"This is like something out of a VIDEOGAME!" screams the brilliant B-movie box art for House of the Dead: Overkill, SEGA's Wii-bound revisit of its classic lightgun series. Only the irony is layered deeper than that, because the first thing you'll think when you see it is, "this is like something out of a MOVIE!" One specific movie (or two if you're picky, and European): Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's trash pastiche, Grindhouse.
In fact, it's one specific bit of that one specific movie that developer Headstrong Games used as a style guide, Rodriguez's spoof Machete trailer. Which, as it happens, is now being made into an actual film, so is no longer a spoof. Such are the tangled webs woven by self-referential, cross-media, post-ironic genre culture.
It's not just the trailers' gravelly narration, or the stripper cavorting with a Wii remote in grainy 16mm film under the credits. Even during gameplay, House of the Dead: Overkill is smothered in overlays that give it the pops and scratches of a battered, ancient touring film print. The colours are bled out, replacing arcade-machine brio with pale, washed-out 1970s colour processing. The two lead characters, Detective Washington and series stalwart Agent G, exchange dry, filthy quips instead of earnest exclamations. Incongruously polite elevator funk percolates on the soundtrack. There's even an excuse for all this retro conceit - this is a prequel, a flashback to G's first case in the steamy Bayou City, Louisiana.
No-one - least of all SEGA or Headstrong (formerly Kuju London, a GameCube/Wii specialist which made the decent Battalion Wars games for Nintendo) - is pretending this is anything more than funny and fashionable set-dressing for traditional House of the Dead action. There may be marginally more gore - this is an absolute splatterhouse of a game - and the hospital setting of the level we played really could have been lifted directly from Planet Terror, but you're still aiming your gun (remote) at the screen and shooting things. Lots of things. Around 500 things per level.
Naturally the game plays perfectly with a Wii Zapper, although SEGA also had some pistol-grip third-party alternatives on hand that, since no nunchuk input is required, we very much enjoyed using. The controls couldn't be simpler: B to fire, + and - to switch between your two weapons (we had a machine pistol and shotgun), and A to reload, although it's easier, quicker and infinitely more satisfying to reload by flicking the remote upward instead. Other than that, sit back and enjoy the on-rails ride.
It's not quite as rigid a set-up as previous House of the Dead games, however. One of Overkill's additions is to add a tiny amount of camera freedom - the view can be adjusted slightly left, right, up or down by moving your cursor to the edge of the screen, similar to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Cursor conflicts make this practically unusable in the excellent two-player co-op mode, however. Even in single-player, the sensitivity feels off and it's hard to see the virtue in changing the viewpoint when it slows down your aiming so much - although we're sure that Headstrong will seed plenty of scoring opportunities and pick-ups just off-camera for you to find.
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