Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (360) – Review

cover Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard presents an interesting concept to build a game around: create a fictional video game hero of the past, now returned to revitalize his games, but only to attempt to kill him quickly.  It sets up a range of possible industry in-jokes on video games and recent trends, and to this extent, the game does deliver.  However, the gameplay and overall presentation itself is somewhat lackluster, and rather short, leading to a game that really is enjoyed as a rental, but certainly not worth the cost of a full-priced game.

Story: B+

Matt Hazard was an action video game icon from the 90s for the company Marathon Software, but they overused him, making any possible Hazard-related game. Shelves for a while, Hazard jumps at the chance to be the star of a new game after Marathon is bought out and changed to Marathon Megasoft and who are looking to restart the franchise.  But Hazard quickly realizes that the intent of the game is to kill him, and replace him with a fresh, new action star.  With the help of an outside coder to give Hazard the advantage, Hazard must work his way to complete the game to survive and get his own game back.

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The concept of the game is actually pretty sound, as it easily sets itself to work in a number of video game parodies and clichés, and there’s a fair number of pretty funny jokes.  The writing is not the greatest, and the story does start a bit slow, but it doesn’t ever get too bogged down in the story once it sets things up enough.  It does help that there’s a couple of good voice actors that help to flesh out the roles.  It also sets the stage for some of Hazard’s parody friends and adversaries: such as Master Chef, a direct parody of Master Chief, and a boss fight against a turn-based opponent right out of a Final Fantasy game.

Gameplay: B-

The game itself is pretty standard, borrowing a lot of concepts from games like Gears of War, in that using cover is the key to success. In fact, most of the cover options are the same as Gears, including rolling between cover, blind fire, and the like.  It does add one nice feature which is to let you, while in cover, to point to a nearby point of cover and then hit a button to run there, instead of having to manually run and replant, though it does have its faults (e.g., you can only really do it on moving to cover further in front of you instead of to the side).  The game also implements “destructible” cover, though in this case, it’s cover items that will derez if hit too much.  Fortunately, there are fixed environmental cover points as well that give better protection.

As you guide Hazard through the levels, you’ll encounter a variety of foes from his various games, and thus the selection of weapons in the game is a bit eccentric, though they still fall in the lines of the usual archetypes in video games, so you’ll have your pistols, semi-automatics, AK-47s, laser pistols, and water guns.  You can only carry two weapons at a time, but there will be plenty of weapon drops from the various enemies you’ll face, as diverse as the weapon types.  Normally, I dislike games where enemies do get “teleported” into the level, but here the concept is perfectly at home as it’s part of the programmers’ attempt to stop Hazard.  Mind you, the amount of field shown by the third-person camera does make it hard to spot when they do teleport in but fairly the game tries to alert you with specific sound effects to this end.  Hazard also can lay down the law with up close melee attacks, and there’s special damage and shield short-term power-ups to be collected.  Shortly into the game, you start to collect the code of dead foes, which build a special meter, which once full you can unleash either cold-based attacks to temporarily freeze enemies or fire-based attacks that continue to burn the foe.  This is a nice idea but I found it only really useful a couple times in the end game.

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Each of the levels features a boss fight, usually fighting through minions before getting to the big guy, but then the final boss is a series of quick-time events, which in context is ok, but is otherwise rather easy.  In fact, most of the game is arguably easy -  it takes a few good shots to even start your health to deplete, and you have the usual regenerating health that staying out sight restores.  The AI is straight forward and not too difficult to overcome, and if you do die, they’ll reuse the same hiding spots and tactics, making it easy to repeat such sections.  If anything, the most difficult fights involve the new “hero” that’s got an incredible sniper ability, and many times requires you to figure out how to run between cover in the short time that it takes him to lock onto you.  More times than not, I either misjudged the distance or didn’t get sufficiently behind cover for the game to consider me safe, and that sniper bullet is a one-shot kill.  Also, certain enemies take certain types of damage better than others: zombies need headshots to take down, while space marines are hard to bring down without the futurist weapons, but generally in the end, a melee attack works against all (well, except your “Castle Wolfenstein” 2D enemies)  At worst, just the shear numbers of enemies will go you down, nothing else.

The game has several issues, not deal-breaking, but enough to be notable and ruin some of the enjoyment. At least at one point in the game, I happened to not trigger a certain cut scene, but the game let me proceed anyway, and when I got to another point in the level, I couldn’t proceed further or return back; I had to restart the level in order to go back and reinitialize the cut scene and allowing me to proceed.  The cover controls are a bit sticky as it’s hard to move off cover into a standard walk unless you pull back seemingly exactly from the cover.

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Value/Replayability: C-

The game is somewhat short, about 10 hours at most to work through, but even less if you’re skilled.  There’s no major secrets to find and no additional multiplayer, only three difficulty levels to work through in the game, so it can be easily cleared in a few days.  If anything, the story’s reasonably good to work through the game again to enjoy.

Graphics: C+

The graphics feel like a last-gen title; blocky architecture, low-detailed textures, and not a significant amount of dynamic lighting, though there is a nice blurring effect for near/far visuals.  It is not that they are bad – they work for this title given that it’s supposed to be the inside of a video game, but they lack a certain element to make them really sparkle.  There are a few nice effects, such as “code” being spilled from dead enemies instead of blood, and screen distortions when something has been changed in the game, and the odd nature allows for several incongruent sections to be maps closed together.

Audio: B-

The music is pretty much so-so, but otherwise the sound effects are useful for the game.  The voice acting at least helps to redeem part of the game, as the principle actors do get into their role.

Overall: B-

Eat Lead at least carries a humorous plot and an interesting concept to make it a game that you’ll probably want to play, but its weak production values and limited value means you’ll want to enjoy this as a rental and not much else.  It is a shame as the game could have been more, though it’s hard to necessarily call it a poor effort, just one that really could have used more spit and polish to make the game play as well as the humor the story tries to convey.

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