Game Corner [Day of the Dead]: The House of the Dead: Remake (Xbox Series X)

The Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos) is a traditional Latin American holiday on which, every November 1st, the lives of deceased loved ones are celebrated with food, drink, parties, and a great deal of masquerade involving the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls). For me, this seems like the perfect excuse to look back on the long-running and ever-changing zombie genre that was largely popularised by director George A. Romero, which I devoted a great deal of my PhD thesis towards and which has often been used as a parallel to various aspects of society and culture.  

Released: 27 April 2022
Originally Released: 13 September 1996
Developer: MegaPixel Studio S.A.
Original Developer: SEGA AM1
Also Available For: Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series S, Xbox One (Remake); Arcade, PC, and SEGA Saturn (Original Release)

The Background:
The influence of renowned horror writer and director George A. Romero cannot be understated; not only did he forever change the concept of zombies from their origins as voodoo slaves to the shambling undead we know and love today, but his zombie movies had a profound influence on videogames. The Resident Evil franchise (Various, 1996 to present) was directly inspired by (and constantly paid homage to) Romero’s films, and his influence can be equally felt in the popular light-gun title The House of the Dead. Originally built using the same game engine as Virtua Cop (SEGA AM2, 1994), The House of the Dead was put together over the course of a year and three months by a team that couldn’t speak a word of English. Initially, the developers wanted to include more complex branching paths, but these ideas had to be dropped due to time constraints; to save time, the enemy designs skipped the rough sketch phase and went straight from the initial idea to the design drawing stage, though the developers were able to anticipate the game’s violence would need to be toned down overseas and so included the option to change the blood colour. The initial arcade version of the game was a critical and commercial hit and the SEGA Saturn port was generally well regarded in turn, thus kick-starting a pretty successful series of follow-ups despite two widely derided live-action adaptations. In April 2021, a remake of the original game was announced for the current generation of consoles that included updated visuals and controls, a new “Horde Mode” that increases the number of onscreen enemies, and other additional features. While the Nintendo Switch version received mixed reviews, critical feedback for the Xbox One/Series version of the game was largely positive, with reviews praising the horror presentation and nostalgia offered by the title despite the lack of a physical light-gun accessory.

The Plot:
After renowned biochemist and geneticist Doctor Curien becomes obsessed with discovering the nature of life and death, his experiments at the Curien Mansion take a gruesome turn. After government agent Thomas Rogan receives a distress call from his fiancée, Sophie Richards, from the Curien Mansion, he and his partner, “G”, fly out to investigate only to find the mansion overrun with Curien’s undead creatures!

The House of the Dead: Remake is a first-person rail shooter in which players step into the role of two government agents, Thomas Rogan and “G”, and blast their way through hoards of zombies and other demonic creatures across four chapters. While you never have to worry about moving your character, as you traverse a set path at all times with few deviations, you can direct an aiming reticule using the left stick and automatically centre it with the X button. Otherwise, though, your controls are nice and simple: The Right Trigger and A button lets you fire, the Left Trigger and B button lets you reload, Y activates a torch (or “flashlight” for your Americans), and that’s basically it. You can go into the options and set up an auto reload function (though I find manually reloading is far more intuitive) as well as set a variety of other gameplay and aesthetic effects (such as changing the colour of your reticule and the level of aiming assistance you receive). You can also switch between your different weapons using left and right on the directional pad, though you’ll have to go to some effort to actually unlock additional weapons to use; they’re found in weapon crates scattered throughout each chapter, but these are only accessible by saving scientists from zombies and other life-threatening situations, which can be easier said that done when you have a trigger finger as itchy as mine gets in games such as this.

Mow down hoards of the undead but be careful not to kill any innocent scientists!

The game comes with two playable modes: “Original” and “Hoard”, with each one sporting four difficulty levels, the option to switch to a “Classic” and “Modern” scoring system, and allowing solo, co-operative play, or competitive play. The main different between original and Hoard is that there are loads more enemies in Hoard mode, making for a much more frenetic and action-packed experience. While the different difficulty levels make enemies tougher and more resilient, the “Arcade” option imposes health and credit limits; in this mode, you still get three health bars (represented as these glowing jugs) but each hit fully depletes one of them rather than dealing half damage as on the easier difficulties and, when you lose a life, you have a limited number of credits available to continue playing. You can use your points to buy more credits, but these cost about 5000 points a piece so you can easily run out in a playthrough, but the “modern” scoring system earns you extra points for successive kills without missing or being hit. Some enemies can block your shots with their arms or weapons, meaning you either need to time your shot to hit their weak spot or blast away their weapon or limbs to take them out but, while you can shoot their heads off, some will continue to attack regardless. All of them lumber towards you until you put them down but will slash and bite at you up close, and they even throw projectiles, barrels, and bladed weapons from a distance and have a tendency to pop out of nowhere so you need to be quick on the trigger, but not so quick that you shoot the scientists and cost yourself some health and points. At times, levels will split into multiple paths, but it’s not always clear how you take these routes; sometimes you need to shoot a button or blast away a door, debris, or trap door, but other times you need to shoot specific enemies, save certain scientists, or even let yourself get hit to drop down to a new area, which encourages experimentation and multiple playthroughs.

