30 Days of Dreamcast: Day 10 – The House of the Dead 2

hotd2coverThe House of the Dead 2
Developer: AM1
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Rail Shooter
Release Date: 09/09/1999

At the old theater I used to frequent as a youth, there were a few arcade machines strewn throughout the lobby that beckoned me to spend whatever pocket change I had in the moments before whatever movie I was there to see would begin. One of the games that managed to suck the most money out of me was the arcade version of The House of the Dead. The idea was simple. Use a gun and shoot hordes of zombies.

Years later, my best friend bought a Dreamcast and purchased several games for it. Among them were House of the Dead 2. Although I’d only played the original in the arcades, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. Thanks to the fact that we had two light guns to use, we got the full experience and even to this day I can convince him to dust off the Dreamcast and see how far we can get.

So when we were asked to find some Dreamcast games to review, I immediately found my friend and had him dig this up so I could spend some quality time shooting zombies.

So now, ten years later, how does the gunplay hold up?

Story/Modes

House of the Dead 2 takes place two years after the first game’s conclusion, with the fictional agency AMS conducting an investigation into the events leading up to the zombie outbreak at the Curien Mansion. When G, one the agents from that case, goes missing in Venice, Italy, two new agents are sent to investigate. When they get there, they discover that Goldman, the secret backer behind the first outbreak, has unleashed his monsters on the populace. The story follows the duo as they make their way to Goldman’s headquarters to stop the outbreak at its source.

The story is told with brief cutscenes during and between each chapter. Most of the plot is found in the instruction manual. The game simply follows a shallow narrative with characters who are never really fleshed out. However, thanks to the absurd dialogue and scripting in the game, it comes off as hilarious. Think of it as a B movie that you can interact with.

There are two different modes with which you can experience the story. Arcade Mode lets you run through the game until you win or run out of continues. Original Mode gives you some stat boosts like extra rounds before you have to reload, more health, more continues, etc. You can also gain more boosts by shooting coins that are found throughout the game. These are on the screen for only a brief time or hidden in barrels, so you’ll have to look for them.

Training Mode sets out to help you increase your accuracy and speed. You’ll be given a series of tasks to complete before moving on. You’ll have to save civilians from hungry zombies, shoot all the barrels on screen before time runs out, complete a level with a set number of bullets, etc. There are plenty of these and they are challenging enough to really help you get better at the game.

From there, you’ll also have a Boss Rush Mode which lets you fight all of the game’s bosses one right after the other. If you’re the kind of person looking to test your skills, this is where you’ll want to go.

Finally, you can go into the options to calibrate your gun and set the parameters of the game. Think its too hard? Then go ahead and lower the difficulty or increase the amount of health and/or continues you have at your disposal. The only thing I would want to add is the ability to utilize infinite continues from the beginning. It’s annoying when you think that this is an arcade game but you can’t keep pumping in the proverbial quarters. I get why some people would like that, but its not for me.

There are plenty of modes to play around with and the story is so cheesy that it can’t help but be a hit. Sure it isn’t spectacular, but this is a solid set up.

Graphics

I’m not sure this game was ever considered that great looking. Compared to other games released on the Dreamcast, it’s really lacking.

hotd21For one, the backgrounds have a grainy texture which can make them look more like something off of the PSX. Sure, they’re well detailed and there’s a substantial amount of colors used, but the images just aren’t clean enough to be impressive.

Another problem lies in the human character models. They are extremely blocky and lack the kind of detail the system is capable of. I know this is port of an arcade game, but they could have done something here to help the game look better.

About the only thing in the game that looks any good are the zombies. This is the sole grace, as the zombies are what you’re going to be looking at the most. There’s a lot of nice touches in the character designs that help each zombie have a distinct feel about them. From chainsaw wielding maniacs to your garden variety zombie, I absolutely love the art style. Still, the models can also be blocky and oddly textured just as the human models. The art helps you get over it, but on the whole this just isn’t an impressive looking game.

Audio

This game is LEGENDARY for its voice acting, and not in a good way. The voice acting is some of the worst ever recorded in the history of mankind. The main characters are so bad that you’ll pray for their death so you never have to hear them again. The first boss manages to say simple statements so they sound like questions. It’s all kind of bad. However….

The sheer epic awfulness that is the voice acting of HOTS2 takes it to whole new levels of “so bad it’s good” territory. Even if the script had been read by the best in the business, it wouldn’t have mattered. Its just too simple. Thanks to what we got, you can’t play this game without laughing at the sheer hilarity of it all. It makes the game markedly more fun when you play it, so even though the quality is bad, the experience is good.

