Some of you may have been a bit confused when first hearing about Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. You wondered what the "return" was all about, when you've never even heard of the franchise ever before. And there's a perfectly good and satirical explanation behind all of that. In what may be one of the very few parody games out there, Eat Lead is a Where's Waldo game of sorts that veteran gamers will look at and spot the various spoofs and parodies.
The fictional story behind Matt Hazard is that he is a longtime videogame character who has been starring in games for the past 25 years. His story is essentially that of Duke Nukem's, with his early years starting off in the 8-bit world, until eventually moving up to the third-dimension (a'la Duke Nukem 3D). The clips and pictures you're shown of Matt Hazard's videogames are not-so-loosely based on Duke Nukem, and in fact the resemblance is quite obvious. Matt Hazard recalls how popular he was, and also recalls his downfalls as a videogame character.
Taking a page from the Nintendo book, Hazard thought it'd be a good business decision if he were to be featured in a variety of non-action games, such as a go-kart racer, and other family friendly titles. This move practically destroyed the franchise and left Matt Hazard an unemployed videogame character. Until one day, an executive shuffle at Matt Hazard publisher Marathon MegaSoft triggered the development and comeback of Matt Hazard. But there's more to the comeback that Matt isn't aware of and so you'll play through the game until you eventually figure out the CEO's motive (which is stupidly comical, and not very nostalgic).
Like I said earlier on, Matt Hazard is a "Where's Waldo" game, meaning that it boasts a ton of parodies and you'll want to keep your eyes and ears open for them all. Besides parodies, their are also indirect references made to other popular game characters, one of which being Lara Croft, who Matt Hazard claims to have a history with. Besides the fun story segments and the parodies, Matt Hazard fails as a videogame. You pick up the controller expecting this wild third-person action game, and instead you get what feels like an incomplete early build-in-progress that's missing animation, missing polish, missing artificial intelligence, and missing fluidity.
Yes, Eat Lead is yet another third-person game to try and mimic the feel of Gears of War, but it fails to come anywhere near Epic's legendary series because it feels outdated. For starters, the cover mechanic feels clunky, as does running from one cover spot to the next. Additionally, with A.I. as brain dead as the ones in the game, taking cover feels pointless most of the time, because your enemies repeat the same strand of actions over and over again. Where as other games feature dynamic A.I. that think and act according the situation, the A.I. here just stands in one place and will occasionally hide behind an object for a few seconds only to come out and shoot again. Your opponents are simply that stupid and pose little to no challenge.
Furthermore, you have the shooting mechanics which aren't fun either, again, thanks to your opponents. Because you're basically shooting at sitting ducks, you never feel any sense of challenge or reward. Moreover, enemies require too many hits to be taken down, with the exception of a well-planted headshot. I don't like having to shoot an enemy any more than three to four times, it slows down the pace of the game, otherwise. Fluidity is another factor, where as the action feels smooth and precise in Gears of War, Eat Lead feels clunky for an overall experience that lacks polish. On top of all of that, there isn't even any multiplayer? Come on, now.
Visually, Eat Lead doesn't fair any better. The game engine it runs on doesn't do the game any favors with it's plain Jane texture work, and not so pretty character details. Additionally, games such as Killzone 2 have set the bar so high, in particular for things like animations, that watching Eat Lead's animations makes me cringe. Shooting down enemies only makes them drop like a pile of rocks, with little to no attention detail in their movements. The environments are also bland, and some are just downright uninspired in design. Lastly, the framerate is okay, but should've at least ran at 60 frames with such mediocre visuals.
The audio is probably the one and only aspect of the game I enjoyed, and that's thanks to the gruffy voice of Will Arnett (who voices Matt Hazard), and the awesomely legendary Neil Patrick Harris (who voices Wallace “Wally” Wellesley, the CEO). The voice acting is decent for the most part, but you'd expect that for a game parodying Duke Nukem you'd get a lot more grit out of the dialogue…and you don't. There is hardly a swear word to be found in the game, which explains the Teen rating, which in turn also explains the blue blood. Still, even though I enjoyed the audio, it still could've been much better.
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is a great concept that was executed very poorly and seems rushed. With more attention to detail such as better A.I., more fluid gameplay mechanics, multiplayer, and better visuals, D3 could've had a solid game on their hands. As it stands now, Eat Lead feels like it should've been slapped with a budget price and uploaded to the PlayStation Network as a downloadable game. There is simply no way a $50 price tag is justifiable.