During the twilight years of the western arcade scene, Sega released a gem of a game called The House of the Dead. It’s almost poetic that a game about zombies managed to thrive in the steadily dying arcade industry, but it went on to become a big success and spawned several sequels. Sega has seen fit to take us back to that original outing with The House of the Dead: Remake, courtesy of developers Forever Entertainment.
The House of the Dead is a fairly unconventional take on the rail shooter genre. Rather than flying through locations at high speeds and shooting down whatever’s in your path, you’re instead railroaded into the setpieces of, well, a house of the dead. Tasked with saving as many people inside the house as possible, you’ll take on a variety of hordes of the undead that come in all shapes and sizes. From standard zombies, to ones carrying axes and chainsaws, to leeches that crawl on the ground and attack from below. That’s only a small portion of them, too. There’s almost always something new introduced in each level. It does a wonderful job keeping you on your toes and ensuring that you’re never too comfortable playing through the game.
As mentioned earlier, you’re tasked with saving various people trapped in the mansion. To accomplish this, you’ll have to fight off zombies that are, coincidentally, always moments away from killing them. The game uses clever camera angles and situations to trip you up during these moments, so running through a level and learning how best to dispatch enemies is incredibly satisfying. Getting the best results requires you to see through the game’s trickery and play as efficiently as possible, wasting no bullet in your attempts to save everyone. As far as old-school shooters go, few are as unique and tightly designed.
You’ll also face off against a handful of bosses, all of which are delightful to fight. Blasting away at their weak points while they steadily approach you to take a bite out of your health is thrilling. Although the game encourages multiple playthroughs to get higher scores, I don’t see the boss battles ever getting old.
Facelift of the Dead
The main difference between the 1996 original The House of the Dead and the 2022 The House of the Dead: Remake are the visuals. Although The House of the Dead has received a variety of ports and re-releases over the years, none so far have been quite as drastic an overhaul as this. For this particular outing, Forever Entertainment has taken an approach similar to their work on Panzer Dragoon: Remake, their previous collaboration with Sega. Graphics are made more realistic and the lighting has received a big overhaul, but it suffers from an overall lack of polish and attention to detail. As a result, everything looks like it’s made of cheap props and plastic. Sure, House of the Dead does coast on playing out like a B-List horror film, but it deserves better than this. After the excellent conversion Panzer Dragoon got from the same devs, The House of the Dead: Remake feels slapdash in comparison.
Things only get worse when you look at how the game runs. Although it does offer two different performance options, neither is satisfactory or particularly smooth. In a game like this, where precision is key, this can be flat-out game ruining for many players. Indeed, if you’re looking for something that matches the frantic, smooth precision of the original version or its various ports, look elsewhere. The House of the Dead: Remake doesn’t even come close.
Just as important as good performance is good control, and the original The House of the Dead was about as precise as you could ask for. Although the light gun technology that the arcade original used is now a thing of the past, other versions have gotten around this through creative means. It makes it all the more baffling that, despite its two distinct control options on offer, neither control scheme in Remake feels good to play.
The default control scheme, wherein you’ll use the left or right stick to aim your reticle, feels noticeably stiff and unresponsive. There is an option to turn up the reticle speed in the settings, but no matter how much I toyed around with it, I was ultimately just picking a different poison. You’ll either be wrestling with the reticle for a modicum of control or moving too slowly to shoot many enemies. Even in Normal Mode, I felt handicapped as aiming my gun was a challenge in itself. There is an optional aim assist function, but it hardly felt like it ever helped like it should.
The other major control option is gyro aiming, which is the better option between the two. It’s not quite as sluggish as the default control stick option, but it is greatly lacking in precision. If you use gyro on other notable Switch games, it’s something you’ll pick up on immediately. It’s not something you can’t get used to, but it’s nowhere near ideal. If you’re playing on anything above Normal Mode, it could well lead to a death sentence in the worst case scenario.
All of this is to say that The House of the Dead: Remake’s controls do not live up to the requirements at all. Combined with the aforementioned performance issues, my fun with the game was constantly kneecapped severely. Even at its best, the game never felt right and I found that impossible to ignore.
New Hordes, New Enemies
New to the remake is the brand new Horde Mode, a spin on the game’s main campaign. You’ll go through the same set of stages and fight the same bosses, but the difference is the massive number of enemies you’ll encounter. Up to 15 times the zombies will try to take a bite out of you, but you’re given a host of new weapons and characters to play around with to give you the edge too. Use the Assault Rifle to mow down enemies and or use the Grenade Launcher to blast them to smithereens, the choice is yours. The game is already quite generous in terms of options, but Horde Mode is that extra cherry on top to keep players coming back. Out of all the changes brought about in Remake, it’s easily the most successful, and one I hope returns in the upcoming remake of the sequel.
The House of the Dead: Remake is utterly disappointing. While the addition of Horde Mode is a net positive, it’s brought down by ugly visuals, poor performance, and worse controls. In my entire time with the game, not once did I ever feel the heavy weight of the game’s faults lifted so I could enjoy myself. There is some brilliance to be seen here, but that’s courtesy of what the original game was, not what the remake mostly fails to uphold. The House of the Dead is better enjoyed elsewhere.
WAIT FOR SALE ON THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: REMAKE
Many thanks go to Forever Entertainment for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt