Towards the conclusion of Eat Lead: Return of Matt Hazard, the game’s titular character and his techie side kick, QA, share a hearty, kitschy laugh in the spirit of something like the concluding moments of a Super Friends episode. The credits begin to roll over the scene. The laughter stops. This is not because the characters have stopped laughing (okay, literally they have), but, for the player, it is mostly because there is another level left yet to play in this “hilarious” shooter.
Eat Lead tells the story of one Matt Hazard, the former star of all kinds of 8-bit classics from the 80’s including the Wolfenstein inspired FPS, Matt Hazard 3-D, to more questionable products like a cartoony cart racer, Haz-Matt Carts, or a non-violent, water gun based FPS (which as the less than proud former owner of the paint ball game Gotcha! The Sport! for the NES, I can testify is a possibility for a game). Thus, this fictionalized version of a fictional character and his faux history ostensibly intend to provide a means of parodying classic video games.
Now, I am a pretty big advocate of satire in gaming. Bully, Rockstar’s wicked analysis of the perils of middle school existence, was my favorite game of 2006. I also thought that No More Heroes (a game that, like Eat Lead,intends to skewer video game conventions among other things) was one of the best of 2008. The advantage that both of those exercises in satire have over Eat Lead is that they are funny.
If Matt Hazard complains often about the 80’s style witticisms present in his antagonists’ dialogue, why is the more “next gen” sensibility of the humor best expressed in “fresh” lines like a running gag in which QA scolds Matt for referring to her as “babe” (as in “Oh, and don’t call me babe” repeated ad nauseam)? Most of the humor here has this same warmed over flavor. Much as the mock versions of the classic games that are being sent up serve as a means of reminding us of video game cliches, the script is riddled with the reminder of every cliched gag from film and television of the last 30 years. Thus, if listening to a voice actor do a bad impression of William Shatner while repeating the same poorly written dialogue over and over again is very funny to you, then Matt Hazard will likely continually tickle the hell out of your funny bone. My own funny bone remained unmolested throughout. Though, I do believe that the game may have provoked sighs and the occasional groan.
Likewise sigh and groan inducing is the gameplay, which is as familiar as anything else in the game. The “return” of Matt Hazard is intended to represent Matt’s reinvention in the industry from an 8-bit classic hero to a modernized hero fit for next gen consoles. Hazard’s “transformation” seems to have been a largely horizontal move as there is little innovation in this over-the-shoulder third person shooter. Hazard can carry two weapons, use cover, and shoot at stuff. The AI here also feels as brain dead as any shooter from previous console generations.
While the game offers next gen visuals by creating 3-D versions of characters originally conceived of in 2-D (a Mario-inspired character, for instance, as well as an androgynous fighter character in the Final Fantasy vein), nothing looks especially compelling in the game. Environments vary a lot as Matt transports from level to level and genre to genre but none of them look particularly interesting. Everything is more or less competent in the visual department. Only a transformation of the hallways of what resemble something like the environs of Wolfenstein 3-D along with some 2-D sprites that resemble the Nazis of the same game into the 3-D world of Eat Lead were remotely interesting. That the Nazis fail to use cover and, instead, turn sideways (as they are flat two dimensional creatures) to escape fire is clever. But, that’s about all the clever that the game has to offer over its blessedly brief 6-8 hour play time.
If the message of Eat Lead‘s attempt at satire is that classic games are mediocre at best by representing that through the most tepid gameplay and script possible, then it has succeeded beyond expectation. Honestly, though, I suspect even Gotcha! The Sport! might have more engaging moments than this game.