Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond
When Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard busted onto the scene in early 2009, its uninspired gameplay was met with chastising jeers, and its referential gaming humor failed to garner even cricket chirps. Matt’s full-on next-generation title fell flat on its face, and developer Vicious Cycle decided to shave off a dimension and make a 2D side-scrolling shooter. Blood Bath and Beyond’s return to basics proves to be a better fit for the wisecracking has-been, resulting in a clean and simple old school action game with only a few lose screws. Just be sure to bring a friend.
Blood Bath and Beyond’s goofy and entirely skippable plot involves Matt’s old nemesis, General Neutronov, traveling back in time and holding the hero’s younger, 8-bit self hostage. Matt then returns to the classic games of his past an attempt to track down the weasel-y Neutronov. The Hazard games of yesterday share striking similarities to some popular, recent titles such as Bioshock, Mirror’s Edge, Team Fortress 2, and even a dash of Okami. Vivid and varied colors liven up each unique level as you paint the walls red with your machine gun. The eight side-scrolling worlds of Blood Bath and Beyond are a perfect fit for Vicious Cycle’s copious amounts of humorous video game nods.
Wacky level design isn’t the only homage here, as the gameplay of Contra has been ripped-off wholesale. Matt and on-again-off-again sidekick, Dexter Dare, scramble for familiar power-ups just like in Konami’s classic shooter. Countless thick-headed enemies saturate the screen with bright, glowing projectiles that mercilessly tax your reflexes. Problem is, the game’s physics-based engine results in floaty platforming, botched jumps, and sluggish bullet-dodging. On anything but the “Wussy” difficulty (unlimited continues), prepare to shred through lives like popcorn. The game attempts to remedy this with an invincibility power rewarded for combo-kills, but you’ll be dying so much that you’ll forget it even exists.
If you intend to play Blood Bath and Beyond single-player, you can knock at least one point off my score. Playing solo feels unbalanced, unfair, and downright not fun. Have a buddy suit up as Dexter, however, and you have a fine-tuned level of rewarding challenge. Strategically cooperating to take down the game’s humungous bosses gets better as the game progresses. The biggest gripe you’ll have with your co-op buddy is who gets the flamethrower.
Matt Hazard’s downloadable excursion for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade is custom-tailored for hardcore gamers with a thirst for challenge. This is a punishing shooter made for masochistic video game enthusiasts with a sense of humor and a thorough knowledge of gaming history. Matt Hazard’s debut missed the mark with gamers, and though this entry isn’t a bull’s-eye, his aim has gotten a lot better.