When the arcade version of Sega’s zombie-filled shooter The House of the Dead popped up in the local arcade, my friends and I found ourselves painfully addicted to this marvelous light-gun game -- it was even more fun than Sega’s own Virtua Cop series. But when Sega announced a PC conversion, I cringed -- after all, most of its PC work so far has been pretty bad, lacking the features and the polish found in the arcade versions. Thankfully Sega has finally seen fit to give this first-class game the treatment it so deserves, and as a result, House of the Dead is a winner.
You play Agent Rogan, a secret operative sent to investigate a covert government research lab after he receives a frantic call from his fiance. As he arrives, he discovers a mansion overrun with the undead. It looks like the lab proprietor, Dr. Curien, has been doing some naughty experiments with cadavers, creating an army of zombies with the probable intention of ruling the world. Grabbing your trusty gat, you head into the house, ready to find Curien and dish out the hurt to any flesh-munchers who get in the way.
Right from the first opening shot, House of the Dead’s pace is nothing short of manic -- and that’s what makes it so much fun. As the computer-controlled camera plods through the house, you use the cursor to target zombies, mutant monkeys, and other terrors that leap out at you without warning. While it’s a similar theme to every light-gun game ever released, the difference is in how you need to shoot your target. If you’ve seen George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, you’re aware that you can pop a whole clip’s worth of bullets into a zombie’s breadbasket before it goes down -- but if you aim for the brain, that sucker drops faster than the value of the ruble. House of the Dead lets you blast off various parts of zombie anatomy, and even gives you the opportunity to blow out their chests -- and sometimes they’ll keep coming!
Not everything that moves is hostile; there are scientists hanging about the mansion, running away from their undead captors. These innocent bystanders add an extra gameplay element to the mix -- if you manage to save one of the researchers, they’ll thank you and hand over a health package.
The biggest problem with most light-gun shooters is longevity and control -- after a while, you start learning enemy placement, and the element of surprise vanishes. But in House of the Dead, there are multiple paths through the game, which are triggered by certain events. For example, at the beginning of the game, a zombie threatens to throw an innocent off a bridge -- if you kill the monster, you’ll head directly into the house, but if the researcher dies, you’ll head in through the basement. It’s handled in a transparent fashion that you probably won’t notice at first -- and I still haven’t found all the different paths through the game.
In the arcade, the relentless gameplay resulted in a sweat-drenched player thanks to the aerobic use of the light-gun. But on the PC, we have to make do with the measly mouse -- and while it doesn’t have the same feeling of the chunky Sega Stunner, it’ll do in a pinch. Visually, there are a few compromises in regards to texture detail and polygon counts, but this looks extremely close to the arcade. And if you’ve got a 3D accelerator, you’re in luck -- Sega has finally listened to its customers and included decent hardware support! The Direct3D mode is truly outstanding, and my 200MHz Pentium with Voodoo2 was pushing 60fps, just like the arcade version.
Other PC-specific features include a PC Mode, where you can select different characters with special gun attributes, a Boss Mode that’s a ‘time attack’ against the big boys, and an option to change the color of the blood to a more festive yellow or blue.
Shooter fans, take note: aside from the lack of a physical light-gun, House of the Dead is as good as the genre gets. Even Sega’s graphically luscious The Lost World can’t match House of the Dead’s Lovecraftian style and visceral thrills, and other light-gun games seem stale in comparison. If you enjoyed this one in the arcade, it’s worth taking it home.