Version tested: Xbox 360
So much for The Future. It's 2010 and there are still no monorails, not to mention all the other stuff we were promised. Where are the hoverboards? What happened to robot butlers? Why don't we spend our leisure time drinking dry ice cocktails, eating burgers in pill form and playing holographic chess? And why are game developers still making 2D side-scrolling shooters?
Perhaps because their attempts at new-fangled third-person shooters fall flat, as did Vicious Cycle's Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. You can read our review for the full lowdown but if you can't be bothered here's a summary: "boring", "feeble", "horribly low-rent", "relentlessly dull and repetitive", "a howling misfire", "3/10".
The opening cut-scene of Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond acknowledges that the first game didn't do so well. Except it's not a cut-scene at all but a text conversation between two still images, which takes place at the bottom of a blank black screen. "Why are we using text? Didn't we have big-name voice actors last time?" says Matt Hazard. "Budget cuts, bad reviews..." replies his boss. Just to emphasise the point, another piece of text informs us this game is set "six months after the release of Eat Lead (now available in bargain bins near you...)"
This sets the tone for the rest of the game, which like its predecessor attempts to parody games and gaming. Matt Hazard is a muscly, shaven-headed action hero who has appeared in dozens of games over the years, we're told. His nemesis, General Neutronov, is attempting to delete Matt's 8-bit iteration from the archives, erasing all future versions in the process. Your mission is to stop Neutronov by playing through eight side-scrolling 2D levels, shooting everyone you meet and defeating some tedious bosses along the way.
There are no new ideas here. You wander along linear paths, shooting enemies, lobbing grenades, dodging bullets and doing the odd jump. Puzzles never get more sophisticated than shooting a flashing red switch to open a door. Taking cover amounts to crouching behind a wooden crate. Enemies randomly drop health packs and various weapon upgrades so you get to play with machine guns, rocket launchers, flamethrowers and the like. When Matt's 'Hazard meter' is full, you can press a button to make him invincible and increase his firepower for a limited time. It's like the last 15 years never happened.
BBandB tries to get away with being such a generic, unimaginative game by giving it all ironic. We're supposed to overlook the fact we've played this a thousand times before because we're too busy being entertained by all the hilarious in-jokes and clever references. The problem is, the in-jokes aren't hilarious and the references aren't that clever. Oh look, this rooftop level is all white buildings, yellow beams, blue doors and red railings, just like Mirror's Edge. So what? And why does the level also have a Canadian theme, when Mirror's Edge was neither set nor developed there? Was it just an excuse to make all the enemies camp Mounties? And didn't we all stop laughing at the fact Canadians say "aboot" back in 1997?
Things don't improve as the game progresses. The references are dull, witless and in many cases painfully unoriginal. The world does not need another Super Mario parody. There is nothing inventive or funny about exclamation mark blocks you shoot to collect coins, and sticking a few pipes in the scenery does not equate to satire.
Then there are Matt Hazard's catchphrases. He tries to remind you how self-aware the whole thing is by saying things like "It's ragdoll time!" and "Nice AI, bozo." These lines are sort of amusing the first time you hear them. Not so much seven levels later, when you have heard them seven thousand times, and would rather carve each syllable into your own thigh with a biro than have to hear them again. Other catchphrases include "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" and "I'm a hazard... To your health." These are presumably meant to be parodies of videogame clichés, but really they're just clichés, and once again they're repeated far too many times to be anything other than infuriating.
The same goes for the game design. It's level after level of left-to-right trudging and shooting with almost no variation. The occasional attempts to break up the monotony are tedious and unoriginal, like the section where you must jump from roof to roof along the carriages of the world's slowest-moving train. Towards the end there's a rip-off of Lunar Lander, the ancient Atari arcade game which involved piloting a descending spaceship using highly sensitive controls. This sort of thing was fun in 1979, but that was before we had things like Sky+ and internet pornography and pesto to keep us entertained. Still, the Lunar Lander bit is one of the highlights of Blood Bath and Beyond, which is saying something.
In no way is it a reason to cough up 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20 in real money), and nor is the game as a whole. Only if you're desperate for a bit of old-fashioned side-scrolling shooter action, the kind where all you have to do is blow up endless generic baddies without thinking too hard, should a purchase be worth considering. Even then, bear in mind the fact you'll breeze through all eight levels in a couple of hours. (There's a 10G Achievement for completing one of them within 12 minutes, which should give you some idea of we're dealing with here.) A tenner is a lot to ask for a game this short, derivative and repetitive.
Especially when there are much better ways to spend your money, such as buying Shadow Complex - also a side-scrolling shooter, also on XBLA, also priced at 1200 Points, but not also a bit rubbish. Boot it up after completing Matt Hazard and the difference in quality is obvious and huge. It's got cut-scenes, for starters. Not to mention intelligent level design and progressive character development, with not a Super Mario parody in sight
Blood Bath and Beyond just can't match up. It's not a terrible game, just an utterly unoriginal and instantly forgettable one. The humour which is supposed to elevate it above this status falls flat, the presentation is poor and it's just not worth a tenner. Spend your cash on Shadow Complex instead, or start saving up for that hoverboard.
5 / 10