The music in the game hardly gets noticed over the screams, moans, and gunfire, but when you do get to listen to it it fits the bill pretty well. Of particular note is the tune that plays when you get a game over. Its a little jazzy piece that conveys your failing in just the right tone for the B movie type atmosphere.

As far as sound effects go, the game is solid yet again. The sound of a bullet bouncing off an axe is the right kind of metallic twang while the clicking sound when you run out of bullets lets you know you need to reload even before a disembodied voice reminds you. When a zombie goes down, you’ll know it thanks to the distinct sound it makes when you’ve nailed the death shot.

On the whole, the game features some of the worst voice acting in gaming, but that only helps the game have an aural experience like none other that everyone should experience at least once.

Gameplay

hotd22Unlike most conventional rail shooters, this game doesn’t quite follow a linear path. Sure, it is true that you don’t have any control over what direction you’re going or facing, certain actions can lead to you taking one of many paths. These actions generally involve saving a civilian from a zombie attack or shooting a small object on the ground. You have a short window of time in order to complete these tasks, and you’ll go down a different path depending on your success or failure. You will end up facing the same boss either way, but the types and strength of enemies, as well as the items you can find, will be different.

One thing House of the Dead 2 sticks to is that you’ll only ever be using one type of gun for the entire game. You won’t be seeing any machine gun, shotgun, or rocket launcher upgrades or anything here. This means that the game focuses more on your speed and accuracy with the weapon you have. Enemies will jump at your from all over the screen, so if you’re reflexes aren’t sharp, you’re going to take a ton of damage.

There are a multitude of enemy types you’ll find in the game. You have your garden variety zombies, axe-wielding zombies that deflect bullets, zombies that toss weapons at you, huge zombies that charge at you, flying enemies that come at you fast, slower ones that swarm in mass numbers, piranhas that jump from the sea, leeches that jump from the ground, zombies with metallic masks to protect against head shots, zombies that jump at you from the ceiling, zombies that can run on walls, etc. Each one demands a different strategy in order to kill. Some you can simply aim the gun in a general direction and get the job done, but most require you to aim for a weak spot or shoot around armor/weapons.

There is also a boss fight at the end of each stage. Generally speaking, they either have extremely small weak spots or can only be hit at a certain time. If you don’t hit them right, they won’t take damage. Also, failing to hit them at the opportune moment usually results in you taking a hit.

The game follows a simple style of play found in the arcades. You have a set number of shots you can take before you die. You can use a continue to start off exactly where you were when you died. When you’re continues run out, its game over and you’ll need to start back from the beginning of the game. There’s no saving to be found, so you’ll need to play through the game in one run. To counter that, the game isn’t very long. If you’re good enough to beat it, it won’t take more than an hour to work through all of the levels. (More on that in the next section.)

Saving civilians is a big part of the game. There are dozens of scenarios in which a hapless fool will be about to meet his/her demise and its up to you to save him/her. These are as simple as a woman paralyzed in fear and a man trapped on the ground to more difficult ones where a zombie has a human in his clutches and leaves almost no room for you to shoot. There are also scenarios where you’ll need to shoot a zombie on a moving platform such as a boat in order to save a human. As stated before, saving humans can open up new paths, but there is also a couple of other bonuses. For one, saving certain people will result in them giving you a health pack. Also, the game keeps track of how many civilians you saved in level and will reward you with health for reaching a certain number.

It all adds up to one of the most satisfying light gun games you can find event to this day. You can even play with the Dreamcast controller if you can’t find a light gun. Of course, this is akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight. The analog stick just doesn’t move fast enough. In either case, this is as classic a rail shooter as there is.

Replayability

I mentioned before how playing through Arcade or Original Mode will only take you an hour. Well, that’s only if you can beat it. Also, the multiple paths mean rarely will the game play exactly the same as the last time you played it. Even if you’re only playing these two basic modes by yourself, the game still offers a decent length.

hotd23Being an arcade game, HotD 2 was made for multiplayer. If you chose to play with a friend, you’ll both have separate ammo and life, but you’ll share continues. Also, the number of enemies will increase. So don’t think the game will be any easier if you bring a friend along for the ride. This is the kind of game that you will love to randomly pick up and play with friends. Such it doesn’t take much time, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone to play with.

The other modes can also extend the life of the game. If you’re looking to increase your skills, Training and Boss mode are the places to go. It’s a great way to increase reaction time as well as get accustomed to each boss’s strengths and weaknesses. Playing around here can help you succeed in the main game.

