A prequel to a legendary light-gun zombie shooter game exclusive to the Wii.
The House of the Dead: Overkill is a Wii exclusive light-gun zombie shooter arcade game. This game is a prequel to the first House of the Dead game that was originally released in the arcades in 1996. The game is played from a first person camera angle, and the character movement is happening automatically. As such it's a typical arcade shooter, and the focus of the game is solely on aiming shots and knowing when to reload your guns. This time around the theme of the game has been inspired by a distinct grindhouse theme (or, "pulp funk horror" as they like to call it), and with that comes a strange mix of hardcore gore and blunt in-your-face humor.
The game throws you right into the action. Needless to say, the goal is to survive the living dead zombie hell that you suddenly find yourself in the middle of. Mutants of different proportions will come at the screen and you must shoot them before they come close enough to hit you. You do have a life bar that is drained for every hit you suffer, and if you die, you can buy yourself into the game again with replenished life. Doing so will cost you points, effectively lowering your total score at the end of the game. This is a pretty innovative alternative to the "arcade coin-up continue" approach, and a good one at that.
This game features a standard story mode, a Director's cut mode, some mini games and a bunch of unlockable items. The standard- and Director's cut modes include seven different stages, each with a boss at the end and the stages take place in various locations such as a jail house, a mansion, a carnival and a train. The Director's cut mode has the same seven stages, but include some extra plot twists and extra rooms. You can also play with extra mutants in the standard mode if you want to add more monsters to your game.
The game also supports two players in a co-op mode, and this is essentially the way House of the Dead games are meant to be played. The game will be a whole lot easier if you have a buddy blasting away with a second Wii Remote. In the two players mode, you'll share the same screen exactly like in the older House of the Dead games. However – there does not appear to be any logical way to explain which player takes an incoming hit. In previous games the screen was divided into two separate hit areas for each player, but that seems to be discarded in this one.
The story mode takes about three hours to play through, and while the stages are similar to each other they all are filled with action from start to end. Between stages you will get the chance to purchase new weapons or upgrade your current weapons. Upgrades can increase clip size, reduce reload speed or increase the damage done. If you like to spray bursts of bullets with an assault rifle, you can do that, or if you prefer the deadly shots from the powerful Hand Cannon you can use that. While all the weapons are roughly equally effective against the mutants, you will need to restrict your shooting if you want to unlock the accuracy based achievements or score higher points.
Before and after each stage you'll get to see cut scenes, all rendered with the game engine, that tells you how the story progresses and how the various stages and events are linked together. The story does have a couple of twists, and it involves some really wicked and sick stuff. The few characters of the story aren't overly sympathetic, and the dialog in the game is foul – the usage of curses are frequent (to the extent that it was awarded a Guinness World Record for "most swearing in a video game" 2009). As such the dialog is funny and there are quite a few humorous one-liners that serve some laughs here and there as a contrast to the relentless mutant slaughter.
The House of the Dead: Overkill also features a combo-system. It works like this; The game keeps track of how many shots you can shoot in a sequence without missing your target. For every five shots you hit you'll reach a new combo level, and there are five combo levels in all. The higher combo level you reach, the better the reward. If you manage to keep hitting your shots, you'll enter the Goregasm mode where you'll have the chance to earn even more cash, and even unlock items. This may sound easy to accomplish, but it's not. You can't even hope to reach the first combo level with any of the semi-automatic or automatic weapons. This doesn't feel balanced at all, and I wonder if it isn't a bit too harsh to take away the whole combo for one single missed shot.
The mini games are very simple and based on elements from the ordinary game. For example there's a time based survival mode where you play to kill as many mutants as possible within a time limit, and for each completed wave of mutants you're awarded with more time.
There are three mini games in all, and they have support for up to four players playing on the same Wii. As an added bonus they work fine, and the four player support does add some extra value to the game.
On top of all these features, you'll be able to collect power-ups like the "Slow-Mofo time" that slows down time, allowing you to aim your shots better. You'll also find grenades and medi-packs lying around the levels that'll help you along the way. In order to collect power-ups from the stages you must shoot them, and typically the amount of time you have to aim at one such power-up and actually shoot it is only a few seconds – you really need to know in advance where the items appear and be prepared for it in order to have a fair chance of getting it.
The unlockable items are all gathered in the Gallery mode and include movie clips, music in the jukebox mode, concept images and 3D models from the game. Each locked item will prompt what needs to be done in order to unlock it, which is nice and convenient.
There are some notable glitches in the game – perhaps the most notable ones appear during the cut scenes of the game. You'll often see that models, items and other props pop in and out between cuts in the cut scenes. Another problem that this game has are the drops in the frame rate. While the game struggles occasionally, the moments where it actually has an impact on your game play are rare. These issues are usually only cosmetic.
There are some more serious issues too. It appears that mutants like to walk up to you on the left side of the screen, hiding partly outside the screen until they strike a blow. This makes it very hard to hit them, and can cause some frustration. Also, in the two player mode, the camera sometimes pans slightly in the general direction of the player's crosshairs. There does not seem to be any consistency to this tendency, so it can't really be used to your advantage.
But without a doubt the biggest problem of the whole game is the way the camera moves. It can be the source of much frustration when you're going for combos and have a shot miss only because the camera makes an unexpected move. And it happens all the time – really the camera works against you as much as it works with you.
The graphics are quite good for a Wii game and a House of the Dead game has never looked this good before. The environments are quite detailed and the creepy atmosphere is there behind the hordes of mutants and layers of blood spatter. The game has a bloom effect that gives the game an occasional overexposed look. There's also a grainy film filter on top of everything that further increases the grindhouse film feeling. The downside is that the game overuses the blur effect that doesn't do much to help the atmosphere but instead just makes the game look more blurry that it should.
Blowing zombies to bits, especially with a well placed headshot looks as nasty as ever and you can't really grow tired of that.
The soundtrack is also very distinct with its funk, blues and jazz influences. There's nothing in the soundtrack that reminds you of zombie killing though. Instead it sounds like something out of an American 70's low budget action movie.
The dialog is, as mentioned above very crude. Some of the voice acting actually is pretty lame, but at least the zombies sound angry, violent and mad. The guns also sound very satisfying and hearing a zombie scream and drop to the floor after unloading a SMG clip into it is very cool in this game.
If you're playing with a normal TV set, you may experience that the sound doesn't appear correct. The game utilizes stereo sound, and if your TV doesn't have stereo sound you will end up only hearing one part of the sound unless you adjust your Wii settings to only use mono sound. They should have added options for this in the options screen, but there are no such things.
At the end of the day The House of the Dead: Overkill stands as a light-gun shooter worthy its name. This is by far the easiest game in the series, and the replay value just isn't there. Sure enough, the Director's cut mode will effectively double the length of the game, but after that you're pretty much left with unlocking items which isn't very exciting in a game like this.
I'm not at all convinced that this humorous funky horror b-movie style was the correct way to go with the House of the Dead franchise. I can easily imagine how the game would have looked with a darker and more serious theme – and in my opinion it would have been a whole lot more interesting.