Matt Hazards first foray into the video game industry was an abysmal failure. D3 Publishing’s new action hero made his debut last year when Eat Lead: The Return Of Matt Hazard landed on store shelves to unfavorable reviews and non-existent fan fair. Eat Lead was supposed to be a “comedic” third person shooter that parodied and poked fun of all the videogame cliche’s which plague the industry. Apparently D3 Publisher and developers at Vicious Cycle were unaware that forcing players to suffer though the same cliche’s that they’re sick of from other games isn’t fun under any circumstance, no matter how self aware the game may be. Eat Lead’s main gimmick was it’s unique and intriguing premise. When the game was first announced, D3 did the a great job providing media outlets with fake images of retro games starring Matt Hazard suggesting that Matt has in fact been a videogame icon for decades now. The game followed this fiction and as the sub-title suggests Eat Lead was supposed to signify Matt Hazard’s triumphant return after several years in retirement.
Despite being a side scrolling shooting this time around Matt Hazard: Blood Bath And Beyond is essentially a sequel to Eat Lead. A sequel that dismisses all the parts that didn’t quiet work but retains all the elements which had great potential, namely the premise and great sense of humour. Anyone who grew up playing shooters like Contra will feel right at home with Blood Bath And Beyond. The tried and tested “run from one end of the screen to the other while shooting everything in sight” formulae is still in affect but Vicious Cycle has modernized the game just enough to keep it from feeling a clone of a classic series. The shooting mechanics are spot on with the ability to either run and gun or aim in a specific direction while standing stationary. You also have the ability to shoot in to the backgrounds, melee enemies who come all up in your grill and throw grenades which can bounce off of walls for strategic placement or explode on impact. There are also several gun types you can pick up along the way including a Shotgun, Machine Gun and Rocket Launcher, each of which have limited ammo but are way more powerful than your default weapon. Once you’ve killed enough enemies to fill up the orange bar below your health meter you can activate Hazard Time which temporarily increases your speed and fire power.
The story centres around Matt revisiting levels previous games to take down the evil Marathon MegaCorp who was captured the 8 bit version of himself. Each level you visit have humorous concepts and just like in Eat Lead, Blood Bath And Beyond parodies several already established games, movies and sub-culture, only this time playing through them isn’t a pain. As with most games of this type there is a Co-Op option so you and a buddy (who will be playing as Matt’s trusty sidekick Dexter Dare) can play through the entire campaign together. Unfortunately online Co-Op isn’t an option which is a huge bummer, instead players will have to settle for an online leaderboard. Graphically the game looks very similar to Bionic Commando Rearmed but Blood Bath is far less punishing than Capcom’s offering. For starters as I mentioned earlier Matt has a health meter and he very rarely dies from a single hit. Also the game offers three difficulty options, the lowest of which gives you unlimited continues while the hardest setting, titled Fuck This Shit, offers none.
It’s extremely hard for me to continue praising Blood Bath And Beyond without acknowledging the massive elephant in the room who answers to the name Shadow Complex. While it’s not entirely fair for me to judge one game based on the quality of another, being that they are both of the same genre and at the same price point comparisons are inevitable. Shadow Complex was an incredible game that out-ranks Blood Bath And Beyond in every single aspect, the fact that D3 Publisher saw fit to release their game for the same price as Chair’s masterpiece is almost insulting. With that said, I understand that both developers were chasing entirely different philosophies. Shadow Complex was a solo, immersive experience in the vein of Metroid or Castlevania while Blood Bath And Beyond has more of Contra vibe with is entirely fine as it serves a completely different audience. If you only own a PS3 this whole situation is a non-issue for you but 360 owners who have already played through Shadow Complex may feel a little short change after dropping 1200 Microsoft Points on Matt‘s Sophomore adventure.
Put simply Matt Hazard Blood Bath And Beyond is a great title which fans of games like Contra would love. The hilarious writing, witty one-liners, over the top gore, great gameplay mechanics and fun co-op component makes it well worth playing. In a post Shadow Complex world the $15 asking price is a little steep but given that titles like Rogue Warrior exists and have to nerve to ask for 4 times the amount of money it’s up to you whether you see the glass as half empty or half full. I would also like to take time out to commend both D3 Publisher and Vicious Cycle for sticking with Matt Hazard and making significant revisions rather than letting the franchise die. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of Mr. Hazard, a $10 sequel would be greatly appreciated.