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Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: D3
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Arcade/ Action/ Classic/Retro

Graphics & Sound:

Poor Matt Hazard. Once, he was once a videogame icon, but now he's just a washed-up has-been that strives to reclaim his spotlight as the world's best videogame character. Or, so the fiction behind the Matt Hazard games would have you believe. Matt has only appeared in two games to date: last year's Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard and the recent Xbox Live Arcade release, Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond.

The first attempt was a big budget retail game that tried to poke fun at the standards and conventions of the current videogame line-up. It definitely had its fair share of problems, but the idea was clever. This time around, the developers (who openly joke at their own expense) did not have a budget nearly as big as their last game, so instead they decided to take Matt Hazard's adventures back to two dimensions. So, instead of satirizing Gears of War or Halo, they chose something that feels a little more retro, like the old-school classic Contra.

It seems the new trend is to create 3-D characters on a 2-D plane and Blood Bath & Beyond is using that style in a very interesting way. One of the on-going jokes from Eat Lead was to use multiple art styles from other games to accurately parody them like 8-bit Nazis for a Wolfenstein-like level. Blood Bath & Beyond uses the same trick, but for a new batch of games like Mirror's Edge's rooftop dystopia and Team Fortress 2's Dust Bowl map. The attention to detail for each of the respective games' levels is actually fairly impressive. TF2 has been recreated with functional transporters, Engineer turrets, and even an enemy Pyro. It is obvious the development teams spent a lot of time analyzing the atmosphere and feel of other games and captured their look perfectly.

One of the calling cards of Matt Hazard last year was the lead character was voiced by comedian Will Arnett. Arnett's gravelly gravitas gave Matt Hazard the typical space marine voice. Unfortunately, Arnett doesn't make a return for Blood Bath & Beyond, but if I didn't say anything, you wouldn't have noticed. The sound alike voice-actor does a great impression and still makes Matt a believable character. There isn't a lot of voice acting in Blood Bath & Beyond, (another point where the game openly pokes fun), but that makes it fit it more with the Contra-like inspiration. Heavy guitar riffs and catchy hard-rock themes go a long way to help Matt Hazard feel like he is in is own alternate history version of an 80's classic, complete with evil socialist dictator that speaks in broken English.


For the uninitiated that aren't aware of Matt Hazard and his universe, Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond is the sequel to last year's Eat Lead. Taking place immediately after last year's entry, Blood Bath & Beyond finds Matt toe-to-toe against General Neutronov, the evil socialist dictator who has scoured the servers where the 8-bit version of Matt Hazard is kept. In a strange Back to the Future-esque storyline, Matt has to re-visit some of his older games (as well as others) that are kept on the company's servers to stop General Neutronov and his conspicuously contrived master plan.

Anyone who is familiar with Contra or Metal Slug will appreciate Matt Hazard's simple gameplay. There are bad guys. Bad guys need to be shot. Anything that moves, it is up to Matt to beat it, shoot it, blow it up, or burn it anyway he can. Stripping away the generic third person shooting from Eat Lead, Blood Bath & Beyond keeps it simple by having Matt run and gun in 2D while navigating some tricky platforming elements. As Matt kills more baddies, he earns bigger multipliers and eventually earns "Hazard Time" which, when activated, causes the titular character to become invincible and much more deadly. Enemies come in a few different varieties, ranging from easy grunt fodder all the way to cheap bullet sponges. There is definitely a bit of strategy and fast reflexes involved because Blood Bath & Beyond taps into the nostalgic center of lost skills learned from other classic run and gun shooters that we don't see today.

Although "Hazard Time" is a life saver in a pinch, another gameplay element that proves much more useful is being able to aim in the background. Adding a layer of visual depth, enemies occasionally shoot from the background or run into position behind Matt. Being able to pick off the backup forces helps keep the situations from escalating too much and conserves health for the end-boss of each level. And the bosses are just as ridiculous and hokey as each of the levels they star in. Matt eventually has to fight a nuclear submarine, a walking lighthouse, a steampunk mechanical scorpion, an enormous laser-shooting rhinoceros, and even space Yetis. So Matt Hazard can be called many things, but no one can say it isn't creative.

There is a co-op mode for Blood Bath & Beyond, but it is limited to local play only, meaning no play sessions over Xbox Live. Although you can choose to play with infinite continues, the co-op encourages backstabbing teamwork. If one player is down and out, but the surviving player has at least two lives, the dead player can steal a life to jump back in the fight. Of course, that means both players have to be extra careful and should go out of their way to find extra lives and continues, but it is definitely fun in a casual setting. It also probably helps to have a buddy along to collect all of the hidden tokens and secrets to unlock bonus concept art of all of Matt's "games" over the years.


Striking right at the heart of a problem most games have today, Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond hits the ground running and proves that it isn't a cake walk. Sporting three difficulty settings, the developers decided to have a joke at the player's expense. The modes: Wussy, Damn This is Hard, and F*** This S*** live up to their namesake and actually serve as a fantastic description of what is about to happen.

When you start the game, you are given a handful of lives and a few continues. You can earn extra lives with high scores, but they will eventually run out from textbook trial-and-error gameplay. The only way to earn extra continues is to play a mini-game after each level that mixes pachinko with rag-doll physics. Earning points in the mini-game tallies up high scores to earn an extra continue, but from the judicious distribution of the enemies and bosses, it is really hard to beat it on anything except Wussy. Unless you are playing with a friend, the best way to enjoy Blood Bath & Beyond is to abuse the infinite continues in Wussy mode to understand the level layouts and enemy patterns and then attempt a high-score on the harder difficulty settings.

Game Mechanics:

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond is appropriately straightforward with how it wants you to play. Matt runs either left or right and jumps with (A) and shoots whatever weapon he has equipped with (X). For the enemies that shoot from the background, hold (LT) to turn Matt and fire back. He can also throw grenades with (RT) and activate "Hazard Time" with (Y). When the nonstop barrage of bullets has you pinned down, holding (RB) allows Matt to plant himself in position and aim more accurately with the Analog Stick.

This is probably the only time Blood Bath & Beyond suffers in its controls. When Matt is planted, the aiming doesn't feel good. In fact, it feels loose and imprecise which is the opposite of its purpose. When firing single-shot weapons, like shotguns and pistols, the aiming is brutally difficult to hit its target. With other weapons like machine guns or rocket-launchers, it obviously doesn't matter as much, but for one boss fight, in particular, the inadequacy of the aiming really makes more of a fight against the controls than the end-boss.

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond is definitely a step in the right direction for the fictional superstar of videogames. The 2-D gameplay serves as a much better vehicle for the jokes and story that surround the Hazard universe. If the series is to continue, this would definitely be the option to pursue. Fast action and old school nostalgia makes Matt stand out, but the lack of a proper multiplayer and brutal difficulty only limits the appeal. For a name like "Hazard," Blood Bath & Beyond is maybe a little too cautious in its first attempt at XBLA.

If Matt does indeed return, you can be sure to see me at the welcoming party, after I stock up on lives first.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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