Following in the footsteps of Rambo and Indiana Jones, another action hero is making his return to the screen: Matt Hazard.
Of course, you haven't heard of him. He's a fabrication, as is his career. Players of the new video game Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (rated T for teens, ages 13-up, $50, out March 3 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) are in on the joke, but its leading man is not.
In a unique story turn for video games, the plot poses Hazard as a video-game actor who has gone to seed after starring in dozens of hits in the '80s and '90s. Now Hazard has been recruited for a blockbuster comeback.
"He's wry and been around the block, and in his mind nothing will surprise him at this point," says actor Will Arnett (30 Rock, Arrested Development), who provides the character's gravelly voice and, maybe a little, his look on screen. "He's going to get a surprise."
You see, Wallace "Wally" Wellesley, the new owner of the game development studio, was never able to beat Hazard's games. So he "created a game with the sole intention of ensnaring Matt and destroying him once and for all," says Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay), the voice of Wellesley. "Needless to say, he's a tad single-minded."
The conceit allows the makers of Eat Lead to poke plenty of fun at video-game culture and its conventions. Among the enemies that Hazard encounters are the standard modern shooter fodder, including Nazi soldiers, space marines and zombies.
Hollywood gets skewered, too. Hazard's banter echoes Bruce Willis' John McClane from the Die Hard films: "Maybe I wouldn't get hit so often if I wasn't in the line of fire."
Some jokes are aimed directly at gamers, says the game's writer and designer, Dave Ellis, "but a lot of it is pop-culture parody." A veteran of the video-game industry for nearly two decades, Ellis wanted to spin a new twist on the shooting-game genre. "I just came up with the idea of making a comedy shooter," says Ellis, who last year shared the first Writers Guild of America video-game writing award for comic action game Dead Head Fred (for PlayStation Portable).
Most shooters are designed to be made fun of, anyway, he says. "The premise is kind of ridiculous, and why don't you just take that and kind of turn it on itself?"
For the main character, "we just thought it would be fun to look at video-game characters as if they get parts like an actor would in a movie, and every game they are in is a part that they play," Ellis says.
Hazard's mocked-up career is online (at eatleadvideogame.com), and there's even an old-school side-scrolling game called Super Adventures of Matt in Hazard Land (at matthazardextreme.com). A fully fleshed-out "past" Hazard game is expected to be released this summer for download on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.
Many video games have a wry sense of humor, but few embrace comedy. "A game that would make us laugh out loud would be welcome at this time," says George Jones, creative director of GamePro magazine (gamepro.com).
The challenge for Ellis and developer Vicious Cycle (makers of the Ben 10 Alien Force and Marvel Trading Card games) is not only to make Eat Lead funny, but also to "build an awesome game that is fun to play," says Jones, who has followed the game's development but has yet to play it. "There's a level of nuance that can transcend simply making fun of traditional gameplay frustrations like dying or getting stuck in a mission. I hope the developers can capture that."
Ellis and Arnett think they have, and they hope the game is successful enough for a sequel and a real Hazard franchise. "I hope they make one every two years," Arnett says.