Finally, you can go into the options menu and chose from one of five difficulties as well as set up how many lives and continues you get. Hardcore gamers will get a kick out of playing the game as far as they can with one continue on the highest difficulty. However, even on the lowest difficulty, the game offers a hefty challenge.

Balance

Merely trying to finish the game quickly to see the end, I put the game on very easy difficulty with max continues and lives. I still had a hell of time. This game was designed in the arcades to suck rolls of quarter out of players and the philosophy hasn’t changed even if you no longer need to feed it coins.

Basically put, this game is HARD. It will require patience and constant play throughs in order to make it to the end. You’re going to need better reflexes as well as memorize each turn and jump of each level to make it through in one piece. Since you can’t keep going as long as you want, chances are you might give up before you ever reach the end.

This is an arcade game on a console. They didn’t tone down the difficulty and as such it can feel really cheap sometimes. Sure, eventually the amount of time you’ve spend playing will overcome how many quarters you would have need to use for the same amount of playing time, but you don’t have the option of throwing your money in to force your way to the end. I really wish the game offered some sort of infinite continues from the get go.

As such, the game is a perfect fit for hardcore gamers looking for a game that requires amazing skill in dexterity to complete. For the rest of us, its a bit over the top.

Originality

Given that this game is ten years old, its kind of hard to gauge the originality of it. Honestly, apart from Time Crisis, this was one of the first rail shooters I ever played. Still, one can safely say there hasn’t really been that much change in light gun games ever since they evolved from shooting galleries to rail shooters. There’s only so much you can do with pointing a gun at a screen.

The multi branching pathways aren’t something you see in most rail shooters, which is a bit odd considering how much longevity they add to the game. If anything, this game had more of it than any other at the time of its release.

There’s not much else I can say at this point.

Addictiveness

Thanks to its short length and difficulty, House of the Dead 2 isn’t the most addictive game you’ve ever played. Unless you’re the kind who gets the urge to keep pressing on no matter what, its very easy to become frustrated with this game.

hotd25That’s not to say its not fun. On the contrary, I’ve rarely had as much fun as when a friend and I are blasting away at zombie after zombie. Its just that unless you get really good, you’re not going to make it far.

That’s another thing. Until you get good enough to start making it towards the end of the game, you’re going to see the first few stages over and over again to the point where you’ll just get sick of it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve defeated that first level. By now it must be in the hundreds, whereas the number is much smaller if you go only so far as the third level.

On the whole, if you’ve got a friend to play with, the game is a ton of fun. On your own, it may just end up as an exercise of frustration.

Appeal Factor

I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t like a rail shooter when they actually play it. There’s just something about holding a gun, toy or not, and pretending to blast an enemy away that brings all of mankind together in a mutual blood lust.

When it comes to light gun games, House of the Dead is easily one of the most famous. Of them all, only Time Crisis commands the same sort of respect, and the latest game in that series was kind of a dud. If you’ve still got a Dreamcast, this is perhaps the best home version of the game you can grab, and it is perhaps the best game in the series. If you’ve got a Wii, you might want to grab The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Returns instead, or even just pick up Overkill.

So if you’ve got a Dreamcast and a love for shooting, this is the game for you.

Miscellaneous

Until the Wii brought life back into the genre with Resident Evil : Umbrella Chronicles, light gun games were a bit on the decline. This game hearkens back the heyday of rail shooters. It features plenty of great gunplay action and a multitude of enemies to blast away. If there’s one shooter that keeps you constantly pulling the trigger, House of the Dead 2 is that game.

Still, in hindsight, there are a more than a few things I’d have like added to this home version of the arcade game. I wish you could chose a level in quickplay so that you don’t have to play the opening sections repeatedly to experience the end. Some sort of save feature would have helped to. Something as simple as being able to save after you’ve done particularly well on a level would have helped the game tremendously in the long run. Either that, or make it so that if you wanted, you could just muscle your way through with endless continues.

Even without all of that, this is a fun game that should be in the collection of any Dreamcast owner, should they have a light gun.

The Scores

Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Very Good
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackWhen you’re talking about classic light gun or rail shooting games, House of the Dead 2 has to be brought into the equation. It features excellent gunplay and hours of zombie shooting fun. The game has its flaws on the Dreamcast, but they don’t do much to mar the overall experience. If you decide to own only one light gun game on a system, this one has to be a top contender. 10 years later, there’s still plenty of fun to be had.

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