At any given point in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, the titular star of this tongue-in-cheek action game from developers Vicious Cycle might find himself squaring off against any of the following enemies: Mobsters, zombies, cowboys, space marines, 2D Nazis, and even Japanese role-playing game bosses. One part action game and several parts game-industry lampoon vehicle, Eat Lead is nothing if not unique. We had a chance to spend some hands-on time with an updated build of the game recently to see how far it's come since our previous look in October of last year.
The setup for Eat Lead revolves around Hazard, a fictional action-game star who racked up a string of hits across multiple platforms in the '80s and '90s. After a few disappointing bombs, Matt Hazard retired, only to take up his career as a two-fisted badass at the beginning of Eat Lead after getting an offer to star in a brand-new action game from megapublisher Marathon Megasoft. Traversing the eight levels that make up Eat Lead, Hazard soon discovers that the game is rigged and that the levels he's making his way through are trying to delete him…permanently.
From that premise, Eat Lead takes the idea of poking fun at video games and runs with it, with levels that change in appearance and makeup on a dime, enemies that start out as soldiers only to transform into zombies, and boss battles that are memorable to say the least. It's tough to know what to expect from one area to the next in Eat Lead, and there are more than a few chuckle-worthy moments as a result.
Consider the sixth level of the game, which we got to play during the demo. After a brief intro movie that featured some back-and-forth between Hazard and his companion QA (who can hack into the game's levels and help him along the way), Hazard begins the level outside of a warehouse, surrounded by crates, forklifts, and trucks. These objects serve as perfect cover for Hazard, and you can use the cover system by pressing the A button on the Xbox 360 controller. Pressing the B button will cross Hazard over to a nearby cover point, if available, and you can aim your cursor and press the Y button to sprint to a specific point of cover.
Safely behind cover, we first took out the bad guys that were in the level using a pistol. It wasn't long before we picked up a machine gun and, once the level was cleared, we moved into the warehouse. We found more bad guys inside, only these looked completely different from the enemies we fought outside, considering their garish armor and their use of what appeared to be water guns. As it turned out, these guys were holdover enemies from an ill-fated, kid-friendly water-gun shooter from Hazard's 64-bit days. As silly as it sounds to be taking up arms with a water gun, it got the job done against these clowns, so we went with it.
Now, naturally, you don't spend an entire level fighting bad guys with squirt guns. Any game called "Eat Lead" better have an assortment of weaponry to choose from and, indeed, we played with submachine guns, sniper rifles, even laser blasters. Blasting enemies doesn't technically kill them; these are virtual bad guys, after all. Instead, Hazard can absorb a defeated enemy's code. If he builds up enough code, you can add a temporary ice or fire damage modifier to whichever weapon you're carrying.
Like the neon bad guys who were susceptible to water blasts, many of the enemies have unique traits that you'll discover as you go. In the level that we played, we also ran into space marines reminiscent of a certain visor-wearing, heavily armored, combat-evolved hero. Conventional weaponry didn't really do much to them but, if you managed to snag a laser pistol, you could take them down with relative ease. Our favorite garden-variety enemies were the 2D Nazis, patterned after something out of the original Castle Wolfenstein. Blasting these flat-planed bad guys was easy…until they turned sideways, at which point they effectively disappeared from view until they decided to face you again.
By far the highlight of the level that we played was the final boss battle, in which Hazard takes on a final boss, known as Altos Tratus, who had the creepily androgynous look of, well, practically every Japanese role-playing game enemy ever made. Better than the boss's look, though, was his speech, or rather the lack of it. To get through Tratus' long-winded prefight speech, the frustrated Hazard has to page through multiple screens of text, and the occasional puzzling ellipses. Though the boss battle was in real time, Tratus plays like a turn-based boss in true RPG style--and defeating him was a matter of figuring out which attack he would do next, blasting him for as much damage as possible, and preventing him from healing himself.
Though the concept in Eat Lead is solid--with loving nods to everything from JRPGs to Super Mario Bros.--there were a few rough areas that we hope get attention before the game is released. Melee attacks, which you pull off in close quarters by pressing the X button, didn't have much oomph to them and seemed pretty ineffective as well. In addition, though Hazard's movements into and out of cover seemed smooth, he feels fairly stiff to us when running and shooting; a bit more responsiveness in the controls would be a welcome addition. If the gameplay manages to live up to Eat Lead's satirical metaplot, it has a good chance at finding success. The game is due on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in early March.