The House of the Dead is one of the longest running on-rails shooting series in gaming, and with good reason. The games have always been jam-packed with horrific zombies, gigantic bosses, thrilling action sequences, and cool environments. When tasked with creating an all new HotD game exclusively for the Wii, Headstrong Games decided to follow a different path than their predecessors. Taking inspiration from the 2007 horror film double-feature Grindhouse, The House of the Dead: Overkill is an over the top, explosive shoot-em-up with buckets of gore and enough f-bombs to make Samuel L. Jackson blush. But can an on-rails shooter survive in 2009?
Overkill is a prequel to the events in the original House of the Dead that follows the exploits of two badass cops: the enigmatic ?G? and his new partner, Detective Isaac Washington. The duo's adventure begins (surprisingly enough) in a house, where they meet the sassy, half-naked vixen known as Varla Guns. Their six level journey leads them through a body-mulching laboratory, a hospital overloaded with undead nurses, and even a circus packed with killer clowns and blood-hungry football players. The game's story centers around Washington's quest for revenge, but none of that really matters. What does matter is that their guns are big, the zombies are plentiful, and the ammo is unlimited.
The gameplay of House of the Dead: Overkill maintains the typical on-rails shooting action that you would expect from this type of game. You are guided through each of the levels and tasked solely with shooting everything that moves. The environments are fairly standard but occasionally throw something inventive at you. For example, the circus has your characters inexplicably hopping onto a ?Haunted House' ride, which means that you are playing an on-rails shooter while your avatars are riding an on-rails attraction. Mind-blowing.
The enemies that you must blast with your Wii Remote range from typical zombies to fat zombies to nurse zombies to skank zombies, though the occasional super mutant or exploding slime creature will head your way. The bosses are cleverly designed, as everything from a Cthulhu-esque tentacle monster to a ghoulish, screeching demon reminiscent of the girl from The Ring will try and stop ?G? and Washington from completing their mission.
As usual for games in this genre, you can tackle the story by yourself or with a buddy in single-screen co-op, with the latter being the preferable method of play. Nothing really changes when playing in co-op, but the added fun of saving your comrade's life when an axe is hurled at his side of the screen adds a bit to the experience. There are also several unlockable minigames for up to four players, and each is a relatively fun way to pass some time with friends.
In an attempt to bring a little depth to a normally shallow genre, the developers have implemented a few ways to vary up the action. Your shooting accuracy and several other factors help reward you with in-game cash at the end of the level, leading you to visit a gun shop that lets you purchase and upgrade weapons. The game also has a points combo system, as landing multiple shots on zombies without missing leads you to ?Goregasm? mode, which multiplies your cash bonus. In addition, each level contains several power-ups that you can activate, such as slow-motion and deployable grenades.
The graphics of Overkill fit well within the Grindhouse theme, with film scratches superimposed over the game's visuals, dirty environments straight out of a 70's horror flick, and wild enemy designs conceived with a twisted perspective. Gore fans will be happy to hear that the Wii's limitations don't prevent creatures from blowing apart nicely. Zombies tend to erupt into a satisfying explosion of gore after several well placed hits, and this rarely gets old. The character models look a bit janky at times, especially the non-infected humans. Their expressions are wooden and their lip-syncing is terrible, but this is only a problem during cutscenes. A far more significant issue is the frame-rate, which consistently chugs throughout the entire game. While this doesn't effect gameplay that often, it does take a lot away from the title's graphical sheen.
The sound of House of the Dead: Overkill is mostly made up of gunshots and variations of the f-word, which is uttered every few seconds by Detective Washington. The voice acting is better handled than in previous titles and can occasionally be funny, but the dialogue itself isn't cleverly written, relying more often on f-bombs than witty dialogue. The music is made up of catchy rock tunes and several oddball songs that contain lyrics about the characters or references to older Dead games, and all of these fit well within the aesthetic of the title. The sound effects are mostly gunshots, and each weapon has a distinctive sound as its bullet rings through a zombie's skull.
Blowing through all six of the game's areas won't take you more than a few hours, but the game offers a few worthwhile bonuses to keep you playing. Foremost of these is the Director's Cut mode, which offers longer and more difficult versions of each level. The additions made to each section are solid and the appearance of some new enemies will keep you working your trigger finger. If you manage to beat the game in Director's Cut, you can unlock Dual Wield mode, which allows a lone gunman to wipe out the zombie horde with both hands full of artillery.