|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Vicious Cycle||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: D3 Publisher||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 26, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
When I first heard of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard in Adam Brown's excellent preview my curiosity was piqued. The idea of riffing on all the eras and clichés of gaming by creating a fictional character seemed like a fresh and potentially hilarious idea. That initial interest then turned into full-blown excitement when I learned that Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris were going to be lending their vocal stylings to the title. Surely, the developers were going to get it right right?
Disappointingly, my hopes for the game were not fulfilled. Much of the humor and kitsch appeal ends up getting lost in the preponderance of mediocre gameplay. The very mechanics that the devs were poking fun at end up biting back and bringing the title down. Of course, such a result was inevitable, though a few gaming grognards will appreciate the fact that Vicious Cycle went ahead and made the game anyway. Doubtless, old-school and well-schooled gamers will find some laughs and even a modicum of enjoyment out of this title - in truth, I came away from the title surprisingly satisfied. However, if the game were strictly judged on its merits, it simply doesn't make the grade.
Getting called back in from retirement by the new CEO of a fictional software development firm, Matt Hazard - a once great, now washed-up hero of gaming - suits up to make a comeback. Little does he know, he's just a pawn being used by the new management to introduce new faces into the gaming world. Fortunately for Haz-Mat, he is narrowly saved at the last second by a beautiful avatar of a hacker known simply as QA. Matt then proceeds to fight his way through level after random, formulaic level, gaining new powers and combating the skeletons (and zombies) from his past. In this light, players will constantly be confronted by ridiculous yet humorous tidbits. At one point, you'll even fight with water pistols from one of Matt's diluted franchise spin-offs: Soak 'Em (a clear jab at the S.O.C.O.M. series).
Eat Lead truly is a hodgepodge of gaming. Players will take on Colt-toting cowboys, have a Bond-esque showdown with a Russian twist, go up against an Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabe, wade their way through a zombie horde, join forces with a WoW-like fantasy wizard, do their best to best a character named Master Chef, and even take on the king of platforming - Captain Carpenter. All these themes and characters come together surprisingly well and provide for a lot of amusing interactions. This is perhaps the only reason to pick up this title and play it to its conclusion.
To its utter detriment, however, gameplay mechanics in Eat Lead are painfully trite and poorly contrived. It's not that the game is unplayable; it's just that you've done it all before in much more polished ways. For starters, the cover system - playing off Gears of War - is about as well developed as it was in Quantum of Solace, i.e. not very good at all. Players are able to snap to cover, blind fire, shoot overtop or around cover, hop to adjacent cover, diagonally rush out of one spot to the next, and even sidle from one side of cover to another to more efficiently protect themselves from the ever-moving enemies. While all the elements are here to make for a solid cover system, their implementation is simply not what you'd find in a AAA title. As such, constantly using cover feels like a cumbersome chore rather than an effective tactic. To make matters worse, one level actually has you constantly under threat from enemy sniper fire, forcing players to hop from cover to cover via the wonky controls for an extended period of time.
Secondly, while the third-person shooter mechanic works, it definitely feels antiquated. Hit detection is awful and aim assistance is nearly non-existent. Also, shooting multiple bullets into the chests and abdomens of your enemies is useless, as it takes about four or five shots to bring them down. That means headshots are the only way to go. I wouldn't mind this if the controls were tighter, but as it is, this just ends up slowing down the gameplay. Consequently, you'll be relegated to finding a patch of cover, waiting for the stupid enemy A.I. to stop, and then plugging them in the dome.