Who is Matt Hazard? This is a question that the majority of the gaming populace is going to inquire when they first get a glimpse at Eat Lead. According to the front of the box this is his return to gaming, and unless you have been keeping tabs on the parody that publisher D3 has been creating with this title things could get confusing. Eat Lead is a videogame that attempts to poke fun at the clichés of gaming while telling the story of a washed-up gaming legend that is finally getting a chance to make a comeback. What follows is a mess of poor game design, selective humor and some genuinely frustrating boss encounters.
As you can imagine you assume the role of Matt Hazard, a washed-up videogame superstar that was once the biggest name in interactive entertainment. Over the years your name becomes tarnished due to licensing it out to crappy spin-offs and of course the obligatory kart racing game. Unfortunately for the company they have signed a lifetime contract with the fading star so he can simply sit back and enjoy his success without having to worry about anything. That is until a brand new CEO takes over the company and decides that it is time for Hazard to go. The plot revolves around Wally (the new CEO) and his mission to once and for all eliminate Hazard. Matt learns of the plot and works with his assistant QA to hack his way through the game before Wally manages to take him out.
One of the biggest reasons I initially garnered interest in Eat Lead was the promise of humor and taking jabs at the industry. In a world where games are trying so hard to be serious and chock full of tear-jerking narrative it is nice to see some genuinely funny dialogue now and then. Nothing is safe in Eat Lead either, from the traditional JRPG to the loading times found in other titles everything is an easy target. Subtle references such as a kid-friendly shooter called Soak ’Em to the blatant copy of Wolfenstein 2D enemies and textures show that the developers really know their games. There are numerous moments in the game that will truly cause you to laugh out loud if you have a deep-rooted gaming history, Master Chef and Captain Carpenter quickly spring to mind.
Unfortunately the witty dialogue and inspired writing can only go so far to help a game that is clearly suffering from a case of identity crisis. The game feels like a rushed effort in almost every category and it doesn’t display one sense of consistency in any one area. For instance the cover system has some unique features such as being able to move from one area to another with the click of a button, but there were often times that I managed to stick to walls I was clearly not aiming for thus being gunned down because I was out in the open. This is further frustrating thanks to the inconsistent AI.
Often times enemies will take cover and try to flank you while other times they stand directly out in the open for you to pick off with well-placed headshots. Then there are the more exasperating circumstances where they bull rush directly at you with little fear of dying. This makes me question what kind of game Eat Lead was trying to be. As a cover shooter it is highly incoherent and as a straightforward action game it fails thanks to the piss-poor aiming scheme. You begin to wonder if these mishaps are the developers clearly making fun of the genres themselves or if they really forgot to bug test the game before shipping.
This becomes more and more evident once you begin to encounter the bosses. The first time you face off against these end-level baddies it is fairly simply. Complete a series of slow-moving quicktime events and victory is yours. Then you run into the crazy Russian commander who insists on lobbing grenades at you three at a time while random enemies spawn to simply annoy your concentration. At this point things are challenging, but fine, then you stumble upon the tentacle boss and things hit rock bottom. This is one of the most exhausting exercises in frustration I have personally experienced in gaming. Not only does the boss kill you in one hit, but it also spawns enemies to get in the way during the confrontation.
From there the game actually takes a nose dive for the worse. The last two levels are among the most painful I have played through in recent memory. Instead of leaving off after a solid array of enemies and giving you one final boss encounter the developers thought it would be clever to take the last level and throw every enemy in the game at you, in mass quantities. This is soon followed by throwing the game designers (from the fictional game) at you with regenerating health and terrible checkpoints creating a layer of frustration that nearly had me not wanting to finish the game at all by the end.
These are the kinds of things that make it impossible for me to recommend Matt Hazard for anything other than a rental. The presentation and humor are worth the experience, but the frustration outweighs them all. Visually the game is a mess of sloppy textures and poor animation. The music befuddles me because I never could figure out if they really only recorded two tracks and looped them to make fun of other action games or because they were lazy. Needless to say you will hate them both by game’s end. The voice work is the shining spot though as Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris deliver outstanding performances that are genuinely hilarious. The writing is definitely a soft spot for me and makes me recommend the game to friends, but only as a rental.
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is probably the most disappointing game I have played this year. It had potential to be one of the most original titles to come along in quite some time. However, the mechanics of just about everything are not the punch line and truly make the game unplayable in certain portions and outrageously frustrating in others. Eat Lead never seems to get its feet on the ground and instead tries to rely on the quirky humor to get you to look past its glaring flaws. It works for a while and then you begin to realize that the biggest joke is that a great concept can sometimes lead you to forget just how broken a game can be.