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‘The House Of The Dead: Remake’ Review: More Zombies, Rotten Controls

‘The House Of The Dead: Remake’ Review: More Zombies, Rotten Controls

Reanimated for a new era, SEGA’s arcade classic isn’t firing on all cylinders

Few lightgun games in the arcades of the 1990s were as thrilling, and as violently visceral, as SEGA’s The House of the Dead. Released in 1996 - the same year that Resident Evil debuted on home consoles - it played a part in making zombies a thing again in popular culture, and shifted perceptions of the reanimated undead from slow-moving annoyances to genuine horrors that could rush towards you with skeletal arms outstretched and slavering jaws open. Yikes, basically.

Remake, as its title so patently makes apparent, is the original arcade hit remade for the Nintendo Switch. Developers MegaPixel Studio have updated the visuals - they’re far from cutting edge for the here and now, retaining the chunkiness of the original, but way beyond what was possible in the ‘90s - but kept the gameplay as elementary as it ever was: point, shoot, survive. There’s a wealth of options covering controller choices and sensitivity - aiming is possible with either the Joy-Con’s gyro capabilities or either of the analogue sticks - difficulty, manual or automatic reloading, and more; plus there’s an all-new Horde mode which throws way more enemies into the mix and is guaranteed to give your trigger finger a considerable workout.

Watch a complete playthrough of the new Horde mode in The House of the Dead: Remake in the video below…

Players assume the role of Agent Thomas Rogan as he infiltrates the expansive mansion of one Dr Curien, whose experiments with genetics have led to a horde of mutated creatures and deadly zombies plaguing the area. There are nightmares to vanquish and scientists to save, and only you can do it. Well, not necessarily just you, as two different co-op modes are available if you need a friend to keep you company through these terrifying times. The second player is cast as Agent G, and you can play collaboratively, each player’s points contributing to an overall total, or competitively, where there’s a winner and a loser. 

Story isn’t a strong point here, with the whole appeal of The House of the Dead the thrill of dismembering enemies with your rapid-fire bullets and the rollercoaster ride of outlandish and nightmarish scenes to blast your way through. Nevertheless, the one-liners remain as wonderfully cheesy as they ever were, and there are three different endings to aim for, alongside a wealth of achievements to tick off based on how well you do or don’t play. Get 666 headshots? That’s a trophy!

The House of the Dead: Remake /
Forever Entertainment

All good so far, then - but sadly the playing of Remake is what lets it down. Across six complete playthroughs of both the classic arcade mode and Horde mode, I never once found a way to make the gyro controls as enjoyable as either the arcade’s lightgun setup or the intuitive Wii Remote approach to that Nintendo console’s The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return collection and the subsequent series spin-off Overkill. Whether playing handheld or on the TV, with the Pro Controller or a single Joy-Con in hand, it’s a constant battle to make your reticle behave. You may get a hint of that from the video above; what you won’t hear is me cursing as my sights drift wildly off to the side of the screen. Whatever settings I adjusted, nothing made it better - my aim would always fizz away from where it should be, and I’d have to smash recentre as frequently as I did reload (which is now button-mapped, no pointing off-screen needed).   

As a lightgun-inspired game, The House of the Dead: Remake was always going to be played first and foremost with motion controls instead of sticks, and it’s a punch to the rotten guts that it just doesn’t work properly. You can manage - slide the difficulty down from Hard or Arcade to Normal or even Easy and getting through the game without spending your allocation of 10 credits (more can be bought by spending points from your score) isn’t too difficult, due to reduced damage taken. You can also adjust aim assist, although I felt it’s better left untouched given your gun’s got a mind of its own anyway; and there’s an easily inputted cheat code that does away with reloading completely (this can be set to automatic anyway, but you lose the annoying “RELOAD” notification this way), freeing your thumb up to simply shoot and recentre. One less input to worry about when you're chasing your aim around the screen. 

The House of the Dead: Remake /
Forever Entertainment

Ergo, there are ways to make the wobbly controls more manageable, but this is a basic feature in a game like this, surely. That I’ve played through the game so many times and still not found a selection of options that works to solve the wandering sights tells me that, well, the game’s sort of broken. 

And yet, the fact that I’ve been playing this thing so much, in such a short space of time, should also tell you that it’s a lot of fun. I can’t forgive the gyro controls being as bad as they are, but I can put my frustrations to one side as I plough through the putrid ranks again and again, chasing a new high score, adjusting gameplay modes to switch up the experience, and exploring all available branching paths to the final encounter with Curien and his errant Magician. Another new feature is an alternative scoring mechanic where kills stack up and points flood in faster (you can see that in action in the video above); and extra weapons can be unlocked for future playthroughs if you meet certain in-game demands (no spoilers, here).

The House of the Dead: Remake /
Forever Entertainment

Hopefully, publishers Forever Entertainment - who when asked about the misfiring gyro controls advised me to try the game with the Pro Controller, or use the stick and gyro at the same time, but none of that significantly improved the problem - will work towards a patch that fully fixes the motion controls for The House of the Dead: Remake. Without them being as tight as they should be, it’d be wrong to score this comeback higher than what’s shown below. 

However, personally I’m a sucker for a game like this, and I’ve enjoyed it plenty enough to keep on pushing for all achievements and to see that pesky third ending. Your mileage will vary - newcomers will most likely be miffed by the whole thing, and purists dismayed that their bullets keep missing. But arcade-goers of the late 1990s who want a gory little slice of exhumed nostalgia might feel satisfied enough with what’s on show. Remake offers plenty to chew on - it’s a shame it doesn’t go down smooth.

Pros: It’s The House of the Dead, a genuine arcade classic, back from the grave, and it’s got a load of appealing new features thrown in

Cons: Its controls don’t work properly, which rather defeats the point of the whole thing 

For fans of: lightgun shooters, zombie movies, RSI

5/10: Average

The House of the Dead: Remake is released for Nintendo Switch on April 7, 2022. Review code provided by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible’s review scores here (which is to say, 5/10 is no disaster if you know what you’re into, and you’re into this).

Featured Image Credit: Forever Entertainment

Topics: Sega, Retro Gaming