Graphics and Sound:  
Rail shooters don’t tend to be the most graphically intense games, in my experience; generally, the action is far too fast and frenetic to worry about the presentation as you’re constantly on the move and being swung about the place by the auto movement, but The House of the Dead: Remake looks and sounds really, really good. There’s a fantastic B-movie-level menace to everything, from the mansion’s grounds to the gothic interior, the rancid sewers, and Dr. Curien’s high-tech laboratory. The exteriors are bathed in a red glow or the darkness of night, while the interior as full of little touches, from suits or armour to wrecked paintings, and decorations that you can destroy at will. As you explore, you can blast crates and barrels to find the odd health pick-up or score bonus, but you’ll also activate new paths in the same manner, calling elevators, dropping through trap doors, and wading through water depending on your actions, which will then lead you to disgusting sewers, narrow corridors, billiard rooms, and stone hallways not unlike a medieval castle.

Blast your way through a gothic mansion and high-tech lab all while the fantastically cheesy plot unfolds.

Eventually, you’ll reach Dr. Curien’s laboratory, where blast doors block your path and require key cards to open, high-tech computers and monitors are everywhere, and tougher enemies are stored in glass tanks or scrambling about on the ceiling. Enemies can also come crashing through doors and windows, pop out from electrical barriers, and will blast into chunks when you shoot them, losing limbs and heads and having their skeleton and guts exposed as they take damage. The music is all very suitable for the action and the aesthetic, being an adrenaline-pumping mixture of rock and synth, and the satisfaction gained from hearing zombies groan in pain as you put them down or hearing your bullets clang against metal or tear apart a false door or chandelier is pretty fulfilling. The voice acting is hilariously bad, of course, but that’s all part of the charm of the game’s B-movie presentation; both Rogan and “G” have different dialogue and grunts as you play, which is a nice touch, and the line delivery is suitably over the top to immerse you in the atmosphere (there’s even some typos in the subtitles which, intentional or not, I found amusing).  

Enemies and Bosses:
Dr. Curien’s mansion has primarily been overrun by zombies; these shambling, bloody ghouls will stumble towards you, throw knives or axes from a distance, or pop up right in your face to scratch and bite at you, but they can be blasted apart and put down into a rapidly bubbling pool of viscera pretty quickly. Bats, weird winged dogs, vicious worms, spiders, and even mutated monkeys are all commonplace enemies too, but it’s the various zombie variants who’ll give you the most trouble. Larger, more rotund zombies will throw barrels at you or charge at you with a chainsaw in hand, slimy decomposing corpses pop out of the sewers or drop from above, suited zombies scamper about with knives, and hulking brutes wield massive sledgehammers or balls on chains that you need to shoot out of the air. Similarly, the Borg-like cybernetic zombies fire claw projectiles at your face, a pale variant attacks with a laser knife, and you’ll even encounter bigger zombies covered in iron armour that can resist your bullets.

Dr. Curien’s most monstrous creations await you at the end of each chapter.

