The Matt Hazard series represents very much that of a gamer’s game, rife with references – both narrative and visual – to remind the player of a plethora of titles through the ages. With the newest installment stepping down from a premium title and into the realms of XBLA, has the series found a new home, or a final resting place?
Either way, I feel like the game mirrors my school report cards from many moons ago: “shows promise, but must try harder. Also, displays narcoleptic tendencies”
Okay, maybe not all of that applies to the game.
The biggest – and staggeringly overwhelming – flaw with the first title, Eat Lead, was that in satirizing poor and clichéd gaming mechanics, the game was therefore full of those mechanics it aimed to mock, and became laborious to play as a result. However, I still found it strangely intriguing to play for all the references, whilst trying to ignore as much of the gameplay as I could, falling into some bizarre situation for a game, akin to watching pornography for nothing but the story.
The majority of in-jokes are presented in a way that is not a hindrance to the game this time around, with most being visual or written in the dialogue scenes. The game opts for a Contra-inspired playstyle, and whilst paying homage is nothing to criticise, it does little to improve the template, unlike last year’s phenomenom of Shadow Complex, which refined Super Metroid for the HD generation. Or, for a more recent example, Darksiders, which took the Zelda playstyle and created something of their own with it.
However, in this formula they have found another way to pay homage to Contra: the difficulty. Without adding a vast array of complexities, they have kept that very same frantic desperation as the screen fills with bullets, ninja discs, and death wuzzles coming at you from all directions. Also, being respawned into a water pit, or in front of a crushing piston of death after dying will have you uttering profanities at the screen that would make even the collected cast of Deadwood blush.
The controls feel clumsy and sometimes intrusive to gameplay, and boss fights contain an unfortunate amount of repetition. It is flaws like this that drag down the overall quality of the game, as any time you catch yourself getting into it, some cog is thrown in the works as you let out an exasperated sigh.
I mentioned Shadow Complex briefly before, and it was a game that was on my mind a lot whilst playing, as one of the reasons flaws in Blood Bath and Beyond are as frustrating as they are is that, at many times, I wondered why things hadn’t been more like the downloadable smash hit of 2009, with the control scheme being the most notable annoyance.
When you boil it down, the fact is that below the surface there is a fun product here, albeit a flawed one. Half the jokes miss the mark, but those that do are kind of funny. The referential level design is certainly appealing too, with almost every reference bringing a boyish grin to my face.
I find myself more disappointed that the game is bad, than overly critical on why it is. I still think the premise is entertaining and there is merit there somewhere. Despite being less than thrilled with Eat Lead, I was still excited when I saw this release, and any negativity I present for this title is equally matched by hope for a good game out of the walking cliché yet.
Blood Bath and Beyond contains fantastic visuals, and great recreations of various gaming scenery.
|How does our scoring system work?|
What might have been an exceptionally fun experience is let down by poor controls and repetitive gameplay.
No matter how much they reference a low budget in-game, the lack of voice work between gameplay and the repeated dialogue is a serious disappointment.
Varying difficulties will add replay value for some, and co-op can add the extra playthrough for others, but the majority will find a fairly short game that they are unlikely to replay in a hurry.
This is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, and manages to be both fun and funny half the time. However, the other half is always there to remind you that this is a mediocre affair.