Arcade Appreciation #2: The House of the Dead
By Razzle Joestar
Hello there friends, and today we're going to take a look at one of Sega's more well-known and classic light gun shooters: the one, the only, the original "The House of the Dead". In this game players take on the role of AMS agents Thomas Rogan or Agent G as they battle Dr. Curien's evil undead mutants that have been released by the mad doctor from within his mansion. These mutants rage through the mansion, causing mayhem and killing Curien's innocent DBR Corporation's scientists. And these mutants take all kinds of shapes, from semi-sentient zombies to mutated animals, to even smarter mutants such as the winged monster The Hanged Man or Curien's "masterpiece" mutant, The Magician. Before we get right into the game itself, let's go over some history with the game.
Origins of An Outbreak
The House of the Dead was a game released throughout Japan in 1996, and later worldwide in 1998 and utilized Sega's Model 2 arcade software. It's typically coined as an "On Rails Shooter" or "Light Gun Game"; On Rails Shooter refers to how players automatically move through levels after eliminating enemies, not unlike a ride vehicle moving through a set path however some games, like HOTD, allow players to change their path at various points; meanwhile Light Gun Game takes its name from the plastic gun controller that players would use. Light Guns used an infrared sensor to tell the game where the player was pointing, and the bright flash that would happen after the player pulled the trigger would help both the game and Light Gun tell where the player was pointing and thus help the game know what the player was shooting at.
The game was also ported to Windows PC and Sega Saturn in 1998, and while the arcade game was praised the home ports were often critsized for flaws such as rushed development and low frame rate. Though extra modes such as the Original Mode where you can choose your own character with its own attributes and a Boss Rush Mode helped the game make up somewhat for these flaws. Notoriously, the source code for HOTD would become lost which ultimately led to it not being included in the 2008 Wii game The House of the Dead 2& 3 Return...or so the rumor goes.
Sega would of course go on to release more HOTD games, such as a sequel in 1998 and a third game in 2002 and even a fourth game (with a Special Edition) in 2005; there would also be spinoffs such as Zombie Revenge, Typing of the Dead (Think Mavis Beacon but you're fighting zombies instead), and even...Pinball of the Dead. Stopping mutants with Pinballs...I think I can dig that.
What's Your Favorite The House of the Dead Main Game?
Circumvention of the Life Cycle
So, what caused this horrible outbreak? Well, it turns out that over in the Curien Mansion renowned scientist Dr. Roy Curien and his team were working on some secret experiments, with the world having no idea what was going on. It's obvious Curien's experiments were of an otherworldly nature, with information in this game's sequel suggesting he was attempting to find a way to overcome death itself. This seems to have driven Curien mad in the process, as he unleashed his mutants on his own staff claiming that "You shall all die!" Fortunately, Thomas Rogan's fiancé Sophie is able to get a call out to Rogan on December 18, 1998 about the mutant attack. Rogan informs his friend and fellow agent G (before you ask - no, he won't tell you what the G stands for) and together they take off to the Curien Mansion to both rescue Sophie and the scientists and stop Curien. What they find there is unlike anything the world has ever seen, with mutants of all shapes and sizes running rampart and killing anyone they find.
R-R-Reload! Shoot Outside of the Screen!
So, as mentioned before this game is a Light Gun Game. If you were playing this in the arcade you would be using an infrared gun controller to shoot at the screen. A hopefully well-calibrated light gun, as I have played some Light Gun Games that weren't calibrated at all...one Deluxe Cabinent of House of the Dead 2 - one that was $1.50 a play - didn't have either of its guns calibrated resulting in shots that would be over to the right of where you were aiming. Reloading your gun is a matter of pointing of the side of the screen and shooting; in fact the above title is a reference to how some players (myself included) tend to not keep track of when the gun is empty and click the trigger too many times, resulting in the game saying frantically telling me to reload and how to do it. I guess this is something of a meme with some House of the Dead players as some comments on YouTube consist of nothing more than "R-R-R-RELOAD!" Now if you're playing on a console, you'll most likely be using a controller unless you've got that system's light gun peripheral or something equal to that. For Sega Saturn they had the Stunner Gun, and given that we only have one official port of The House of the Dead for consoles due to the above "Lost Sourcecode" rumor, but some have found ways to get it on the Nintendo Wii through Homebrewing magic. If you decide to try this game out on the PC there is the official PC port, and you can also use the Model 2 Emulator (Please don't ask about obtaining ROMs in the comments section - legal reasons). In that case the left click will shoot, while the right click will reload, even on the M2 Emulator.
Gameplay itself is straight forward; given that this is an On Rails Shooter the game will automatically advance your character but not before you eliminate all enemies that are currently onscreen. Most of these mutants will lumber or jump at you which requires some quick aiming to take them down before they reach you and attack you. Some, like the Ax Zombies, can throw weapons at you that can be shot out of the air if your aiming is good enough. Some of the Boss mutants will shoot things at you too, such as Hermit's web balls or The Magician's fireballs which can also be shot out of the air.
Each time you fail to stop an attack you will lose one life, represented by the torches at the bottom of the screen. Once all your torches are out (and they actually will burn out and disappear when you're hit instead of just disappearing) then you will be presented with the option to continue. If not - or you ran out of credits in the home versions - then it's game over. My suggestions? Try to be strategic in what you're shooting at. Most of the time it's a simple game of shooting whatever is closets but there may be some situations where it's tactically better to knock out one of the stronger mutants before moving on to the weaker ones but if one is about to slash you by all means gun it down! Which reminds me, headshots are the best way to take out mutants. Getting it just right will pretty much put all but the most toughest of mutants down in one shot. If you're slightly off they'll still be dealt so much damage that one or two shots will finish them off.
