Hazard game for the next-gen consoles. Eat Lead was supposed to be Matt's comeback role, but the game was just a trap set by Wallace to destroy Matt Hazard. It appears that Wallace hated Matt as his games where the only games he could not complete. Unknown to Wallace, Matt has an inside friend called Q.A. that is covertly lending him a hand when possible.
The game is a shooter, but from the start it was easy to tell that Eat Lead was not typical of Xbox 360 shooters. First of all, the game actually has a story. The story is not something new and refreshing, but the execution is. The game is a parody of video gaming in general and the clichés that all gamers have come to know and love. Eat Lead never takes itself too seriously. The game makes as much fun of itself as it does of other games. This light humour is breath of fresh air in a landscape covered in a smog of despair. In Eat Lead, Matt is not trying to save the princess/village/world/universe from invading aliens/zombies/mercenaries/robots in a world gone mad/insane/crazy. Nope Matt is simply trying not to get deleted.
Eat Lead plays from a third person perspective with the gamer looking over Matt's shoulder. Gamers who played Gears of War or Lost Planet will be quite familiar with this gameplay style. Also similar to Gears of War, the game places great emphasis on a cover system. As Matt approaches one of the many objects in the game world, pressing "A" will allow him to use the item as cover. Once in cover, he can peak out to target enemies, shoot blindly or move to other cover objects. The cover system does work quite well, but takes practice so ensure that Matt does not attempt to use cover when he is swarmed by enemies, a mistake that will result in a quick death (and Matt making a quirky comment about being thankful for save-points).
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The game was a low budget title and the developer knew this (many in-game jokes allude to this fact). The graphics are on par with Xbox 360 launch titles only and the level design is pretty standard, nothing to extravagant for better or worse, just functional. Since Wallace is controlling the game, he can change environments on the fly and digitize in new enemies as he chooses, so the level will change quite often. The controls on another hand is where developers could have spent a bit more time polishing up. It's not that the controls are horrible, is just that they feel a bit loose for my enjoyment. Going back to the cover system example, the loose controls can become very problematic when the action gets hectic, something that happens quite often as the Wallace has the ability to digitize enemies anywhere.
Eat Lead is a shooter and every good shooter features two things, weapons and enemies. Eat Lead has plenty of both. In his quest to destroy Matt, Wallace has access to all his previous games and he has pulled enemies from these previous games and placed them into Eat Lead. This mix has lead to a huge variety of enemies and weapons. Matt will start the game with his Hazard pistol, which is sufficient for taking out the mafia hitmen present in this default game, but as new enemies from previous games appear, new weapons will be required. Complicating things is that Matt can only carry two weapons at once, figuring out what weapons to carry for a particular part of a level is essential to completing the game.
Eat Lead is also a little flat on game options. There is just the single player campaign to be had with no multiplayer of any sort to be seen, but there is still a multiplayer achievement to be unlocked (gotta love the humour of this game). The game defaults to Minor Hard difficulty, which will later on laugh at you for playing on easy level but the game is not easy. Even on Minor Hazard, the game can be quite challenging at times especially during boss battles. I could go on about the boss battles, but I will just say that they are more annoying than awesome and something the game could have done without.
One high point of the game has to be the quality voice acting. Canadian actor Will Arnett (of "Hot Rod", "Semi-Pro" and "Blades of Glory" fame) does a superb job as the voice Matt Hazard and always entertaining Neil Patrick Harris is equality impressive as Wallace Wellesley. Many times, the duo had be laughing so hard I had to pause the game because I could not aim any longer. The humour in this game is very subjective and some may not find it funny at all. If you are not a life long gamer, that has played just about all types of games over the last 25 years, you may miss out on all the subtle in-jokes, and there are plenty to be found at every corner. I honestly lost count of the number of jokes targeting games such as Mario Bros, Halo, Gears of War, Final Fantasy, with the best jokes kept for Duke Nukem of which this game obviously takes inspiration from. For example, on the final level, there is a cardboard cut-out for a game titled "Nukem" with a release date of 2004 crossed out with 2000ish in it's place. When walking by this display, Matt stated "That game is taking forever". The jokes are not limited to just games as many movies are also targeted. The game features Russian terrorist from Matt's previous game, "You'll Only Die Once" and at one point Matt will proclaim "Yippie key yay...nope I can't say that". The game even features a famous yellow submarine.
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While Eat Lead was released in the Xbox 360 and PS3, there are plenty of jokes tied to achievements. For example you will get 15 points to just start up the game and another 5 to press pause once the game started. Another achievement that will satisfy junkies everywhere is the 60 points earned to simple watch the full credits which can be done anytime from the main menu. Eat Lead will also reward gamers with free achievements for stuff that was removed from the game, such as the ability to interrogate enemies and multiplayer action. At times it's not the achievement itself that is funny but the accompanied text. Killing 20 zombies by headshots (the only way to kill 'em by the way) will reward gamers with the Death Hazard achievement with the accompanied text "Don't these things usually hang out in shopping malls?". Matt is also aware of achievements and once an action has been performed that will unlock an achievement, Matt will say "That's worth an achievement". I wonder is there is something similar for the PS3 trophy system.
What Matt Hazard lacks in graphics, options and controls it makes up in plain fun. The game is ripe with parodies of other games, and gaming clichés. Matt is self aware of most everything going on in the game and will point out that "gamers have nothing better to do" when stuck in a extra long elevator ride (poking fun at my beloved Mass Effect) or when text appears on the screen indicating the goals of the current level. Humour itself cannot make a bad game good, but Eat Lead is not a bad game. It's actually a quite competent shooter, just one that appears to have been developed for the original Xbox and not the 360. The game plays like an old spaghetti western that is both awful, but still satisfying at the same time.
Yes Eat Lead is one of those games that does not have any outstanding qualities such as incredible graphics, amazing soundtrack or excellent multiplayer gameplay. A game that is devoid of any real features beyond the regular game, one that is plagued by loose controls and that is completely un-original in every respect, but Eat Lead is deserving of the attention it has received as the game is a blast to play. Before you become mesmerized by my magical words and run out and purchase Eat Lead, be warned that the game is short and the lack of any multiplayer mode reduces this game to a rental or wait for the bargain bin option.