It’s a tradition on this blog for me to review a spooky game just in time for Halloween. When it comes to picking a game for these reviews, I try to be versatile and change things up a bit from year to year. With this in mind, I decided to really think outside of the box for this year’s Halloween game. It wasn’t easy, but I think I found just the title! Today, I’m going to be talking about the arcade rail-shooter classic, The House of the Dead.
If you grew up in 90’s and spent any time at all in an arcade, you’ve probably seen this game. The House of the Dead was originally released in 1996 and quickly became an arcade staple. That’s really saying something too, because by ’96, the arcade scene was well on its way to decline. In a time when the majority of gamers had moved their attention from arcade cabinets to home consoles, arcade developers really needed a good gimmick to keep their machines relevant. By the late 90’s this usually meant a machine that offered some kind of unique experience that was impossible to replicate at home. For example, a driving game with a vibrating seat and steering wheel. The House of the Dead was unique because while it did feature a gun-style controller (something not at all unheard of), it was still mainly just a regular arcade machine. The difference that set it apart from the competition was the crisp graphics, excellent sound system, and its fast-paced/jump scare style gameplay.
As I mentioned above, The House of the Dead is a rail-shooter. This is a genre of game where the player typically holds a gun-shaped controller and aims at hostile targets on the screen. Sometimes, the scene contains both hostile and friendly targets. In this game, you play as Federal Agent who is sent to investigate an incident at a secluded mansion. It immediately becomes obvious that the site is ground-zero for a zombie outbreak. Players must navigate the property, kill zombies, and try to rescue as many scientists as possible. Players need to be careful not to shoot the friendlies, while still trying to eliminate as many monsters as they can. The scene presented to the player will routinely shift. This is done to illustrate the fact that the player is constantly moving. Sometimes, this is as simple as proceeding forward down a hallway. Other times, the camera will tilt up or down to suggest the player is looking at the ceiling or peering down the edge of a platform. Often times, monsters will spring out at players when they least expect it. Keeping the player on the edge of their seat is a big factor when it comes to the challenge that the game presents.
Like so many classic arcade titles, The House of the Dead has seen a number of home releases. For years, the most memorable home version of the game was the Sega Saturn port. The Saturn offered light gun support, so this version of the game was able to maintain support for a physical gun controller. But on the downside, the graphics on the Saturn couldn’t even come close to the rich visuals of the arcade machine. These days, the best way to experience The House of the Dead at home is via the 2022 remake. It is available on a number of platforms. But, it’s important to note, that this remake is a completely new version of the game from the ground up. It was designed for game controllers but it does not include any sort of light gun support. Instead, players now control a crosshair using the thumb pad on their console controller and pull one of the shoulder triggers to fire the gun.
Admittedly, the lack of support for a physical gun controller is a bit of a head-scratcher. The whole premise of the original game is that of being a light gun shooter. But from a technical standpoint, I understand the hurdles involved with supporting a large variety guns across a number of different platforms. So in the end, I can’t complain too much even if it seems to break the spirit of the original game. It is important to note that, even without proper light gun support, each console release does attempt to offer some sort of alternative input. The Switch release for example, supports the gyroscope in the joycons to allow for some basic physical aiming functionality. The PS5 release also supports the PS Move/Aim controllers. But, if we’re being honest, most players are just going to use a standard controller.
For the sake of this review, I played the PC version of the remaster. The PC version of the game fully supports a number of controllers. But, I prefer to play with the mouse. To me, controlling the crosshair with the mouse pointer seems to be a much more intuitive way to play. The big downside to this is the lack of any sort of force feedback. But at the end of the day, it seems like a decent trade off.
Another big difference between the arcade version and the home remaster is the continue system. In the arcade, after taking so many hits from enemies, players would have to insert a quarter into the machine in order to keep playing. In this version, players automatically receive a set number of credits that can be used to continue the game. If they run out, more credit can be purchased using in-game points. Points are earned by killing monsters or shooting at destructible objects within the game. Personally, I think this is brilliant! It adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. Because now, players are not just trying to kill enemies, they are also trying to rack up as many points as possible during a single playthrough.
