I've always maintained as a life goal to strive for every day: I don't want to be smart, I just don't want to make another bad decision in my life again. You see, it's important to set the bar low enough so your dreams can actually get legs over that thing.
Being smart is bad. I mean, we're always walking around trying to do less in our already busy lives. Why would anyone walk around and try to think more than they have to do so? Are you some kind of smart guy? Do you think you're better than me?
It's clear to us laymen, Joe Sixpack, and Mr Go-home-have-sex-with-wife-and-wake-up-early-to-slave-for-wages - you can be too smart for your own good. Even certain republics of peoples have had revolutions of culture that punished intellectuals for for their nagging intellectualizing and tweed jackets with elbow patches. Indeed, it would be difficult to sip a half-cap chai latte when you're knee deep in a rice field wishing you never cracked open a book. It happened, and it can happen again.
Because I don't want to be accused of moving things too quickly, let's recap because saying the obvious is self-evident; nothing could be more clear. So: smart - okay. Too smart - you're making me look bad, and stop it. That's why someone who is too smart for their own good is called a "smartypants" or "smartass", because your bum should only be a device to sit upon and not make life decisions for you.
Video gamers know this. Video gamers won't stand for some game to demean them and insult their intelligence. Oh no. It's more than evident gamers have thumbs for d-pads and index fingers for mice to express ourselves and reclaim our culture from these Berkeley has-beens. Hands off my video game! Leave my intelligence alone!
Some games try to do something different, and you know what? Someone gets hurt. In fact, someone somewhere has lost an eye in admidst all these games and fun. And that's the case with "Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard" (2009), as developed by Vicious Cycle and published by D3Publisher: this is a game that's too smart for its own good, its so smart it makes us look dumb.
I don't want to look dumb. I'm a video gamer, dammit! This matters to me.
Eat Lead is a self-aware post-modern video game. And because you can never recap enough, another way to say this is that this game knows its a video game. Its protagonist, Matt Hazard, will often break the fourth wall and speak to you , the audience, directly, but knowing full well what he is doing and what you are doing. He is a video game character in a video game; you are some guy, John Q Public, playing a video game with a video game controller in your hand. For instance, if you don't touch the controls for awhile and leave Hazard idle for a minute or so, he say of his own accord, "Great framerate, huh? Of course, I am standing still..."
This video game character is making a joke about the video game that you are playing. A joke. First, we had to dodge the fireballs in the insanely difficult "Ghosts 'N Goblins" (1990); now, this. What's next, is the video game going to shoot fireballs out of a third-party peripheral you have to purchase while having to talk about your mother in the first person about you?
We can only handle so much. We are red-blooded salt of the earth normal everyday gamers. We want a game where you have a gun and you shoot things that die or blow up. It should be as easy as falling off a stool and having an orgasm. Instead, Eat Lead goes out of its way, again and again, of making self-referential quips to video games to excessive amounts. Lots of jokes.
So many jokes in fact that they sometimes get lost in the game play of shooting things. However, Eat Lead is less of a game instead of a constant barrage of self-referential jokes. That's right: Eat Lead is a six hour video game version of "Scary Movie 4" that masquerades as a video game. Seeing as it is basically very basic (always recap!), Eat Lead is a comedy experience that uses your shooter skills honed from hours upon hours of homoerotic "Gears of War" (2006) game play to meander casually through Eat Lead.
This isn't a hard game. It isn't challenging. You can get through this game while doing your taxes, changing the baby's diaper or having a quick nap. The game play becomes very stale and repetitive, but the game play of this video game surprisingly doesn't become the focus of the video game, as neither do the graphics nor the outrageous powerfulness of the guns (or lack thereof, in this case). Instead, the easy and trite gameplay is a chore for the gamer to undertake to listen to the valuable quips tossed out by various game characters.
Says the Russian commando: "My [assault rifle] clip is as empty as a capitalists heart". In reference to "Die Hard" (1988), Hazard quips, "Yippee kai-yay, mother- whoops, can't say that," as well as "Come on out, be in a video game, have a few laughs." The "Soak 'Em" commandos armed with water squirt guns says, "Someone get me a refill! I'm as dry as a bone here!" and "Prepare to be liquidated!"
