Matt Hazard Blood Bath and Beyond - Xbox Live Arcade

I really wanted to like Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. It had funny writing and the voice work to back it all up. The problem was to get to all of that, you needed to slog through a game that was simply not very fun. When you make fun of game play mechanics, it’s important that your game isn’t using those very same mechanics! Yes it’s funny that you acknowledge how lame it is to have another warehouse level, but that doesn’t change the fact that I now have to play through that warehouse level!

Anyway, point is, there was a lot of potential there that wasn’t met. I think a lot of people were taken by surprise when they announced they were going to make a sequel. The title didn’t do much for me, Blood Bath and Beyond, since we’ve seen the joke before. What did intrigue me was that this would be a sequel in name only. The core gameplay was being switched over to a 2D/3D/I guess 2.5D shooter in the style of Contra and Metal Slug.

So the question now is, does the change work? 

I’m happy to report that yes I think it does. Granted the first Matt Hazard game isn’t terribly difficult to improve on, but I believe a respectable job was done with this title. It’s practically the definition of a mindless shooter, but unlike say, the GI Joe game from last year, there is actual fun involved as well.

Of course the quality writing from the first game returns here. Within seconds of starting the game there are already shots taken at Eat Lead, saying it can be found in bargain bins everywhere. This is certainly not the last time the developers will take the piss out of themselves either, so I say good for them!

Although the writing is solid, one thing the game is missing is the terrific voice acting from Eat Lead. None of the dialogue is voiced, except for the occasional one-liner you will hear during the level (which repeat far too often) or after defeating a boss. Will Arnett does not come back as the voice of Matt Hazard, although it’s hard to even notice until you see the end credits. Still though, it’s too bad and does make the experience seem a little empty without the voice work.

There are eight levels in the game, many referencing various video games from both the past and present. You get Mario, Mirror’s Edge, Bioshock, and a few others. They don’t try and make fun of gaming clichés this time, and the levels more reference the games than full on parody them, but it’s still fun to see what environment you will find yourself in next.

Gameplay is very simple. You run to the left and right, shooting everything in sight. Occasionally you will find a weapon upgrade and you can also throw grenades. Aside from that though, you are never doing anything too different. The one exception is a level late in the game that requires you to fly around in a pod, dodging enemy fire until eventually you set down on a landing pad. It’s a change of scenery for sure, but it’s not that fun. I found that I just suffered through it until I could get back to the shooting.

Ala Shadow Complex, you also have the ability to fire into the background to kill enemies. It’s executed fairly well, but I think perhaps playing Shadow Complex has spoiled me because the controls don’t feel as good here. The game does make great use of rag doll physics, with characters flopping all over the screen. It makes the shooting that much more satisfying. There’s even a ragdoll pachinko game to play between each round.

It’s a pretty short experience. You can probably play through all eight stages in less than two hours. There is some incentive to go back, assuming you enjoyed your time on the first run through. There are achievements for collecting items, and there is co-op as well, although there’s no option to play online. There’s also the challenge factor because this games doesn’t fuck around. On Easy (or “Wussy” in this game) you have infinite continues but once you get up to “Damn This Is Hard” you have limited continues and then on “Fuck This Shit” not only are there limited continues, but you die in one hit! I don’t even want to think about all the time I would need to invest in this game to get that good at it.

All in all, Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond is a simple but fun game. Its humour is still its greatest strength but at least this time around it has decent gameplay to go along with it. The price is a bit steep at 15 dollars, especially when you consider that’s how much Shadow Complex runs for. At 10 it’s an easy recommendation, but I would definitely give the demo a try before you invest in it at the current price.