House of the Dead

12_1In Sega’s 1996 zombie-filled shooter, The House of the Dead, you play Agent Rogan, an agent sent to investigate a covert government research lab. 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 rail 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.

7_1In 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. The game supports both hardware and software rendering for all major video card series, and Sega has finally listened to its customers and included decent hardware support!

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. The action is still frantic and exciting, and the inclusion of the mouse as a control device makes aiming feel so much more natural. All that being said, this is still a 1996 arcade game trapped in a 1998 PC disc.

System Requirements: 80486DX 33 MHz CPU, 8 MB RAM, DOS 5.0

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