House of the Dead Overkill: Extended Cut Review

Chk. Chk.

That’s the sound of  a ballooning ego. That’s the sound of hell’s fury wound to eleven. That’s the sound of the child inside of me crying “yeehaw!”

Alternatively, that’s the sound of the Playstation Move Sharpshooter pump sliding one inch backward and then one inch forward. But oh how magnificent that double click is as you masturbate the shotgun pump like a Z-list movie star in some kitsch grindhouse flick. That’s what House of the Dead is all about. It’s empowering. It’s gratuitous. It’s absolutely pathetic.

Chk. Chk. BOOM!

Oh, all right. Extended Overkill is an on-rails light-gun game that makes fine use of the Playstation Sharpshooter (note: if you’re not playing with the Playstation Sharpshooter, Extended Overcut probably isn’t half as fun). You’re chaperoned automatically through levels. Mutants appear. You shoot them. Sometimes civilians appear. You shoot them too at the expense of 5000 points but, on the flipside, that’s an extra reload. Bonus! Each level has a coda during which an oversized boss-thing appears and you shoot these until they’re jetting blood from every pore and their rent bodies are stumbling about as they ponder just what the hell kind of badass they’ve futilely waged war with. The kind that’s watched a few too many 80s action movies, I’d say.

There’s a decent ensemble of icky-mutant types to blast into a sanguinary firework display across Extended Cut’s 9 levels (2 of which are newfangled and feature voluptuous vixen Varla Guns and counterpart Candy Stryper). You’ll shoot skinny mutants, plump mutants, crawling mutants, baby mutants, girl mutants, fast mutants, boy mutants, jumping mutants, knife-wielding mutants and bird mutants, and they’re each a better bullet piñata than the last. Violence is the only diplomacy in House of the Dead; if it moves it dies.

The less violently-minded may opt out of shooting the unarmed civilians peppered throughout the levels, mind. If the joys of reloading ever wear thin (yeah, right), you’ll discover that Extended Overkill is actually a pretty fine score-attack game. Murdering a chain of five mutants without taking damage or misplacing a shot kick starts a combo multiplier and has the in-game narrator howling gleeful carnalities like “ultra violence!” or “hardcore violence!” or, if you rack up a spree of 25 kills, “GOREGASM!” Giggle. Bolstering that, levels are rammed with shiny trinkets (collect by shooting) worth additional points.

The story mode lasts only a few hours but the first couple of run-throughs are a baptism-by-fire; a gruelling initiation ritual that demands you sacrifice yourself a dozen or so times in order to be able to afford the half-decent weapons and upgrades required to mount a decent foray into leaderboard territory.

But it’s a game designed to be played through over and over. During the early stages, Overkill isn’t about chaining together a single kill-streak from beginning to end or notching leaderboard positions but simply about making it to the end in one piece. Honestly, it’s not that much fun. The greenhorn’s only weapon is a pistol and there’s nothing dramatic about reloading one of those poncy numbers with the pump (although the Sharpshooter – evidently designed for man-children – features a secondary reload button that lets you slap the bottom of what looks like an assault rifle magazine-holder as if you were jamming another clip up its mechanical arse. Obviously it’s pretty cool.)

In its favour, the cast is rammed full of wonderful personalities and they’ll drag you through the less enjoyable spells. Veterans of the inferior Wii-version will be accustomed to Agent-G and Washington, the ragtag pair of cops on the tail of Papa Caesar who’s only gone and released a mutant-virus unto planet Earth. They’re a fantastic duo and the narrative is pure grindhouse, stippled with plot holes and inanities with dialogue that takes kitsch and ratchets it up to eleven. It’s jocular and blissfully self-aware. The characters aren’t fresh but their budding relationship and Washington’s many foul-mouthed harangues give Extended Overkill the kind of spirit and magnetism something like Time Crisis can only fantasise about.

Still, there’s only so many times you can re-watch the cutscenes and once the characters and joys of reloading run dry (eventually), it’s the score attack mode and leaderboards that stave off apathy. There’s plenty of replay value in unlocking weapons and in the many quirky game modes available after the story mode has arrived at its tickling end, too. The best of which is The Director’s Cut, which furnishes the story mode with additional scenes and many of Extended Overkill’s finest moments are found hiding away in it. Others, like Shoot the Sh*t, have you firing at naughty-words in the subtitles during cutscenes; natty little extras that add an additional layer of jollification.

Headstrong have done a good job of HD’ing their old Wii title too. It looks the part, even behind the grainy filter, and while the characters are all freakishly-jagged, this only augments the whole B-movie thing. The soundtrack – original songs, no less – is weird as hell but suits the tone of the game and the Sharpshooter is the toy of the generation. Aiming is pinpoint. Reloading is… yeah you get it, right?

But for all this, Extended Overkill has one irritating feature that has me in an apoplectic controller-hurling paroxysm at least once per level. You’re whisked around as per light-gun game norm with the computer controlling movement and you deciding where the bullets go. This is fine. The camera however, can be an imperious and obnoxious tyke. It’ll loiter courteously until each zone is two-feet deep in viscera and bone marrow before yanking you off to the next area 99 times out of 100, but occasionally choose to play funny-man and jerk you sideways just as you’ve lined up the perfect skull-cracking shot, robbing you of your score and more importantly your multiplier. It’s cheap and exasperating, particularly if you’re on a monumental streak and haven’t remembered every last camera movement.

Still, there’s always another reload.

There’s an argument to be had that beneath the mirthful characters, titillating story and classic shooty-shooty stuff, much of Extended Cut’s appeal is owed to the design of the Sharpshooter. And that’s partly true. But no-one forced Headstrong to include a kick-ass automatic-shotgun that plays so diligently into the hands of the Sharpshooter’s greatest feature. No-one forced Headstrong to even utilise the function. You can’t reload with the shotgun pump in Dead Space Extraction and it’s a full-blown catastrophe.

Extended Overkill, on the other hand, is a full-blown masterclass in puerile wish-fulfilment. My favourite class.

8/10

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