Fans of first-person shooting games had already had their fill of taking out soldiers, terrorists and the like, but those were mere mortals. When Sega introduced House of the Dead in 1997, players would be forced to contend with a few more ominous adversaries – legions of hungry and undead zombies in need of a human flesh fix. It would take a handful of quarters and your trusty firearm to save your hide from becoming dinner.
Wielding a trusty light gun, players assumed the role of special agent Tom Rowgun (or his assistant in two-player mode.) Tom had the misfortune of being sent to investigate the strange occurrences taking place in a decrepit old mansion. A team of celebrated geneticists were holed up within the haunted house, and only Tom could rescue them from impending doom. And, as every good game needs a damsel in distress, Tom also had the responsibility of saving Laura, the daughter of one of the scientists. None of this would be a walk in the park, for lurking behind every corner of the mansion were hungry zombies and a host of other supernatural adversaries.
House of the Dead took its cue from previous shooting games, such as Area 51 and Virtual Cop, and presented the saga from a first-person movie perspective. While players had little say as to where they could move or even look, they were at least afforded a plethora of shortcuts and alternate paths throughout the house, many of which that weren’t easy to spot on first glance. Often their appearance was triggered by other events, such as decimating a specific zombie, or saving a particular scientist.
Accuracy was the key to success in House of the Dead, as shooting innocents didn’t exactly reflect well on poor Tom. Also, while a steady supply of bullets were generally available, Tom’s weapon was a meager six-shooter, and players would have to aim the gun off-screen to reload (a tactic used in games such as Lethal Enforcer). And when the pressure was on, when zombies were appearing out of the woodwork at the least opportune moments, remembering to reload became much more challenging. Put a few innocent scientists into the mix (of whom it was not OK to shoot) and it was clear that Tom had his work cut out for him. Split-second judgments awaited around every corner.
Of course, where accuracy was really demanded was in taking out those pesky zombies. Anyone with any experience in this sort of thing (say, by being a fan of the Night of the Living Dead films) knows that killing something that is already dead is an arduous task. A mere shot in the arm and the leg, or even a seemingly well-placed chest shot, might momentarily slow the beasties down, but a head shot was the only effective way to truly put them out of their misery. And if zombies weren’t enough of a challenge, there were plenty of other freaky and menacing targets, including knife-carrying monkeys and flying mutant dogs. Awaiting at the end of each of the four chapters, was a unique boss to contend with – the Armored Giant, the Magician, the Man-Bat and the Giant Spider. By the end of this adventure, Tom was ready to put in a request for a desk job.
Arcade gamers loved this mixture of the macabre with pulse-pounding action and House of the Dead offered both in steady supply, all within the backdrop of a sufficiently bloody horror movie. Its overwhelming success led Sega to release a sequel in 1998, called House of the Dead 2. This time around, a dilapidated old house was the least of player’s worries; they had to defend the entire globe from a steady supply of sinister creatures. So, no desk job for poor old Tom – the world needed saving yet again and he was just the man to get the job done – with a little help from his fearless quarter-laden assistants, of course.
If your arcade adventures included dropping a fistful of quarters into House of the Dead, we would love to hear your recollections of playing this classic video game in our comments section.