The House Of The Dead: Remake review – the original zombie shooter

Sega’s classic lightgun game is remade for the Nintendo Switch but how does it cope when there’s no actual gun controller?

At this point it’s obvious there’s no use complaining about Sega not taking advantage of its golden era of arcade and console games. It’s been over 20 years since the Dreamcast and it’s quite clear that Sega has no intention of resurrecting any of its older franchises in any meaningful way. It is willing to licence them out to other people though, as seen most successfully with Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Streets Of Rage 4, but that seems to be the best that can be hoped for.

The latter two games were both by French company Dotemu but Sega has worked with others too, such as Polish firm MegaPixel Studio, who did a passable job with the 2020 remake of Panzer Dragoon. And now they’re back with a similarly styled remake of lightgun game The House Of The Dead. Which seems a very odd choice of game given the Switch version doesn’t come with an actual lightgun, thereby removing at least 50% of the appeal before you’ve even started.

We’re really not sure what anyone involved expected to gain from such a venture, as while the original game is entertaining enough to make you pine for the days when Sega still made arcade machines, technical issues and the intractable problem of the controls are never properly addressed.

For those that don’t recognise the name, The House Of The Dead was a 1996 Sega coin-op released just six months after the original Resident Evil. Despite the similarities between the two games, that is, by all accounts, a complete coincidence. A welcome one as it turned out though, as no less than George Romero credits the release of the two games with reigniting public interest in zombie media in general.

Lightgun games are, by their nature, simple beasts but The House Of The Dead does go to some small effort to try and tell a story, as you try to rescue as many scientists as possible (the game’s similarity to Resident Evil in terms of plot, mansion setting, and hilariously bad dialogue is uncanny). Whether you do or not can determine whether you take an alternate route through the game, which ensures the experience is at least a little more than just a linear shooting gallery.

Most of the time it is though and while there are secrets to be had by shooting background objects, including additional alternate routes, the gameplay basically comes down to being a good shot and memorising where enemies will pop up from next.

The very obvious problem here is that without an actual lightgun you’re just controlling an onscreen cursor and while there’s a myriad of control options for you to choose between nothing works quite as well as you’d like, and the more you try the more it seems as if the whole remake was just a bad idea from the start.

The most obvious option is to try and use the gyro-aiming from a single Joy-Con, although peculiarly this is only possible if you’re playing co-op. When playing solo we opted for a Pro Controller with gyro-aiming on top, but while this works well in theory the cursor almost immediately starts to drift no matter what you do – forcing you to either constantly reset it or rotate the controller round at increasingly odd angles as you play.

Since this set-up works perfectly in Splatoon and other Switch shooters the fault is clearly with the developers, but unfortunately the controls aren’t the only technical problem. There’s a persistent glitch that sees the game completely freeze up for a second or more, for no obvious reason. It doesn’t seem to be a frame rate issue per se and while there is a performance mode, which is unusual in a Switch game, it doesn’t seem to help.

This is clearly an even lower budget production than Panzer Dragoon, with extremely basic graphics that will you have forgetting this is a remake at all. That’s not to say it doesn’t look better than the original arcade game, because it does, but the improvement is so unremarkable all it does is keep pace with your memories, as you only occasionally find yourself thinking ‘this looks better than I remember’.

Although this is billed as a remake the main game is more or less exactly as it was in the arcades, just with slightly better graphics. That means it lasts barely 30 minutes on one playthrough and while it is highly replayable there are clearly limits on how many times you’ll want to go through it looking for new secrets or a higher score.

The game is at its best with another player, which the Switch makes easy, and there is a new mode to play through with them, called Horde. However, all this does is add over 10 times more zombies on-screen. That is a lot of zombies, and there’s no doubt it’s a lot of fun the first time, but whatever nuance the original mode had is completely lost when you’re just hosing down the undead without the chance for a single tactic to form in your head.

The same team is apparently also working on The House Of The Dead 2 but even if they address the technical problems of this first game it’s hard to understand what the point is supposed to be. Not when there are so many other Sega classics, of the same era and beyond, that don’t have a control system that’s impossible to recreate without additional hardware.

Even if this was a technically more accomplished remake it’d still be a fundamentally flawed idea. Given how badly put together it is, it’s hard not to see The House Of The Dead as one Sega franchise that should probably have stayed (un)dead.

The House Of The Dead: Remake review summary

In Short: A bad idea poorly realised and while the original coin-op retains its campy charm this remake is rendered pointless by the unsatisfying controls and glitchy performance.

Pros: The original game is still a well-orchestrated lightgun game and the terrible dialogue always gets a laugh. Horde mode is a welcome, if minor, addition and co-op is fun despite the technical problems.

Cons: Serious performance issues and a myriad of control options… none of which are close to satisfying. Weak graphics and a lack of game modes and new content.

Score: 4/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £22.49
Publisher: Forever Entertainment
Developer: MegaPixel Studio and Sega AM1
Release Date: 7th April 2022
Age Rating: 18

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