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The House of the Dead 2 (Dreamcast) artwork

The House of the Dead 2 (Dreamcast) review

"At last you've come... FRIENDS. The door.. of fate.. shall open."

As The House of the Dead 2, a Sega light-gun zombie classic, draws near its 16th anniversary, I had a thought: new generations have never experienced this game, let alone the franchise, and I can easily imagine many thinking, "Why is this zombie game, which looks like dozens of other zombie games, considered a classic?"

Well, one reason is that this title was the right game at the right time, being one of the first (probably the first) to debut on Sega's NAOMI arcade board, which, among other things, displayed a boost in visuals when compared to other arcade releases of the day. THotD2 showed that it was now possible for impending 3D games to look less... hurtful on the eyes; character models no longer seem like blocky action figures, there's more detail as demonstrated by colorful, grotesque zombies and their freakish expressions, and textures are smoother, allowing you to make out objects without having to squint at the influx of pixelation. It didn't hurt that the game also doubled as a sneak peek of the upcoming Dreamcast's potential capabilities, as both pieces of hardware share nearly identical specs, give or take a few differences.

But that doesn't mean THotD2 was purely a vanity project to show off pretty graphics. I know this is a hard thing to believe nowadays, but a game produced by Sega, specifically in-house and from Japan, used to mean something, that it was going to show great promise. It may just be a "traditional" light-gun game, but the dev team deviated from the usual template of baddies shooting at you from a distance. Making good use for their want of living flesh, the developers ensured zombies are always in your face as they charge through doors, around corners, from vents, or even the water. Shoot, hit these flesh-eaters in a non-fatal area, and they'll just charge faster! They're a varied bunch, and methods for killing them require much more than just blindly firing into their reanimated bodies.

Johnny, for instance, runs toward your protagonist obscuring his face with two axes, making for a difficult head shot. Another fellow, Randy, is a small hooligan that likes to run on walls and ceilings, as well as don a mask and some armor that makes it tough to take him out immediately. Worse, he usually attacks with a buddy. These enemy types, along with the rest of the gang that love to invade your personal space, help define THotD2 as a high-stake video game where landing a skillful shot without hesitation means the difference between barely traveling past the second stage or gunning it all the way to the final chapter. Rescuing humans from pursuing zombies is also a very difficult task to accomplish, as you usually have only a second to respond, and the humans constantly blocking your shots doesn't help matters. Interestingly, a lot of civilians in THotD2 function as branching paths, so regardless of your "choice", this system ensures that every playthrough is unique to one's skill level!

As an arcade game, the constant thrills provide a great playthrough, but speaking as a Dreamcast port, mileage greatly varies. Of course, the ideal way to play is to use a gun peripheral, but one major obstacle now stands in the way of people wanting to try this 15-year-old port: the light-gun accessories only work on CRT TVs. If you don't own these essentials, then THotD2 is going to be an expensive investment, and I highly doubt anyone besides enthusiasts would take the plunge. So, if you still want to play this without those necessities, that leaves you with the console's standard "thing" Sega considers a controller and the in-game target cursor. Now, if THotD2 was your typical whack-a-mole light-gun fare, the alternative control set-up would still provide an engaging trek, albeit with an artificial feel. However, as has been said, the game literally lives and dies by its focus on fast, accurate gunplay from gamers.

I've played both ways, with the in-game cursor and the Mad Catz Dream Blaster light-gun, and I can attest that there's a big difference between play styles; with the cursor, you're way more likely to miss specific shots to the head or other body parts, get hit while trying to move to a zombie in time, kill civilians by the buttload, and miss important items. The boss battles are the most damning parts of the cursor play style, because they're pretty much designed around fast reflexes and accuracy. The second stage's boss, Hierophant, is a fish creature whose weak spot opens intermittently while he/she/it jiggles around constantly, sometimes even throwing fish. Strength, stage four's intimidating freak, is kinda like Johnny in that he obscures his face with a chainsaw, except it's more irritating landing a shot with the cursor. And don't even get me started on the frantic final bosses!

It's funny how technology works, how you never know if some things are going to last forever or become a rare, costly species due to the emergence of improved products. Light-gun releases relying on CRT TVs have particularly felt the burden, to the point where gamers groan at the sight of one because they know the hurdles they'll need to go through for the full experience. They're "simple" titles, sure, but some really memorable games have come from the genre, like Duck Hunt, Operation Wolf, Time Crisis, and Point Blank, so it burns that their quality gets cut down due to unforeseen circumstances.

"Okay... but why does The House of the Dead 2 hold significance?"

That's easy: it had the biggest exposure out of all the games in the main series. The first game was really only known for its initial arcade run, with the often-bashed, costly Sega Saturn port being the prime reason it gets talked about anymore. The reason it never saw any more ports beyond the late 90s is because Sega apparently lost the source code, and they don't feel like recreating the game through other means. The third and fourth games suffered by existing in an era where arcades were basically dead outside Japan and amusement centers, and even with THotD3 receiving a timely port, it was on the original Xbox, which meant no one played it. THotD4 didn't even get a home port until 2012 on the PlayStation Network, nearly seven years after the arcade release.

Though, there are sillier reasons why THotD2 holds a special place in the hearts of gamers. There are two spin-off titles that were released shortly after, one for the Game Boy Advance that recreates many moments from the main game... with pinball. The other is The Typing of the Dead, an infamous game where players must kill zombies by typing words on screen in time. It's as goofy as it sounds, and Sega even equipped the main characters with Dreamcast backpacks and keyboards!

But there's one final, glorious reason why The House of the Dead 2 is a cherished classic: the fantastic voice-acting.

Listen in awe.

Rating note: if you already have access to a CRT TV and a light-gun, and didn't go through trouble getting them, then change the rating to a 7/10.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (September 09, 2014)

Regardless of my thoughts on the first two games, I genuinely hope No More Heroes 3 is a good game.


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Germ posted September 10, 2014:

My first question when I saw you reviewed this was "Don't you need a CRT TV to play it properly?" I'm glad you made that central to your review. I'm luck enough that I live about 90 minutes away from a popular vacation spot that has huge arcades, and the House of the Dead is well represented there. Never tried the Dreamcast ports, and because of the CRT problem it will be a while before I do.
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pickhut posted September 10, 2014:

Yeah, I think it should be a requirement now to mention the CRT TV/in-game cursor for reviews, as it wouldn't be fair to the reader otherwise. And I probably would have never touched the game as a review if I never played both ways. Thanks for reading!

Man, I wish I still had an arcade near me to go visit. The last "big" arcade that was close was 14 years ago, and it had a buttload of Sega cabinets. At one point or another, it had Street Fighter III, Virtua Tennis, Virtual On twin, Capcom vs Marvel, Metal Slug X, Daytona 2, THotD1, Crazy Taxi, etc. They also served beer. I should know, because I was stuck listening to the ramblings of a drunk guy on a bench outside one time. Then they closed it.... and reopened it as an internet cafe that's still open to this day.

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