It goes on. Some of these are so self-referntial and post-modern that you'll roll your eyes so far back in head that you'll see your brain thinking about shaking your head in amazement/disgust/something that's not quite humor, but close nonetheless. On the loading screen, when the game usually has helpful hints or information about game play, it instead quips "Tip: a gift of money, usually for services rendered," as well as "With a loading screen this long, the level has got to be good!".
It goes on some more. Playing this game is like a chronicle into the history of video games and the genre of shooter in particular, referencing the 2D enemy sprites of "Wolfenstein 3D" 1992 (the Wafflethin), Halo (Crown of Light and Master Chef), Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong (Captain Carpenter) and more. Much more. But, as its referential humor, you needed to have been there at the time and have played these many games to get the humor of this game.
Despite the story that has strong allusions to 80's action heroes as well as many video game references, Eat Lead has a particular target for all of its comedy: you, the gamer, Mr Escapist-from-reality-by-saving-princesses-through-headshots. This game makes fun of the person playing it. Eat Lead never lets you forget you are playing a video game. There is no suspension of disbelief whatsoever, and so this game constantly points out the futility of the action you are currently doing: staring at a screen, using a piece of plastic to animate some guy who's a stand-in for you and your hero aspirations. This is especially clear whereupon waiting in an elevator to take you to the next level, Hazard senses your impatience and wisecracks "It's not like you have anything better to do; you're playing a video game, after all."
That hurts. Oh I won't lie. That gets my blood boiling mad, and as the average, quintessential video gamer I won't stand for it. In fact, I am so white-knuckled with irrational fan-boy rage that I'm having trouble typing this right now. As a matter of fact, because my hands are balled up into non-retractable clenched fists of violence, I am typing right now by punching the keyboard like Chris Redfield does at the end of "Resident Evil 5" (2009) with the boulder. I'm average about 30 wpm, all the same.
Other mediums have long endured the po-mo treatment from its creators, and all you have to do is see anything written by Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman or the Wayan brothers for that matter. "Scream" (1996) was the movie that set po-mo into the mainstream. Since then we've endured "Dawson's Creek", "South Park", "The Simpsons" and "Fight Club".
But me? I'm a gamer. By nature, I want to point a cross hair on a barrel and pull the trigger and witness the best rendering of flame and explosion possible on current game-generation hardware. I want to shoot people and see how rag-doll physics have evolved since the last game. Cutscenes are the reward for slugging it through a long hard level. Story is just a device to let me know who the next boss is at the end of the level.
This game lacks many things, and as a gamer I'm also expressing my need to whine and complain about something that may get addressed in the following sequel, a formula that is not repeated for any other medium or type of entertainment. This game doesn't have enough boobs or explosions. This game doesn't have the gigantic guns as shown on the game cover: a minigun and a huge assault rifle. This game doesn't have any blood. This game doesn't copy Gears of War well enough since I am incapable of judging this game on its own merits and independent of comparison to other games a la "it's like Gears of War meets Scary Movie" type of mis-mash x-meets-y.
Recap? You betcha, drinking buddy/comrade/fellow union member. Eat Lead is the work of bourgeois decadent game designers who think they're better than us, the common video gamer good guy. Eat Lead makes jokes that force us to laugh at ourselves, we the serious video gamer. Because video games are serious. Period. Poker face.
And while in the end, Eat Lead really isn't much of a good game, nor honestly a very funny one, nor even has a story that lives up to its promising premise and voice acting. Where Eat Lead has transgressed is in it brazen effort to do something innovative off the beaten track, something D3Publisher has been guilty with games about survival horror-ambulance driving and attacking an 80-foot tall bikini-clad woman with a tank and helicopter.
See, we the gamer demand a subserviance to the status quo and hereby neccessitate all games in the future copy directly from Gears of War, God of War, and Halo. It's beyond me why every game that is released from now on isn't a sequelized installment of "God of Gears: Halo Edition", which is a 3rd person shooter where you can take cover and shoot at enemies in the 1st person while doing quick-time events and jumping puzzle in the third person and can slaughter minotaurs and medusi to our hearts content.
Video gamers require mediocrity. That's why Eat Lead, a mediocre game that is actually more than a game and is a post-modern parody of video gaming, is not suitable.
To recap, put your favorite non sequitur here.
Rated: Two out of 3 stars. Recommended, if you are one of those smartpants-jerks who can laugh at yourself.
Played to completion at medium difficulty (hardest default difficulty) on the Xbox 360. Took six to eight hours.