|System: X360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Vicious Cycle||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: D3 Publisher||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan.6, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
Poor Matt Hazard. People never gave him a chance. He was scorned and reviled in last year's Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, a parody of action games that by most accounts was a miserable and derivative video game experience. D3 just wanted to introduce us to Matt's world, where he had (fictitiously) lived through a rise and fall in popularity and importance marked by his (also fictitious) 25 year career as a video game protagonist. But, people weren't having it. It didn't matter that Eat Lead, Matt's triumphant next-gen comeback (and first actual game appearance) poked fun at gaming's worst clichés, or that hilarious Will Arnett provided his vocals. The game tanked, critically and commercially. Matt, we hardly knew ye.
Now Hazard's back, inexplicably and without a large chunk of the development budget Eat Lead was afforded. Blood Bath and Beyond, unlike Matt's last outing, is a digitally distributed affair, a measure which was only enacted (I suspect) to help keep cost overhead down after the disastrous sales figures from the last game. Frankly, this method of appearance seems to be the way that Matt was always meant to be enjoyed, although had he not had a higher profile release to begin with, Blood Bath and Beyond would probably just end up being that much more obscure.
At any rate, everything about Hazard's new adventure is telling of his newer, more modest financial standing. For starters, the game is now in 2D, and looks a fair bit like Shadow Complex or the PS2 classic Contra: Shattered Soldier at first glance. Matt himself is no longer voiced by Will Arnett, (Boo!) but by a Will Arnett sound-alike (and only for in-game quips and comments), and cutscenes have been replaced with text boxes. Even the character drawings are knock-offish, resembling a second or third-tier imitator of Shinkiro (the immensely talented Japanese artist/character designer of King of Fighters and Bionic Commando Rearmed fame). None of these drop offs in production values are missed by the dev team, and keeping in the spirit of Eat Lead, they prove a frequent source of Blood Bath and Beyond's humor. Story segments between levels are literally a black screen, with Matt talking in text form to an employee of Marathon Megasoft, the fictitious company responsible for all of Matt's old games, while in the company's game server. At the beginning of the game Hazard even comments on the use of text boxes rather than big-name voice actors, to which the Marathon Megasoft employee tells Matt it's because of budget cuts and bad reviews-Blood Bath and Beyond takes place in August 2009, six months after Eat Lead's release.
This time around, Hazard's nemesis is General Neutronov, a stereotypical Russian villain whose humorously broken English only adds to the game's overall comic feel. Neutronov has escaped into the Marathon Megasoft game server and is planning to do away with Matt's original 8-bit incarnation (which vaguely resembles NES Simon Belmont with a gun). Given Eat Lead's penchant for exploiting video game clichés, it should come as no surprise that Blood Bath and Beyond has its fair share of parodies as well, mostly aping on contemporary games' designs and aesthetics.
The first level, "The Hate Boat," is clearly making fun of BioShock, complete with wannabe Big Daddy enemies, and later in the game Matt winds up on the Canadian Marathon Megasoft server, which somehow looks exactly like a 2D Mirror's Edge; among other games that are notably parodied are Portal, Team Fortress 2, Modern Warfare, New Super Mario Bros., and old-school side-scrollers like Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, to name a few.
About halfway through the game, the code for the various games that these settings are supposed to come out of gets garbled, which results in game splicing like a Western-themed level mixing with modern artillery or fat Resistance-eyed Left 4 Dead-style vomiting penguins (don't ask me) sharing the screen with normal soldiers and, uh, bats that look ripped from Castlevania (though they could just be regular bats). In any case, the aesthetic parody is pretty damn near constant, for whatever it's worth, although the script itself will provide you with the most chuckles.