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Hall of Classics: Project Overkill

Every now and then, a game that didn't get much attention in its time deserves to be re-examined. Perhaps no era in gaming has more of these overlooked classics than the beginning of the 32-bit console market. The Sony Playstation hit the North American region in the latter half of 1995 amid the stormiest competition in the history of the gaming industry. The market was flooded with new consoles and each one was, especially compared to the 16-bit machines that had dominated the scene, very impressive. In that first year, a lot of games got lost in the tumult. One of those games was an isometric shooter from Konami of America called Project Overkill. PO is, to be curt, little more than a Crusader clone. It took a slightly less nuanced approach to the same "shoot guards, fight robots, get keycards" variety of gameplay. Players take four heavily-armed mercenaries through a series of increasingly brutal levels on fetch quests and assassination missions. The game is not without its flaws, but it doesn't deserve to be permanently shelved along with so many games of its era. Project Overkill is special in that it is the embodiment of everything Sony wanted the Playstation to be. It was a game for a system that was marketed to an older demographic, a teens and up toy that reveled in amounts of edge and gore that out-did even the most controversial games of the previous generation. Even Doom looks tame by comparison. It fit alongside frighteningly violent games like Loaded (which was known in Japan as Blood Factory) and Twisted Metal. PO is full of sick little touches that show where the development energy really went. While the hit detection was only slightly better than in Crusader, the corpses of enemy sprites never disappeared from the field. What's more, your character was rewarded with a sickening squish and bloody footprints if you walked through the bodies. Playing a game like Project Overkill felt like being in a sort of Wild West of game development. It would take years for the censors to slap parental warnings and formal rating systems on games. In the meantime, nasty games like Project Overkill based mission parameters on kill counts and replaced innocuous power ups with intravenous drugs. In its time, Project Overkill got universally low ratings. Its gameplay is repetitive and its difficulty is more than just a little steep. After so many levels, even the shock and buckets of blood wear thin. The game came out just before the Playstation got really innovative with its titles, so while 1997 was a golden year for console gaming, 1996 felt like a lot of wheel-spinning. In the end, games like Project Overkill were proofs of two concepts. First, that consoles were now capable of handling PC-quality games, and second, that the public was ready for a much less childish, if not more mature, gaming experience. In the end, PO and a lot of its contemporaries became hard to find for those few who went looking for them. The isometric view essentially disappeared with improved graphical capabilities. None of these games ever really deserved sequels, but a mindless romp like Project Overkill might just benefit from an update.