Developer: Vicious Cycle Software / Publisher: D3 Publisher / ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $15.00
As I watched Jay Leno fill the void left by Carson’s departure, I decided that video games will have “made it” when they become so pervasive that they could be discussed on The Tonight Show. I half believed it would never happen as in my particular school hallways talking about video games was the quickest way to Nerdsville (on the Assbeating Express). My fevered dreams have become reality for good reason – games now have over 30 years of culture behind them. This ubiquity means that not only can television hosts reference games, but so can games themselves.
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond is a sign of the times, and also a damn fun shooter. Offering gaming humor in addition to solid play, BBB fares better than series predecessor Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, which only managed the former. With competent run-and-gun play and clever parodies of games new and old, BBB offers something for everyone.
The seasoned run-and-gunner could identify a list of games from which BBB takes its play mechanics. Special weapons are obtained from single-alphabet icons as in Contra, while a stock of throwable grenades and automatic close-range melee attacks echo Metal Slug. Whether this is homage or theft is contentious given the game’s tongue-in-cheek tone. The point is ultimately moot, though, because the mechanics work.
Each of the game’s eight stages throw waves of increasingly challenging enemies with attacks varied enough to require an appreciable level of skill. A few hours of death grant knowledge of patterns, which ultimately earns hard-wrought victory. The process is satisfying, and the ability to save progress and play individual levels is appreciated.
Again echoing tradition, BBB allows players to tackle the game with friends in “co-op,” so quoted because at times the experience becomes astoundingly antagonistic. In addition to the explicit ability to steal lives (there’s even an achievement for doing so), BBB allows players to engage in the time-honored tradition of taking all the good items and scrolling the screen too fast. Seasoned players will crack a wry grin at such incidents – much like a war veteran reviewing his commendations earned in blood and pain – but newer players will wonder why a modern game allowed such obvious mechanical oversights. BBB sadly doesn’t support co-op over Xbox Live, though the apologist could say that this is to more authentically recreate the run-and-gun experience.
While BBB never dazzles with technical prowess, the game’s visual entertainment is in uncanny caricature. Levels often mimic the visual styles of other games; Bioshock, Team Fortress 2, and Doom all receive imitative levels laden with that we-kid-because-we-care sentiment. Some of the levels exhibit subtle humor beyond merely looking like another game, such as a distant roof runner in the Mirror’s Edge level that keeps tumbling off buildings, or the romp through F-Stop Laboratories in the Portal level.
The moment-to-moment visuals are livened by the game’s extensive use of ragdoll physics. Blasting enemies with the shotgun sends them bouncing comically across the stage. Perhaps in another nod to Metal Slug, the game is fantastically gory as well. Enemies erupt in red clouds when perforated, and more intense action will send enemies — in whole or in part — bouncing off the screen, eventually coating the display in rose-tinted viscera.
All of this motion can make it difficult to track attacks, though. While enemy bullets stand out, other attacks like sticks of dynamite or melee attacks can leave one dead without warning. Additionally, the game’s pseudo-3d presentation can make it hard to gauge when shots fired from enemies in the background pass through the player’s plane.
Most run-and-gun control essentials are present in BBB. Shooting is natural enough but the jumping feels extremely floaty. Matt catches a lot of air time and accelerates faster in the air than on the ground, which can make pinpoint jumps through bullet patterns imprecise. BBB uses a life bar instead of the genre-standard one hit kills which mitigates the frustration, but that doesn’t help the (thankfully infrequent) miss-this-jump-and-die situations. Players can hold a bumper to lock themselves in place to aim without moving, but sadly there is no button to lock the aim in a specific place while moving. Most of the game functions well with the provided controls, but some waves near the end of the game left me wishing I could shoot while running in the other direction.
The sound effects and music in BBB are serviceable but mostly forgettable. The game does feature a handful of voice-over quips that Matt will occasionally shout, but as the game explains, bad review scores and budget cutbacks means that Will Arnett does not return to voice Matt Hazard. Another suitably gravelly-voiced actor takes his place, though the speech becomes repetitive near the end of the game due to a lack of variety. Player two assumes the role of Matt’s sidekick, Dexter Dare, whose wormy and grating voice is a constant and comedic reminder that P2 will always be inferior.
Blood Bath and Beyond is a mechanically sound run-and-gunner with a great sense of humor and gaming history. Most gamers will get at least one enjoyable playthrough out of it whether they’re looking for an enjoyable spoof on popular games, an extremely difficult slog (the hardest difficulty is called “Fuck this Shit!”), or just some co-op hyper violence. I’m glad the idea behind Matt Hazard didn’t end with Eat Lead, and Blood Bath and Beyond proves there’s a good deal of merit to the concept when paired with an enjoyable game.