The House of the Dead 2 (Dreamcast) review
"House 2 takes the "living dead" theme and runs with it, creating a far, FAR more enjoyable shooting experience than Romero's horrific magnum opus Daikatana. While this game is "only" an on-rails shooting bonanza, the levels have been designed with the care one might expect from an FPS (or more care, if the FPS in question is that trainwreck Isle of the Dead). Doors can be unlocked with keys, rescued civilians will lead you down alternate paths, and zombies will drag you into hidden sewer tunnels!"
Years of meditation would not be sufficient to find a deep meaning in this game. Certainly, the designers have a keen eye for detail, but House of the Dead 2 is all about killing and killing some more. At first look, House 2 is a forward-roaming, gun-blazing shooting game, similar to Virtua Cop or Time Crisis. A second look reveals that developers AM1 have tossed in some fairly intricate additions, more along the lines of a first-person-shooter like Doom — adding a lot of replay value to a naturally-repetitive genre.
House 2 takes the "living dead" theme and runs with it, creating a far, FAR more enjoyable shooting experience than Romero's horrific magnum opus Daikatana. While this game is "only" an on-rails shooting bonanza, the levels have been designed with the care one might expect from an FPS (or more care, if the FPS in question is that trainwreck Isle of the Dead). Doors can be unlocked with keys, rescued civilians will lead you down alternate paths, and zombies will drag you into hidden sewer tunnels! This game offers a dozen varied routes to traverse, but keeps the player moving constantly forwards through predetermined bevies of bloodsuckers, offering the maximum carnage overload possible.
As you advance, the blood-soaked scenery is both beautiful and interactive. In one building, you'll blast through aisles of the dead in a small library, admiring the crimson-stained desks and shooting at stacks of books. Meanwhile, gorgeously-drawn zombies, their flesh dripping in drab yet appealing hues of brown and grey, explode into clouds of Vulcan-green or blood-red mist. Unfortunately, the human characters are not nearly so appealing, their disjointed animations and pale skin looking as though they might walk alongside the throngs of undead beasts at any moment.
You'll notice that some of the zombies wear bluejeans, offering a colorful contrast to their tepid flesh tones. Some arcade-goers were turned off by the 80's-style attire, perhaps hoping instead for some pants-less, undead porn. Well, random sex is one horror flick staple that you won't find in House 2. Oddly enough, by dressing the ghouls in normal, casual clothing, it lends an air of "we were once alive!" humanity to the undead dastards. While that won't prevent you from blowing their brains to the sky, it is a bit unnerving should you ever stop to think about it. (Tip: don't think. Shoot.)
Some of the enemies are truly frightening. One of the beefiest baddies wears a hangman's hood, an ominous bit of attire indeed. Falling into the 'pure menace' category are the knife-wielding, gauze-masked fiends, taken straight from Silent Hill. Unfortunately, in House 2, the writers (having provided names for each type of zombie) have given this particular enemy the rather unimposing moniker of "Mickey". Mice and rats scurry about the stone-tiled floor as you slaughter these masked monsters in dank corridors, rain pours from the sky in the sun-bleached city, and waters roil in the piranha-laced canals. All in all, the game is a treat for the eyes while maintaining an appropriately creepy air.
Every so often, as a stray barrel in the background explodes or a hovering UFO crashes to the ground (that's a mighty powerful gun you've got there), a special hidden Bonus is revealed: perhaps a machine gun, extra continues, or a new outfit to wear. These powerups can be used in later playthroughs of the game. Some, such as the scattered shotgun blast, are truly awesome; others, such as the Goldman Outfit, are not so useful. This outfit lets you play as the head villain, but there's a slight problem. You look like Goldman in cutscenes, but everyone still calls you "James"... and the storyline doesn't change. You'd think the zombies would be hesitant to attack their master. I suppose that's the problem with enlisting the aid of brainless oafs.
Lest you think House of the Dead 2 is all just mindless "hahaha look, we're killing zombies, hahaha!!" fun and games, there IS a dire plot and a city to be saved. In the first episode, Rogan and "G" shot up ghastlies in a mad scientist's mansion (hence the title, "House of the Dead"). This time around, money-laden powermonger Goldman has taken the wicked doctor's research and created an entire city full of ghouls and ghosts. In typical cinematic horror sequel fashion, the previous installment's heroes are dispatched quickly and violently. What better way to lend gravity to the situation than to kill off the former leads? As if a zombie-infested town weren't weighty enough...
Unfortunately, the stilted-beyond-Resident-Evil dialogue makes the entire plot more lighthearted than dire. "How could anyone dooooooo this?" somehow seems inappropriate when surveying a dozen dead corpses. IT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE UNDEAD FLESH-EATERS, YOU FOOL! It's not as if the zombies have strict morals against killing! Perhaps the most amusing sequence is the hunt for "G" in the first level.
At least James, the lead hero in House 2, is not "hoping this is not G's blood". But it's still goofy.
Like every light gun shooter, there are hostages and civilians to be saved, all spouting poorly-acted dialogue. As you rescue them, many innocents reward you with extra health or some other special powerup. Of course, not all of them do that. On my first trip through the sewers, I rescued a bratty teen from the claws of some green ghouls, and my only reward was a "Hey, thanks!" That wasn't nearly enough compensation for the effort, seeing as how most other people gave me life-ups or machine guns or extra continues.
So, on my next playthrough, I plugged this bratty teen twice in the chest.
And voila — a second path opened up! Yes, depending on who you rescue (and who you don't), different paths can be opened. Perhaps if you rescue Woman A, she'll point to the right and say "my friends are trapped!" But, if you don't rescue her, you'll wander to the left. In addition, there are keys on the ground (shoot them to pick them up) that unlock gates, and at times you can even shoot locks off doors to rescue trapped civilians... all of which change the route you'll travel during the game. That is, until the final level, which is simply a ludicrously difficult "kill all the bosses" stage. But the fun in the first four zones more than makes up for that.
If you're only going to play it intermittently every week or so, as though it were an arcade game, it's be a fun series of exploding skulls. However, if you treat House of the Dead 2 like a console game, sit down with it for a good hour or two, and experiment, the alternate paths and hidden bonuses allow for a great deal of exploration — something you won't find in most other light gun games. Whether you use a light gun or play with the Dreamcast controller, it's an entertainingly brainless undead thriller... even if it doesn't take place inside a house.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 10, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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