Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Mar 11, 2009

In this X-Play Review, Morgan checks out the new multiplatform title 'Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard'. Does 'Eat Lead' successfully combine gaming humor with a good game? Find out in this review.

The Pros
  • Top-notch voice acting from Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris
  • Some dead-on parodies of gaming clich├ęs
The Cons
  • Extremely repetitive when it's not busy being frustratingly difficult
  • Obtuse boss battles with inadequate feedback
  • Sloppy aiming and melee combat
  • Comedy does little to offset the blandness

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard is yet another example of a winning premise that fails to live up to its potential as a game. The quick summary is this: A has-been videogame star from the ‘80s and ‘90s makes a comeback in a shooter whose inhabitants are not only parodies of real game characters and clichés, but are fully aware of their game character status. Much like other high-concept offerings in recent memory, such as Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Legendary, Eat Lead apparently thought its logline was going to be enough to coast on. It thought wrong.

Send in the Clowns

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard ReviewMatt Hazard himself is a parody of overmuscled videogame badasses in general and Duke Nukem in particular. Voiced by Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Matt is gravel-voiced and world-weary, but willing to put up with a lot to get back on top of the gaming heap. In the ‘80s and ‘90s he was a big deal, but when he talked his software company into making a kart racing game based on him, his career tanked. Now a new CEO is making a big shooter and demanded Matt come out of retirement to star. Trouble is, by the end of the level it’s clear that this was a doublecross intended to kill Hazard off and bring in a new star.

Hazard is saved by the timely intervention of a Cortana-like hacker going by the handle QA. She proceeds to shepherd him through the rest of the game as the company making the game continually hacks in characters and enemies from Hazard’s past titles. Essentially it’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with games and no actual famous characters.

Much of the writing is very clever, and Arnett and Harris are exceptional in a cast that really has no weak links. The humor takes shots at just about everything in the game industry over the last generation or so, including overly-wordy tutorials, repetitive or implausible settings, bad game dialogue, ridiculous character design, RPG text boxes, Mass Effect’s elevator sequences, Halo, World of Warcraft, Mario, and tons of other stuff. It’s generally effective, and Matt Hazard is a likeable character who is entirely capable of seeing the absurdity of his situation.

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Glass houses, anyone?

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard ReviewTrouble is, all this wit is crammed into a distinctly sub-par third-person shooter. Eat Lead is a Gears of War knockoff that doesn’t seem quite able to balance its various elements particularly well. Matt can only perform a handful of moves, even in comparison to Marcus Fenix. Hazard can move, sprint, take cover, vault cover, shoot, and automatically travel between cover points. And that’s about it. He can’t even throw grenades, and indeed occasionally complains about his inability to throw enemies’ grenades back at them.

A power meter that, when maxed, allows the use of fire or ice effects on your shots seems to be an attempt to change things up, but doesn’t really do you much good in most situations. At best, the ice can freeze enemies in place briefly, but it generally still requires a headshot to take them out of the action.

A wide variety of guns are available, although most of them fall into the categories of pistol, shotgun or machine gun. One of the few strategic elements of the game involves enemies’ weaknesses to various types of weapons. Space marines can  take tons of hits from a conventional pistol, but an energy pistol will drop them in four shots or so. Eat Lead curiously lacks a rocket launcher, but it does feature a grenade launcher that is almost impressively useless. The grenades bounce around unpredictably and generally don’t do you any good at anything beyond medium range.

It’s Half-Ass Time!

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard ReviewAs the game wears on, the comedy ceases to be adequate compensation for suffering through the gameplay. Levels are bland and repetitious, filled with the same types of enemies over and over. With the exception of Dexter’s Darlings, robotic replicas of various female game archetypes, the extent of your strategy is “shoot them in the head,” which is often easier said than done thanks to the sketchy aiming that often doesn’t seem to quite hit what you’re pointing at. Up close Hazard can punch foes to death, but the collision detection is awful, the hits have no weight to them, and sometimes you can even find yourself punching enemies from half a room away if they ended up bouncing out of fist range after the first hit. It’s all extremely sloppy in execution.

The first few boss fights are laughably easy QTE fights, which are almost certainly meant as parody. Later, real boss battles offer some of the most frustrating moments in the game. You’ll be forced to suffer through a machine gun laden robot gunship that can’t be damaged as it torments you throughout a level, a battle against an infuriating tentacle monster that can kill Hazard in a single hit, and the ever-popular sniper who can one-shot you if you poke your head out for more than a second. Checkpoints are plentiful, but be prepared to redo sequences several times at certain choke points.

Eat Lead’s biggest failing is that for all its humor and wit regarding the failings and foibles of modern games, it doesn’t deliver a game that’s worth playing. No amount of clever quips and Master Chief parody characters is worth slogging through a shooter that makes Dark Sector look like an inspired stroke of genius. By the end of the game, no amount of clever enemy character names or profanity-laced outbursts by Neil Patrick Harris can distract you from the fact that you’re simply not having much fun.

Article Written By: Matt Keil