House of the Dead, The Download (1997 Arcade action Game)

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The House of the Dead comes to the PC with a bang; it survived the Arcade conversion with a few minor faults. For those unfamiliar with the title, it's an on-rails light gun shooter, meaning players follow pre-designed paths through a spooky mansion filled with the living dead. Because the computer has never had a variety of light gun peripherals, you'll be stuck using the mouse.

This version treats players to a few gameplay options including the Arcade, PC and Boss modes. The Arcade mode is just like it says, a faithful recreation of the Arcade version. In this mode, players assume the role of G, a special agent looking to rescue laboratory technicians, his girlfriend Sophie and ultimately destroy the evil genius Curien and his monstrous creations.

By saving innocents and destroying the dead folk, you'll stumble upon alternative routes and hidden paths throughout the mansion. For example, in the second chapter's foyer, two mutant doggies jump from a chandelier to the floor. If both of them are killed within a few seconds, your character will enter the door in front of him. If the dogs run off, he'll chase them up the stairs thus unlocking a new path. Because the Arcade version can be finished in well under a half-hour, this is essential to prolonging gameplay.

The PC version is basically the Arcade mode with a twist. Players are given the option to choose their character including the default G, G2, Rogan, Sophie, the Researcher and Rogan 2. Each character has stats pertaining to hit points, gun chambers, impact damage, reload speeds and their hit quotient. For example, Sophie can only take four hits without being killed. To make up for it, her reload speed is high and her pistol holds 12 bullets at a time.

A Sega staple on their conversions, The House of the Dead comes with a Boss mode that gives players access to all four boss characters (five including the second form of the final boss). With the timer running, the idea is to destroy them in the quickest time possible for a high ranking. This isn't exactly an exciting gameplay mode but its good for practice or checking out the various bosses.

Among the various bosses are the Hermit, a creepy crawling spider; the axe wielding Chariot; the Hangedman who flies around and throws flying bats at your character; and the Magician, a devastating phenomenon. Each has a specific weakness that must be exploited to ensure victory; the Hermit's weak spot is its head while the Chariot has a festering chest wound.

No matter which mode you've chosen, gameplay remains the same. Played from a first-person perspective, players move a target cursor around the screen and shoot preset zombies, spiders, genetically altered freaks, hellhounds, chainsaw wielding terrorists and axe throwers. The mouse control is fast and simplistic (the left button shoots while the right button reloads) with accurate hit location damaging; if you shoot a zombie in the stomach, you'll blow a hole through him. You can also sever limbs and behead them in a very gory fashion!

Graphically, The House of the Dead is adequate though it doesn't compare to the high-resolution gorefest of its Arcade counterpart. Using either DirectDraw (software rendering) or Direct3D (3D acceleration), there are a few misplaced textures and some polygonal seams that detract from the atmosphere. On the other hand, the monsters are nicely designed with fluid animation; they'll even scare you from time to time!

The voice acting is decidedly lousy with a laughable script. But like all horror games of this nature, I forgive the terrible voice acting; it adds to the overall experience, like a bad B movie. Its worth checking out to hear the chipmunk-voiced Hangedman boss. Additionally, the sound effects are decent with the obligatory screams for help, eerie roars and realistic gunshot sounds. The music is also adequate with a pumped-up synth-tinged horror soundtrack.

The House of the Dead is a great pick-me-up for any PC gamers wanting a different kind of shooter. While the game's playing length is decidedly short, the multiple paths, various options and fast-paced shooting action more than make up for it.

Graphics: While the visuals are adequate for both DirectDraw and Direct3D, there are polygonal and texture seams that detract from the overall look. Though the characters, monsters, and boss creatures are nicely detailed, the mansion could have used some more visual flair.

Sound: The horror soundtrack and bad voice acting gives The House of the Dead a bad B movie feel in a very good way. Among the various sound effects are realistic gunshot sounds and monster shrills.

Enjoyment: Because of the fast paced action and horror theme complete with genetics, zombies, and freakazoids, this on-rails shooter is a blast!

Replay Value: Even with the game's short length, there is a wealth of replay from the various modes and different paths. Besides, you can always top your high score or fastest Boss rankings!


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