Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard Preview
Well, this one from D3 Publisher and Vicious Cycle Software looks interesting. But, is it?
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Final Fantasy's long-winded text dialogue, Mario's exclamation blocks and the battle with the Hydra from God of War are just three of the scenes and devices gently sent up in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, a new third-person shooter from Vicious Cycle Software of Dead Head Fred repute. With so many companies feverishly disassociating themselves from the bespectacled gaming stereotypes of yesteryear, it's nice to see a developer rifling through that pongy adolescent period in the name of fun.
According to the alternative history Vicious has bodged together through viral ad campaigns, Eat Lead is actually the 13th Matt Hazard release. Matt himself is your textbook ageing action game protagonist, a big name in 16-bit and early 3D shooting whose attempts to break into the 21st century mainstream were a depressing failure. The Duke of Nukem, for one, will know exactly what that feels like. Seven years after the release of an abysmal 'family fun' spin-off, Choking Hazard: Candy Gramm, Matt's bankrupt license owner Marathon Soft is bought out by multi-billion-dollar outfit Megasoft. To Matt's delight, his new corporate host decides to treat him to a full-blown revamp featuring levels, allies and villains from prior games.
Milking its newly acquired back catalogue isn't the only thing on Megasoft's agenda, however. Within moments of shrugging on his brand new normal-mapped, dynamically lit skin, Matt realises the game's developers are out to get him: environments are reprogrammed on the fly, old and new villains are dumped into his path with little respect for narrative realism, and entire servers are shut down in his wake. Aided by a sympathetic member of Q&A, whose holographic appearance in-game cheekily parodies Halo's Cortana, Matt must run and gun his way through Eat Lead's eight hour-long levels in search of some answers.
Given that premise, we were expecting Vicious Cycle's scenario designers to take some serious creative liberties, and while the levels glimpsed thus far aren't quite Timesplitters 2 they can be satisfyingly unhinged. One starts off as an intrusion mission in the best Hitman style, as Matt trades shots with bouncers from behind hanging beef cadavers in a restaurant freezer, but halfway through some vengeful programmer conjures up a horde of zombies (proper, shuffling, 'Romero's original' zombies, not those hellish sprinters from Left 4 Dead). As you progress, the restaurant itself morphs underfoot into a Wild West town, complete with cartoon cacti, followed by a nightclub dance floor. The unreality of it all has been studiously foregrounded: enemies fade in and out of existence with a flicker of Matrix-vision code, while the surface textures of crates and other objects disintegrate under fire to reveal boxy wireframe models.
If the scenarios are capable of some imaginative twists, how you tackle them isn't. Like any good son of the seventh console generation, Matt borrows most of his tricks from certain Capcom and Epic Games classics. He can lock to, sidle along and leap over cover, zoom in the default shoulder camera for precision shooting, blind-fire when suppressed and smack people upside the head when button-prompted. There are 14 weapons, ranging from old favourites like shotguns, pistols, Uzis and pulse rifles to comedy varieties like a water pistol - you'll see Matt pumping up the pressure when he reloads.