Game On!: Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond
Video games have been around long enough to establish some pretty recognizable tropes - things like warehouses full of exploding toxic barrels, glowing blue bullets, amnesiac heroes, etc.
So it was disappointing that Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, a first-person shooter that parodied the history of video-game cliches (and featured the voices of Will Arnett as the muscle-bound, gun-toting protagonist and Neil Patrick Harris as the evil nemesis!) failed to make much of an impact.
Typically, when a game does poorly, companies abandon the concept and move on. But there are so many opportunities for poking fun at the ridiculousness of video games that it's a good thing the Eat Lead makers instead created Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. The scaled-back, side-scrolling, platform-based shooter is similar to the classic Contra titles by Konami.
And it makes direct reference to its failed predecessor's low sales and critical thrashing before charging headlong into the first level, "The Hate Boat." That level starts out as a parody of The Love Boat, then quickly starts poking fun at the Bioshock franchise.
The Blood Bath creators seem to have listened to the criticism that a witty script alone can't carry a game that parodies gaming. This title takes the series back a bit and focuses on one thing Eat Lead didn't - being a good game.
Regardless of its settings and characters, this is a fun shooter. Running through levels and facing enemies - alone or with the aid of another player - is fun and challenging. Plus it's suitably gory and occasionally funny, thanks to the quips Hazard spouts while gunning down foes.
This iteration even picks up on some of the popular weaponry of the platform shooter. Scatterguns, machine guns, plasma grenades and even freeze guns mix up the combat, and they're a pleasant throwback to the genre that dominated gaming in the mid-1980s.
There are three modes of play, and the game is challenging even on the simplest mode (charmingly named "Wussy"). The amount of damage the player can absorb, as well as the number of extra lives and continues, varies by difficulty. On the game's hardest setting, a single hit will end the entire game.
Blood Bath is downloadable through Microsoft's Xbox Live or Sony's PSN stores for around $15.
"Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond"
System: Xbox 360, Sony PS3 (online only)
Players: 1 or 2 (cooperative)
Rated: M for Mature
Who should buy it?: Fans of parody and tragedy
GameOn! Grade: B