House of the Dead III
It’s been a bumpy road for Sega since they dropped their Dreamcast and opted to publish games on all three major platforms. With the exception of Virtua Fighter 4 and a few well-timed sports titles, Sega’s franchise titles haven’t faired too well. Besides simply selling poorly, Sega’s recent titles have lacked that polished feel, and occasionally even felt rushed.
House of the Dead III continues that trend of Sega disappointments. While managing to do a few things right, this first gun game on the Xbox ends up shooting its fair share of blanks.
For starters, the title House of the Dead is a tad misleading. Nary a “house” is to be seen in the entire third installment, it’s more of a Factory of the Dead. This, in and of itself, isn’t a big problem; in fact, I actually liked the change of scenery. Based at the EFI Research Facility, House of the Dead III trades domestic textures with computers, lab equipment, and a whole lot of corridors. These new digs give the game a surprisingly colder feel; nothing seems used, almost as if everything is completely barren.
This installment is set almost twenty years after the second House of the Dead game. Not much has changed over the last couple of decades, zombies are roaming the Earth feeding on everything living, and somebody has to stop them. Of course, if it were that simple EVERYBODY would be stopping these beasts, right?
Well, true to form, House of the Dead logic dictates that one extremely young girl is in charge of disposing of the walking dead. Meet Lisa Rogan, a slim blonde who, even at age twenty, can single handedly take on hoards of on-coming baddies with nothing more than her trusty shotgun.
There is a second player, named G, who falls into the “most useless sidekick” category … unless you have a friend playing with you. On one player the only thing G seems to do is get trapped and further the story along. He doesn’t shoot anything, he doesn’t help deflect bullets, and he certainly doesn’t have anything interesting to say while the action is going on.
Like the other House of the Dead games, this third installment is light on the story. Being an arcade game at heart, House of the Dead III ends up being a lot of action, sewn together by brief moments of story. The game attempts to fuse film-style flashback segments in between levels. Using a washed out and grainy look, these flashbacks look as if they were from the 1920s and kept in some vault to grow old. Yet, they are only flashing back to the late ‘90s … a decade in which we know a few things about film restoration, let alone preservation. There is really no need for this effect, and frankly, it’s a little distracting.
Other than that gripe, though, the story elements are presented in a similar fashion of those in the other two House of the Dead titles. And if anything, they never get in the way of the non-stop, heart pounding action that encompass all five levels of game play.
This genre, the “gun game” for the lack of a better name, has really run in place for a number of years now. At its core House of the Dead III plays exactly like Lethal Enforcers, Virtua Cop, and other decade old shooting games. At it’s worse it’s simply a target practicing game, with only a limited amount of game play to be had. At it’s best, though, it’s an excuse to be like Elvis and shoot your television.
In Time Crisis and other Namco shooters, you have the ability, albeit limited, to duck behind walls so you could avoid being shot. Unfortunately, this has been the most recent upgrade to this entire genre, and even that has become as tired as Dharma & Greg reruns. House of the Dead does not allow for ducking, or dodging in any way. You are at the whim of the rails. You move upon a linear path, shooting enemies that always pop out from the same location, always do the same thing, and always have the same weakness.
You can choose a few different paths throughout the game, and House of the Dead III allows for you to play the levels in just about any order you want to. These are fine additions, and well worth noting, but are dragged down by the entirely out of date game play.
The game is also absent any and all real scares. Since the intensity level is always up, you are rarely taken by surprise. When the screen turns you know for a fact there’s going to be something there, and frankly, the whole game is entirely too predictable. Of course, the game may not be going for frights. We’re not exactly playing Resident Evil here, after all.
This is the sort of game that works extremely well in the arcade. It’s about a half hour long, it’s easy to pick up and play (after all, who in the U.S. doesn’t know how to shoot a gun?), and it can be pretty challenging, if you don’t know what’s coming next. At home, though, the game lacks depth, and very little replay value. The game can easily be beaten in just a few times through the game, and after that there’s not a lot to see or do.
House of the Dead III offers two different ways to play through the short adventure. The survival mode accounts for each time you’re hit, take too many and you’ll have to continue. The Time Attack mode, however, keeps you on a clock, and awards you more time when you kill a zombie, find specific items, or help a friend. All pretty basic stuff, and frankly, something you’ll find in just about every gun game since 1997.
The only things that don’t feel “old” are the graphics and sounds. There’s no doubt that the power of the Xbox helped Sega make a sharp looking game. All five levels are visually unbelievable. Heck, the first time through you actually look forward to seeing the next level, the bosses, and even the regular enemies. Each of the ten enemies are highly detailed, well animated, and fun to shoot at. The pieces of their bodies break away little by little, depending on where you shoot. This effect is beautifully done, and extremely fun to watch. It gets old as you fight the same enemies over and over, but there is no doubt about how impressive they are.
Buying a game like this can be a tad expensive, too. Oh sure, the game itself is only $50, but that’s not including the gun accessory, which will run you another $30 – $40. Knowing this, Sega packed in a bonus second game, namely House of the Dead 2. Of course, all the complaints I have about House of the Dead III can be ported over to House of the Dead 2, but as a free bonus, it’s really not worth mincing words.
This newest House of the Dead title simply illustrates how old this genre feels. First Person Shooters have essentially taken over where these gun games left off, but added non-linear paths, multiplayer death matches, and things to interact with. It’s hard to imagine a game like House of the Dead III appealing to more than the most avid gun game fan.
House of the Dead returns, and Segaâ€™s biggest gun franchise looks better than ever. But is that enough to make up for old game play and a short game? Depends on whether you still own Lethal Enforcers or Virtua Cop.
Rating: 6.6 Mediocre
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.