You'll also notices loads of barrels, boxes, vases, and other destrutable objects in the background. Shoot these! They might be hiding coins or golden frogs that will give you a score boost, and a few even hide some health packs that will give you an extra life (With the game even displaying a "LIFE UP!" text). There will also be times when you can shoot controls or secret panels to change your path but...more on that later.
"Others Are Still Inside...Save Them!"
During your battles you will encounter lots of the DBR Corporation's scientists that are being attacked by the mutants - one even saying the above dialogue after he's bitten by a mutant in the first seconds of the game. If you see them make sure you save them! Not only is it the right thing to do (who wants to die in a crust old mansion to horrible mutants?) but saving scientists gives you a score boost and can also give you rewards such as keys that allow you to take alternate paths, a bonus health, or even more bonus health at the end of the level if you rescue enough of the scientists.
None of these scientists are very combat savvy, so they're helpless against the mutants as they shamble towards them to attack. No one knows why Curien is killing off his scientists...maybe he's testing them out on those poor souls or he's really just lost it. Be quick, as one hit from a mutant will kill the scientist. Also watch your fire! If you shoot the scientist you will be penalized a life! So don't!
Saving scientists will most often take you through the most direct route to Curien as well. Each time there's a chance to save a scientist the game has the chance to deviate on another path. Heck there's even times where just the mutants you encounter will change depending on who gets saved - one example is in the beginning of the game where there's two scientists being chased by Ax Mutants, and how many or even which ones you manage to save will change what combination of mutants you fight after that. Right outside the mansion you'll find a scientist about to be thrown over a bridge by a tough mutant. If you're too slow he's thrown over and once the mutant is taken care of you'll go to find the now dead scientist (with G or Rogan saying "This is terrible!") and that results in you entering the mansion from the sewers. But save that scientist? Not only does he thank you for saving him with a life bonus, but you'll also take on the frontal assault with the Curien Mansion.
This also brings me to my point I made earlier about shooting out certain controls and panels - those too can lead you to different paths through the mansion! For example, on The Second Chapter right in the beginning room Rogan and G peek down at a chained down trap door and if you destroy it with some shots you'll open a secret passageway. But if you want to keep going forward just ignore it and you'll proceed through the door in front of you. Another situation in the same level involves a bridge that appears to be out in a laboratory, but by shooting a nearby control panel the bridge will be raised...but if you miss it they'll take the low road resulting in more mutants to fight through.
There's plenty of places I haven't even seen in the Curien Mansion myself as I try to save as many scientists as I can. But...maybe I'll let one or two or three die so I can see these other places. Just make it a good distance in the game, die, and let the counter run to 0 and you'll see the map screen to your right that not only shows how far you made it, but also all of the branching paths. really gives this game some great replay value.
The Major Arcana
At the end of each level you are confronted by a larger mutant - most likely one of Curien's more ambitious experiments - that is guarding the area of the mansion that you're in, each carrying a name that's taken from one of the twenty two cards of the Major Arcana of the tarot deck (something that's continued in all of the main HOTD games - with the exception of Overkill). The first area is guarded by Type-27 "The Chariot", an armored mutant who brandishes a massive ax. The second area is guarded by Type-41 "The Hangedman", a winged human like mutant that can command the weaker bat mutations and attempts to knock Rogan and G down to their deaths. Curiously, Hangedman seems to be somewhat intelligent, as it is one of the few mutants who speaks and seems to act independently. Area three is guarded by Type-6803 "The Hermit", a lonely giant spider that assaults the agents and prevents them from pursuing Curien as he makes a quick escape. Finally, there's Type-0 "The Magician", unleashed by Curien himself in an attempt to kill the agents with his "masterpiece". But Curien may get more than he bargained for, as Magician seems able to think for himself (or as my character Razzle quipped, "He's going through that rebellious teen stage"). Personally, I like Magician the best, as his theme is awesome, he's got the power of Pyrokinetics (that his, he can use psychic powers that allow him to create and use fire), and I like how he does his movements around the area that you fight him in as it keeps things fast paced and on the edge of your seat.
When you fight each boss mutant a booklet (most likely handed to the agents by the scientist that gets bit) appears that shows each mutant's weakness (something else that's also passed down to each HOTD game - yes even Overkill doesn't skip this trope), which of course is unique to each one. The Chariot is defeated by shooting a hole in his armor, Hangedman can be fought off with enough blasts to the chest, Hermit can be shot on its head (its got some tough armor for a spider!) and Magician comes up as "Unknown"...and I'd hate to spoil his secret!
Which Mutant Boss Do You Like The Best?
We Won't Let You Have It Your Way, Curien!
And that's The House of the Dead! Before we part ways I just want to say, do the best you can! This game does indeed have multiple endings depending on your performance, and your high score is even given an agent rank...can you get the best agent ranking, and get the best ending? Well then, give it your best shot! But it won't be easy, as you'll have to shoot down every mutant, save every scientist, and uncover every secret! If you still think you've got what it takes..then give The House of the Dead a try! There's various ways to play this game, such as through emulators or the PC port, and if you happen to know of a local arcade that has this game, that's even better! I play this a lot on the M2 Emulator and I have to say even if I had a light gun to play on the computer with it's nothing like playing on an actual cabinet. Just remember...don't go in the house alone!
To see this game in action, why not check out my playthrough of the arcade version? Just a word of caution: as this is being played on an emulator the light gun shots are emulated as well, which means there's a lot of flashing. It is a horror game too, so that means anyone who isn't comfortable with any amount of zombie/monster violence and blood should reconsider watching the action. With that being said, I'll see you all on the next level! Take care!
Other Hubs In The Arcade Appreciation Series:
1. The King of Dragons
2. The House of the Dead (You are here!)