From the moment you turn on The House of the Dead: Overkill, it's obvious that things are a little bit different than they used to be. Developer Headstrong Games has crafted a grimier, grungier, grainier game that from the ground up embraces its inherent cheesiness yet still pays homage to its predecessors. Overkill reinvents the aging shooter series for the better with an over-the-top grindhouse theme that resonates in its every aspect, from the hilarious story to the fantastic vintage soundtrack.
When rookie AMS Special Agent G, who originally appeared in the first House of the Dead game of which Overkill is a prequel to, is forced to team up with loudmouthed ladies' man Isaac Washington, a Bayou City detective on a quest for revenge, blood, brains, and bodies fly. The two curse and shoot their way through endless zombies--we mean mutants--as they chase after nefarious crime lord Papa Caesar, the man responsible for the outbreak. Along the way, you'll encounter the aptly named Varla Guns, an ex-stripper with her own vendetta against the sinister villain, and blast your way through wave after wave of hilarious and terrifying mutants, including hobos, football players, rednecks, backflipping clowns, nurses, and more.
As is typical with light-gun games, the action is entirely on rails, so you don't have any real control over your path through the mutant-infested backwaters of Bayou City. You do, however, have some peripheral vision if you move your crosshairs near the edge of the screen, which helps you to pick up power-ups like grenades, health kits, golden brain collectibles, and the coveted "slow mo-fo mode," which slows time down to a crawl for maximum carnage. Each of the linear missions takes place in a specific set piece that has been cast in the grindhouse theme, from hospitals to carnivals to plantation houses, and at the end of each you'll duke it out with a freakishly large supermutant in a battle to the death. Throughout the game, you'll be treated to the hilarious hijinks of the at-odds duo of mutant mutilators G and Washington in the intentionally poorly edited cutscenes that bookmark each mission.
The degree of difficulty ranges from level to level but is more often than not ridiculously easy, especially if you've got the help of a friend thanks to the two-player co-op mode, which is very nicely set up so that a partner can join at any time. Most enemies fall to your firepower in only a few shots, and even the bosses are huge pushovers once you learn their simple and predictable patterns. Thankfully, there is plenty more to do than shoot mutants: You can purchase or upgrade weapons for more firepower or variety by spending the hard-earned cash from your missions, you can play three minigames that support up to four players, and you can earn a number of achievements by performing feats such as completing a mission with an accuracy rating of over 70 percent to unlock new bonuses like concept art. You can even unlock director's cut versions of all of the levels, which are made longer by restoring "previously deleted scenes" and made more difficult by including larger quantities of (slightly) more durable enemies and limiting the number of continues.
Overkill features one of the best game soundtracks in recent years, and each mission has fantastic vintage-style themes, with guitar riffs that will stick with you long after you've set your Wii Remote down. Even better special remixes of the in-game songs are unlocked by completing missions, further endearing Overkill's tunes into your heart. The voice acting is equally top-notch, and every character is fun and memorable, especially the overly dramatic narrator and Isaac Washington, who drops an F-bomb almost every other word. Though the frequency of the swearing may be a potential deal-breaker for some, it fits well into the overall theme of the game and adds more to the experience than it detracts from it.
The House of the Dead: Overkill shines as one of the best-looking games on the Wii thanks to its frequent and expert use of motion blur and grainy filters and its stylistic color palette. Mutants can also be shot to pieces and their limbs will fall or fly realistically, raising the gore factor and increasing the fun. Unfortunately, its wildly inconsistent frame rate puts a serious damper on the action, and less significant but still frustrating issues like mutant pop-in and clipping occur all the time. There's also the occasional AI glitch to contend with as enemies sometimes get stuck on walls or other terrain.
Ultimately, The House of the Dead: Overkill is a breath of fresh air in a well-trod genre. It's incredibly fun and entertaining despite its shortcomings. With a hilarious cast of heroes and villains, brilliant writing and voice acting, and some of the best visuals available on the system, Overkill is one game that no hardcore Wii and a penchant for over-the-top amounts of gore and swearing should miss.