Each chapter ends in a battle against one of Dr. Curien’s more powerful creations, with two of these returning as sub-bosses in the final chapter. The first you’ll battle is Type-27 (or “Chariot”), a large, rotting humanoid garbed in heavy armour and swinging a bardiche. Chariot relentlessly shuffles towards you, looking to maim you with his weapon, but can be forced back by shooting at the weak spot on his breastplate. After enough hits, he’ll burst free of his armour and you can start blasting his decomposing flesh to put him down for good but he can also defend against your shots by covering up with his armour and limbs. Type-041 (or “The Hanged Man”) is much trickier to defeat; this bat-like creature hovers above the rooftops sending bats to attack you, which you must shoot out of the sky and then desperately try and get a good shot at the weak point on his chest as he darts about the night sky and closes in on you for a close range attack. This fight goes on a bit as, when weakened, the Hanged Man will fly away and then force you to a different section of the rooftop, where he repeatedly dives at you to attack, which also leaves him wide open for your shots. Type 6803 (“Hermit”) is a far easier fight; this giant spider-like creature climbs towards you up a cobwebbed tunnel and you must shoot it in the face to force it back. When you follow it, it backs up and fires projectiles from its egg sack and then protects its head as it scurries towards you, but it’s pretty simple to blast it in the face once its exposed. Finally, after dispatching Chariot and the Hanged Man once more, you’ll face Dr. Curien’s greatest creation: Type-0, AKA “Magician”. This synthetic humanoid floats around the arena, quickly darting all over the place and making itself a difficult target, while tossing flaming projectiles at you that can be difficult to shoot down. Covered in an armoured hide, its only weak spots are the exposed flesh dotted around its body, mainly on the legs, and it can summon a rain of projectiles that you need to shoot down and also zoom up close to land a swiping attack, making it easily the toughest boss in the game simply because just landing a hit can be difficult due to its speed and small weak point.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you play through the game’s four chapters, you’ll find scientists being chased, threatened, or otherwise endangered by Dr. Curien’s creatures. Saving them nets you a score bonus and eventually leads to you unlocking new weapons, but they will also often gift you some health, which can either replenish or increase your health, so it’s worth taking the time to save them. Shooting crates and barrels may also reveal health power-ups and other objects, like coins and golden frogs, which add to your score tally. Sadly, the only way to actually access new weapons is to save as many scientists as you can, which will unlock the weapon crates found in each chapter and gift you far better weapons, such as the assault rifle and grenade launcher, as well as a crossbow and the pitter.

Additional Features:
There are forty-one Achievements to earn here, with five being earned simply by beating the game on any difficulty setting. There are three endings to earn as well, with four Achievements tied to them, and these are gained by finishing the game with a certain number of points rather than on different difficulty settings. There is an Achievement for beating the game’s “Arcade” mode, but not the “Hoard” mode, and others for playing with a friend, killing a certain number of enemies, rescuing and killing scientists, and unlocking every weapon. In addition to “busy work” Achievements (like finding every alternative path or picking up every item you see in one playthrough), there are some more obscure and inventive ones, such as blasting enemies over a wall or juggling a zombie with your assault rifle. As you play through the game and encounter enemies, they’ll be added to the creature gallery, which allows you to view their character models, bio, and weak spots. After beating the game for the first time, you can replay any chapter at will (meaning you can just jump to chapter four to beat “Arcade” mode for an easy Achievement), and you can also play alongside a friend, register your high score on the leaderboard, and even input cheat codes on the main menu to unlock infinite ammo, all weapons, one-hit kills, a free-play option and, eventually, invincibility but, while you’ll still be able to get Achievements with these cheats activated, they’ll only take effect once you’ve earned a certain number of Achievements.

The Summary:
The House of the Dead: Remake is a fun, frantic, blood-soaked shoot-‘em-up that’s packed full of gore, action, and fun gameplay. I really enjoyed the presentation, the call-backs to B-movies and zombie classics, and the fast-paced shooting that had me mowing down zombies without a second’s thought and desperately trying not to hit any innocent scientists. Sadly, though, the game is very short; “Hoard” mode really doesn’t add all that much except a whole bunch of additional enemies to fill full of holes and, while it’s fun discovering new paths and burning through the game in repeated playthroughs trying to save everyone you find, it’s not always clear which route you need to take or when these are even available to you. The content is also lacking a bit; it would’ve been nice to have Achievements specifically tied to “Hoard” mode or to have the option to play the original arcade release, or to have included the other arcade titles in with the package as it’s not exactly a lengthy or deeply complex game. Overall, it’s a great way to spend a few hours of your time but the novelty soon wears off; I used to have The House of the Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut (Headstrong Games, 2011) on the PlayStation 3 and I think I remember that having a lot more going for it in terms of length, variety, and unlockable content but if you’re itching for a bit of simple, arcade, zombie-blasting action then The House of the Dead: Remake has you more than covered.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy The House of the Dead: Remake? How do you think it compares to the original game, or other titles in the franchise? Did you ever discover al the different paths and save all those scientists? What did you think to the variety and gameplay options, and did you think there was anything lacking in the game? Which of the bosses was your favourite and what did you think to the B-movie presentation of the game? What is your favourite House of the Dead game, or other zombie videogame? How are you celebrating the Day of the Dead today? Whatever your thoughts on The House of the Dead: Remake, and zombies in general, feel free to either sign up and leave a comment below or leave your thoughts on my social media.

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