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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Xbox 360
D3 Publisher
Vicious Cycle
GENRE: Action
March 03, 2009

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard

 Written by Kyle Williams  on June 10, 2009

Review: Matt Hazard's so tough, he doesn't even chew bubblegum.

I'm a little bit tired of saving princesses, stopping intergalactic invasions, and shutting down terrorist operations. Sometimes, I want something that is a little bit out of the norm. Something that challenges convention and makes me think about video games in a different way. Maybe that is why Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard works for me.

What immediately sold me on Eat Lead wasn't the action gameplay (it is generic) or the hero, Matt Hazard (he's pretty generic, too). Instead, it was the concept that, like Hollywood stars, video game characters are just sitting around waiting for the next opportunity to present itself, for the next break to come. In this world, Matt Hazard has starred in scores of games from Marathon Software. From good to bad, inspired to insipid, his career has spanned decades and has recently been sitting idle after some poor casting choices. With this new game, Matt is making his comeback and runs into many characters from his past; friend and foe, wizard and zombie. Eat Lead does a great job of taking this concept, breaking down the mythical fourth wall, and creating a genuinely funny action game.

I'm not just talking about the occasional one-liner or fart joke, rather a well thought out and intentional process that transcends the medium and comes closer to an interactive Evil Dead movie. In fact, if not for Will Arnett's spot-on voice over work for the title character I would have been disappointed that the producers didn't cast Bruce Campbell.

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard feels like one constant in-joke that is geared towards those of us that saw the birth of 3D action gaming (Wolfenstein 3D) and have stuck with games ever since. Everything from the ludicrous story to the bizarre combination of enemies and weapons pays homage to (and blatantly mocks) stereotypical gaming conventions. The Eat Lead rogue's gallery is made up of characters from Matt Hazard's and Marathon Software's past, capturing many staples of the gaming industry. From zombies to Russians, space marines to two-dimensional Nazis, the enemies run the breadth of thought. It is a bizarre theory that, in action, comes together reasonably well.

Unfortunately, Eat Lead doesn't ever play as well as it is presented. While not specifically deficient in any capacity, it just feels to be missing that special something. Impact. Urgency. Substance. Call it what you will, it is missing from the formula. At times bordering on clunky and awkward, the controls never rise to the occasion and feel like the generic action title that Eat Lead is openly making fun of. Maybe that is part of the joke. If it is, I didn't really get it.

Don't get me wrong, a few levels into Eat Lead and I couldn't put the controller down. I continually wanted to see what was coming next. And the payoff, oh the sweet payoff, came a couple of levels before the game ended with a fantastic cut scene before you do battle with an RPG inspired boss. I don't want to lay any spoilers out there for those of you that will play this, but anyone that has ever been irritated by an ellipsis during a text-driven RPG will be laughing their ass off. It is in this type of clever, at times bordering on brilliant, parody that makes Eat Lead really shine.

Bottom Line
If you can look past the remarkably average gameplay, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is an enjoyable action parody. Simultaneously mocking itself and games in general, it manages to elevate the experience beyond the sum of its parts. Eat Lead has its flaws, and the game won't be for everybody, but hidden inside this gem is a Bruce Campbell movie in disguise. However, as much as I enjoyed the experience I can't help but feeling that there was a lot of potential wasted on this title.

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