Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard: The Review

Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard cover

Humour is a difficult thing. The ability to predict and illicit guffaws from even the most jovial of people can be akin to a tightrope act, even when you can see this person and gauge the success of your entertainment from their face and body language.

Harder still is to script the equivalent of this. To write something down months in advance of it reaching its audience in the hope that what was ink becomes mirth must be a daunting prospect.

I didn’t envy the task facing Vicious Cycle Software, the developers of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (and of the new Earth Defense Force), who were trying to be funny but at the same time integrate that comedy into a functioning, enjoyable game.

The setup for Eat Lead is that you play as Matt Hazard, an 80s action videogame star. He is a straight-up parody of Duke Nukem. This fictional career starts him off as a side scroller in the 16-bit era (similar to Contra) through to his decline into obscurity making child-friendly games in the Action Kart genre.

This path into obscurity – that the makers of the new Duke would have done well to pay heed to – mirrors the real life decline of interest in 80s Übermensch heroes like Stallone and, like the 80s action stars before him, Matt attempts to make a comeback.

Eat Lead - Zombies in tennis court

I’m pretty sure no 80s star fought zombies in a tennis court though.

Unfortunately as Matt enters the game things go wrong and he finds himself fighting through every action game trope as well as all of his previous nemeses.

It’s a solid enough idea for a game but the problem is that the engine isn’t really up to the game’s humorous intentions. If you are going to make a game that ribs on poor game design, you better make sure that the game is airtight. Eat Lead is far from it.

For starters, Eat Lead is graphically rough around almost every edge. The Matt Hazard model looks pretty detailed and when the game is displaying 2D Wolfenstein-style enemies and deliberate graphical glitches it actually works, but there are many sets that simply look cobbled together – and not in the deliberate fashion that the comedy implies.

Eat Lead - Matt in a swimming pool

Sure, just chuck some dudes in kevlar and some crates with Fraggmee written on them in a swimming pool area. That’ll do. 

The same can be said for the game mechanics. The writers clearly had a lot of fun mocking burly space marines and the homoerotic overtones of Gears of War, but this aping falls flat when every single area in the game is filled with waist-high walls and the cover system doesn’t actually work as well as the games that Eat Lead is trying to mock.

There are a couple of stand-out moments in the game – the much-advertised JRPG boss battle is inspired – that I wouldn’t want to spoil, but overall nothing gels enough to make Eat Lead a compelling experience from a gameplay perspective.

If only to sate your curiosity at a game attempting the equivalent of an Airplane/Blazing Saddles approach, it’s still reasonably fun to visit each area of the game and see where it goes next. There are certainly a fair number of dud jokes – there are too many “hey, you remember that game? So do we…” moments that ring hollow – but there are also a lot of nice fourth-wall moments, and the payoff for confronting the ultimate villain and meeting the sexy sidekick had me grinning.

Eat Lead - A whole new level

“There’s a joke in here somewhere, I can feel it.”

Despite never being quite sure whether the game is laughing with you or at you – as in a lot of Mel Brooks films – there is enough charm (helped by the solid voice acting from Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris) in the rough to merit a budget purchase.