Eat Lead: The Return Of Matt Hazard
Matt Hazard was one of the biggest names in gaming back in the early Eighties and mid- Nineties. Beginning as a humble side-scrolling shoot-’em-up action hero, Matt was soon lending his name to titles from a wide range of genres – everyone wanted a piece of Matt Hazard’s distinctive brand of action.
But this popularity soon took its toll. The standard of Matt’s games began to suffer and his name, once a mark of assured quality, became synonymous with rushed, below-par cash-ins. By the time textured polygons arrived on the scene, Matt Hazard was high and dry.
If you know your gaming history, then you’ll have heard tales such as this numerous times before, except none of them will have been quite like this one – this one is made up.
Matt Hazard isn’t just a fictional character, he’s a fictional fictional character. None of the games he’s supposed to have been in actually ever existed. He’s a completely new character, and all those other games have been made up to fill out his back story. Why would Vicious Cycle need to make up old games for a new character? Because Matt Hazard is a game character that knows he’s a game character, and apparently exists in a weird kind of limbo between the real world and various in-game worlds. It’s like Last Action Hero with games, basically.
The story of Eat Lead goes that after several years in a jobless wilderness, Matt Hazard has been offered the chance to make a big comeback in a new game, namely Eat Lead. But what Matt doesn’t know is that Eat Lead is a trap and that the story of the game ends with Matt being killed. He figures this out pretty early on though and you then spend the rest of the game trying to escape from Eat Lead before it kills you. You’re assisted along the way by QA, who is an employee of Megasoft (the fictional company behind Eat Lead in a fictional sense) rebelling against her employer by trying to rescue Matt, and hindered by a mysterious hacker who is dropping characters from Matt’s old games into the code of Eat Lead.
Does that make sense? No, of course not. It’s all very, very silly, but the whole idea is to provide a platform for Vicious Cycle to take the mickey out of videogame conventions, which is an unusual, if not totally unique, idea.
Self-mockery is a risky business in videogames. It can occasionally work extremely well, as it does in the Disgaea series, which sends up the extravagance of Japanese RPGs while simultaneously being an extravagant Japanese RPG itself. But it can also go horribly wrong. Did you ever play The Bard’s Tale on the PS2? No, of course you didn’t. It was crap. It was a woefully conventional action RPG that thought it was terribly clever because its own characters kept pointing out how conventional the whole thing was. Not clever. Crap.
There’s still a danger that Eat Lead could fall into the same trap as The Bard’s Tale, but so far it’s succeeded in being reasonably amusing. We’ve gently snorted with mirth at the packshots, screens and fact sheets Vicious Cycle has created for Hazard’s back catalogue, and the demonstration of the game we were given raised a few smiles too. Gameplay-wise, Eat Lead is looking fairly mediocre at the moment, so it’s going to be vital that the script writers make sure the jokes don’t wear thin.