Before moving on, I should also mention that the remake does include a two-player option. This means that you can team up with a friend and take on the horde just as you could in the arcade.
Visually, the remaster is nothing short of fantastic. Everything from the textures to the lighting looks absolutely amazing. The same can be said for the sound quality. However, as fans of the original arcade version are likely to point out, the 2022 remaster features a completely new score. Personally, I don’t find this to be a total negative. The new soundtrack is heavily inspired by the original and in some ways, I actually think it’s an improvement.
The game includes both the standard arcade version and a new “horde” mode. This new version of the game simply ramps up the number of enemies on the screen, providing a new fast-paced challenge.
One thing that most players notice right away is the fact that this game is very short. It’s possible to complete it in a single sitting. However, the game does feature branching areas within the various levels. So, in order to see everything the game has to offer, players will need to complete it multiple times. There’s also a number of unlockable characters and weapons that simply cannot be gained in a single playthrough.
Still, even with these optional components, The House of the Dead Remaster is very much a casual game. I can’t imagine it would capture a player’s attention for an extended period. For this reason, I would have loved to have seen this released as part of a collection instead of a single title. Over the decades there’s been a total of five House of the Dead titles and it would have been great to have them all remastered and bundled together. Sadly, that’s not the case so we will have to be happy with what we have been given.
In the end, what we have here is a really cool reimagining of an arcade classic. It does a spectacular job of preserving the spooky nostalgia of the original game, while presenting it to audiences in a modern way.
Version Reviewed: PC
Difficulty: Variable – This game offers a number of difficulty settings to choose from. Players can choose between Easy, Normal, and Arcade. But, I’ll be honest. Even if you’re playing on Arcade mode, you don’t have to particularly skilled to make it through to the end of the game. Most of the real challenge comes from the various boss encounters, and even those can be easily overcome by simply opting to continue when you’ve ran out of lives. The real challenge in this game comes from the optional modes of play and trying to unlock all of the collectables.
Multiplayer: Local Co-Op
Story: There’s not really much in terms of storyline here. But, the again, there really doesn’t need to be. This is an arcade shooter, not an RPG.
Originality: Rail shooters are very simplistic games. But at the same time, they have their place. Porting this type of game to home systems isn’t easy, but I think the developers managed to do so in a way that makes the game feel unique.
Soundtrack: The music in this title is driving and appropriate for this type of game. It keeps the player on edge and helps set the tone of the game itself. The House of the Dead also features some voice acting that comes off as corny at times. But that somehow manages to feel appropriate for this type of game.
Fun: Despite its simplicity, The House of the Dead is a pretty fun time. From the over-the-top blood and gore to the campy cast of monsters, there’s plenty about this title that’s enjoyable.
Graphics: The graphics are absolutely top notch. Excellent use of dynamic lighting, disgusting and detailed textures – it’s all a treat to behold.
Playcontrol: There’s no denying that this game would be better with real light gun support. But, they’ve done a pretty good job with what they had to work with. For me, a mouse and keyboard is certainly the way to go. But it’s not hard to get used to playing with a controller.
Downloadable Content: No.
Mature Content: Blood, Gore, Violence
Value: This game typically sells for around $25. Honestly, I feel like that is a just a tad much for the amount of content. I personally wouldn’t pay more than $15. Thankfully, this game does tend to go on sale from time to time. My advice would be to wait for one of those times before pulling the trigger on this one.
Overall score (1-100): 80 – The House of the Dead Remake does its best to bring the classic arcade experience into the home. In many ways, it manages to succeed. But there’s no denying that it also falls a bit short at times. Regardless, the remake does a pretty decent job at giving players a taste of what the classic cabinet was all about. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more content than what we ended up with. But in the end, we still get to experience some of what made this classic game so popular.
Original System: Arcade
Available today on: PS 4/5, Xbox One/X/S, PC, Switch – (Updated as of Fall 2023)
Best Experience: PC – (Updated as of Fall 2023)