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Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard

Back before you knew he was gone.

Eat Lead's subtitle is "The Return of Matt Hazard" - which may leave more observant game fans scratching their heads a little. The point, you see, is that Matt Hazard was never actually gone. Or here, for that matter. He's a fictional action game hero making a "return" so heavily laden with gaming in-jokes that they threaten to overwhelm even Matt's implausibly meaty shoulders.

It's the kind of idea that has almost certainly been labelled "quirky" in at least a dozen executive meetings - but for publishers D3, Eat Lead is actually far more than a quirky little sideline. Having developed a reputation for importing budget Japanese titles into Europe, D3 is determined to reinvent itself as a publisher of original IP, and Eat Lead is one of its first significant efforts.

In essence, it's a Gears of War clone. Matt - a strapping stereotype in combat boots who wouldn't look out of place trading rolled-towel swats with the Gears of War boys in a locker-room, which is presumably the point - rolls and ducks from cover to cover, spraying bullets over counters and around corners, or dodging out to take more accurate (but more risky) aimed shots.

A couple of features stand out. Most notable is the ability to "point and run" - targeting a piece of cover, and then pressing a single button to sprint over and dive behind it. In practice, this does look like it'll make diving from cover to cover a bit more intuitive. The game also makes use of destructible cover - not exactly the innovation it used to be, given how commonplace it is now, but mixing things up by destroying areas of cover in combat is always a welcome addition.

Part gun, part candyfloss.

The team is also promising a fairly comprehensive hand-to-hand fighting system by the time Eat Lead actually appears (early next year on PS3 and Xbox 360, by the way). At present, there's some rather clunky melee combat in there, but with several months left in development we'll be interested to note how that turns out in the final game.

At this point in time, though, much of the focus doesn't seem to be on the bones of how the game plays. Frankly, "Gears of War Lite" is as honest an assessment as we can offer right now, and you can take that as being as positive or as negative as you like. Instead, D3 is very, very keen to tell us all how funny the whole thing is.

In fairness, Eat Lead does seem to capture the tone of gamer in-jokes fairly accurately. The entertainingly preposterous idea is that Matt Hazard is a real person with a life outside the videogames in which he stars. Having enjoyed fame and fortune with his earlier titles (first as an increasingly detailed sprite, before eventually making the move into 3D), he's been put out to pasture after the failure of some awful spin-off games (like "Hazmatt Kart").