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The House of the Dead: Remake (PlayStation 4) artwork
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Released to arcades in 1996, The House of the Dead is a 3D on-rails title where you control an agent, two with a friend, who infiltrates the sinister Dr. Curien's mansion in order to extinguish a zombie-esque outbreak. Spanning several portions of the Curien estate, you will encounter many an abominable monstrosity, from decayed humanoids and chainsaw-wielders, to miniature Green Goblin/Freddy Krueger-looking hybrids and other oddities. Of course, there's only one way to handle a situation this bleak: blow everything away with a pistol and unlimited ammo in this light-gun adventure!

At its core, the gameplay heavily borrows Virtua Cop's template, one in which you move from one segment to the next, having to shoot two to three enemies at a time before they can fire back; sometimes innocent bystanders get in the way, and sometimes you can take alternative paths. THotD takes this template and makes several modifications, the first noticeable change being the damage done to enemies. In Virtua Cop, if you shoot an arm or a leg, you get the appropriate reaction, but in this horror fest, limbs and flesh fly off their bodies! Nowadays, this sounds like an "obvious" thing to see in a horror game, but back in 1996, when 3D gaming was still a fresh concept to the masses, this was quite a sight. Not to mention it's fun seeing your shots being visually rewarded.

Furthermore, THotD performs role-reversal with enemy attack patterns. Whereas most opponents in Virtua Cop keep their distance and fire guns, THotD's rogues gallery are mainly melee attackers who love violating your personal space. Bystanders play a bigger role here too; whenever present, the walking dead will actually try killing them. Successfully rescuing someone sometimes grants you an extra health pack, with different routes being presented depending on whether someone lives or dies. Not surprisingly, alternative pathways are also more aggressive in this title, consistently popping up at least once per section in a stage. On-rails movement will often pause during an inconspicuous moment, hinting that a button needs to be pressed or a pad lock should be shot. It certainly adds a layer of replay value to the experience.

You think such an influential title that spawned a long-running franchise, ranging from mainline sequels to a spin-off typing series where you kill creatures using a keyboard, would have seen more love in the porting department. Following its arcade launch, the game received a 1998 Sega Saturn port, as well as a PC version released a few months later. Afterwards, things get a bit weird. The next "version" was a mobile port... released on a 2005-era flip phone with a tiny screen; "adequate" wouldn't even be close to describing it. Stranger, another mobile title came out several years later, called Nightmare, this one being a top-down run-and-gun shooter with 2D visuals. To say that THotD has a bizarre release history would be underplaying it...

It took until 2022 for the first game to get another proper visit in the form of a recreation. Crafted by the same folks that made 2020's Panzer Dragoon: Remake, Megapixel Studio went about reconstructing this horror light-gun title from the ground up using several points of reference. Perhaps the most amusing thing is that, according to the devs in an interview, while they got some assistance from Sega, their biggest help came from, of all things, a Japanese guidebook originally released in 1998. Really makes you wonder just how much "help" Sega gave them...

Regardless, the devs succeeded in recreating the same flow as seen in the original. Whether it's the opening demo sequence showing how the game is supposed to be played and the cutscene of the initial outbreak, to the numerous on-rails segments, enemy placements, and boss patterns, the team did their best to replicate with the materials they were given. If you had plenty of history with the 1996 version, you should have no problem knowing when someone is going to pop up in this remake. In terms of gameplay, not much has changed either; you'll be blasting huge body chunks off enemies in gruesome fashion. However, a few additions have been tacked onto the core gameplay for a little bit more diversity.

0:00 - Original Mode / 3:55 - Horde Mode

For instance, alongside the traditional arcade experience, Original mode, with varying levels of difficulty, there's also Horde mode. Here, instead of having to contend with two to three foes, Horde lives up to its name by forcing you to shoot six to seven opponents whenever there's enough room on screen. It gets so overwhelming at times that even the camera won't know which enemy to prioritize first; there are moments where the camera will rapidly shift left and right in confusion, sometimes away from the horde. It's silly and breaks the game, but you're clearly not supposed to take this seriously. The mode is reminiscent of later sequels in the series, notably 4 and Scarlet Dawn, where you mow down a crowd with rapid fire weaponry. Of course, the difference here is that you're using just a pistol... at first.

In Remake, you're given the option of switching between different weapons during gameplay, such as an assault rifle and a "pitter" that can nail enemies to walls. But obtaining them is first presented as a challenge, as you must save every scientist in a single playthrough, and then, in subsequent playthroughs, you must shoot special crates in every stage to unlock them. But once you get these weapons, it makes Horde mode a guilty pleasure. Also, along with playing with the default analog stick set-up to aim, the PS4 controller's motion sensor can be used, not to mention an update that allows for the Move Controller and, by extension, the PSVR Aim Controller. The default analog setting works fine after sensitivity adjustments, but those other options are there if you have them.

With this being a reworking of a game that came out 26 years prior, the graphics have gone through a makeover as well. Don't expect AAA wizardry with the visuals because, as demonstrated with work on Panzer Dragoon: Remake, it's clear they're not exactly made on a big budget. However, the devs still managed to revitalize Panzer Dragoon's visuals, making for a colorful and smooth modernized look. THotD: Remake, on the other hand, is more hit-and-miss. The rogues gallery is surely the highlight in this department, as the unalive look decomposed and disgusting, all while maintaining the original enemy "types" that made them unique in the original; the chainsaw aggressors, the monkeys, the bosses, and all the other freaks still hold their unique charms in this reinterpretation.

Though, when you see "living" humans, such as scientists and the protagonists, they just look... off. While the game was created using the Unity engine, the best way to classify the visuals here is that it looks like they were made with the Unreal engine: everyone looks like plastic dolls. The next issue is really based on your preference, as Remake has a distinct, "glowy" hue to its backdrops. The opening area in the first chapter, for instance, has a very glaring red hue filtered on nearly ever single thing; it looks like someone took a bunch of red glow sticks, poured the liquid into a giant bucket, and splashed it on everything. Later, when you enter a lab, there is a moment where the environment looks like you're in the middle of a rave party. Some might call this "atmospheric," but it's just distracting.

There are other notable flaws, such as the framerate having an odd stuttering effect that, while it doesn't mess with gameplay, is easily noticeable. Unfortunately, the original soundtrack has been replaced with a new one that tries its best to replicate the funky, gothic vibe. The devs' explanation was basically that they didn't want to deal with licensing complications, interpret that how you want. You get used to it over time, and it is commendable that the new composer tried their best, but if you love the original, it's probably going to be a bother. Now, it's easy to say that the core gameplay has stayed intact and that's ultimately what matters in Remake, but the entire experience is what made the original a standout affair. The fact that many facets are now "you might like this, you might not like that" lowers the quality a bit.

Possibly the best way to view The House of the Dead: Remake is that it's similar to a Sega Ages 2500 title, a lineage of PlayStation 2 remakes of classic Sega titles with... fluctuating quality from title to title; gameplay was mainly kept intact with some enhancements, but the "updated" visuals in some instances were questionable at best. If you're purely playing the game to blast the undead in under an hour, you'll have that fun, but if you're a fan of the original and loved everything about it, Remake is likely to elicit a polarizing reaction.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (April 10, 2023)

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