Picking up The House of the Dead: Remake, I allowed myself a short trip down the memory lane. Together with Resident Evil, The House of the Dead, a light-gun arcade classic from the mid-nineties, achieved more for the Zombie community than all empty-talking politicians. This pulpy rail-shooter was a literal blast and one of my favorite arcade games of my tender years. I tried to readjust for inflation the amount of money that bastard swallowed and came to a cold-sweat realization. I could have gotten a solid used scooter for all the coins that went into that infested hole.
Near the end of the last century, The House of the Dead left the constraints of the arcade cabinet. It went multiplatform (Sega Saturn and Windows PC) and spawned numerous sequels that premiered on even more consoles after the demise of Saturn and, later, Dreamcast. It even attracted the attention of filmmakers, one of them being Uwe Boll, which resulted in a couple of horrendous, direct to DVD movies. Considering the dominant reboot culture, it’s a minor miracle that until now, no one has attempted to remaster or remake the original game from 1996.
The House of the Dead: Remake is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Why Switch of all the platforms? Probably because of gyro-controls that could emulate the plastic light guns used on the original machine. Too bad you’ll try it once and forget about it. I played the game extensively for a week and concluded that the Pro controller in normal mode offers the best precision. The House of the Dead: Remake is a rail shooter. There are no clever maneuvers here, no swift dodge rolling from harm’s way – precision is all you have. If you suck at headshots, you won’t reach great heights here.
The game consists of four chapters and the pulpiest zombie narrative in existence. You need to stop the evil scientist from unleashing his creations on the world by invading his mansion armed with a pistol and ten quarters. Yes, the game simulates the arcade unit by enabling you to continue the game ten times after expiring, or even more if you pay in earned score points. After some practice, that should be more than enough for everyone to breeze through all chapters in continuity. Enemy spawns are fixed; Once you become familiar with their emerging and offensive patterns, you’ll need fewer virtual quarters for each attempt.
Scream Bloody Gore
The undead you fight come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of weirdness. There are regular zombies, fat zombies, armored and armed zombies, cyber zombies, lumberjack zombies, bats, maggots, flying demons… Some foes are squishy, the others have visible weak points, some can be eliminated by pre-emptively shooting at explosive stuff they are hurling towards you, etc. Headshot is a (mostly) universal remedy for all humanoid types, so you should always aim for that sweet spot between the eyes.
Like in any rail shooter, your control is limited to moving the crosshairs, shooting, and reloading. Besides aiming, the skill portion of this simple setup lies in making quick decisions about targets and the timing of reloads. Prioritizing fast attacking ranged zombie over melee one that would reach you a few seconds later is the simplest example of the winning strategy. But the killing isn’t everything. You are also tasked with saving the dozen of scientists. The game usually gives you a split second to react and protect those guys from immediate danger. They sometimes provide you with first-aid kits, access cards, or advice for alternate routes. Also, saving scientists is a prerequisite for unlocking the secret armory and additional weapons that make the game much easier.
Alternates and unlockables
Alternate paths through every chapter provide a solid replay value. Means for deviating from the default route are often obvious, like shooting a padlock on the trap door in front of you. Sometimes, branching depends on saving the scientist or hitting a hidden switch or something else. Each path offers unique challenges and enemy spawns. Also, deviation via multiple playthroughs is essential for getting all internal achievements in the game.
After you master the original mode, you can test your mettle in a Horde mode. It offers the same maps and chapters, but it fills them with more enemies, up to fifteen times more in some sections! Suffice to say that you won’t stand much of a chance here without access to weapons from the unlockable secret armory. You can play the game in the local co-op, cooperative or competitive, making everything easier. Sadly, there is no online alternative.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
Not everything is ideal in the Zombieland. From the occasional micro-freezes and horrible menus to unusually long loading times and sub-par graphics, many things are semi-problematic. Yes, it makes sense to extra scrutinize GFX as this is not a humble remaster but a bold REMAKE where stuff was supposed to be remade for the modern platform. Nintendo Switch is undoubtedly not a hardware powerhouse, but it can acceptably run The Witcher 3 and Doom Eternal. So, what’s the excuse here? It would be unfair to label it as a half-assed remake, but most certainly, it isn’t the best possible re-imagining.
The House of the Dead: Remake is a piece of gaming history long absent from modern platforms. It would be a tricky recommendation for the general audience, as rail shooters went out of fashion a really long time ago. At least it’s reasonably priced.
- First remake of the original in almost a quarter of a century.
- Pulp and cheesiness are well preserved and authentic.
- Slow loading, occasional freezes, and other technical glitches.
- Sub-par graphics.