Ellie Zoe begins her Memoirs of a Gamer series with a look at a classic arcade shooter. Get those light guns at the ready!
Unfortunately, arcades aren’t nearly as relevant as they perhaps were 10 or 15 years ago. Sure, there are still a good amount of Hollywood Bowl and Namco Funscape branches left across the country, but arcades aren’t drawing like they used to. It’s hard to say exactly the reason why, but the rise of free-to-play games and an abundance of titles on platforms like Steam have probably played no small part. Consumers are spending their money elsewhere – arcades aren’t cheap to play in, and free time is tight for a lot of working adults. When arcades don’t get the custom, they stop bringing in new cabinets and machines, and with a lack of new games to try – the punters stop coming.
Arcades are experiencing a small indie revival. Businesses are opening in big cities and importing cabinets from Japan and the States. It’s arguably easier to access foreign machines nowadays, as small arcades flourish without the dominating competition of the big chains. Speaking of Japan, arcade culture is far from dead there. Arcades are still a huge deal in Japan, and long-gone series like The House Of The Dead are getting new entries. With new ventures opening closer to home, and Japan pumping out quality new titles, there’s every possibility for an almost arcade renaissance.
For now, though – let’s have a look back at one of my favourite franchises of all time; the aforementioned ‘The House Of The Dead’ (often shortened House Of The Dead, or even just HOTD). Zombies have always been big business – as consumers, we can’t seem to get enough of them. The Night Of The Living Dead released a whopping fifty years ago, blasting zombies in to major pop-culture relevance. There were zombie films beforehand, but many would argue that this is where they hit the big time.
1996 was a good year to be a zombie fan. Capcom had just launched their new ghoulish franchise; ‘Resident Evil’ (‘Biohazard’ in Japan), and Sega weren’t far behind. As opposed to a console release, Sega opted for an arcade light-gun game with a tongue-in-cheek overtone, and most everyone fell in love. I have made some of my fondest memories over the years playing various entries in The House OF The Dead series, whether it be in an arcade proper, or at home one one of the multiple ports or spin-offs.
As mentioned, HOTD is primarily a light-gun game. You point a plastic gun at a zombie on the screen and pull the trigger. As endlessly convenient and ergonomic as a standard controller can be, there’s little comparison to the fun that can be had stood up in bustling arcade, brandishing a giant plastic assault rifle. There’s been plenty of titles released in the series over the years, but the majorly relevant ones are as follows:
- The House Of The Dead
- The House Of The Dead 2
- The House Of The Dead III
- The House Of The Dead 4
- The House Of The Dead: Overkill
- The House Of The Dead: Scarlet Dawn
Both Resident Evil and HOTD start in very similar places. You’re special operatives, exploring a mansion filled with the undead to combat an evil maniac with a particular interest in bio-terrorism. There are plenty of similarities that can be drawn between the two series, but where Resident Evil tries to keep it’s storyline somewhat gritty and grounded, HOTD has a scene where the villain re-enters his giant zombie mother’s vagina. HOTD knows exactly what it its, and just how ridiculous it can be, and fully exploits that to great effect.
HOTD is on-rails, which means that your character follows a pre-determined path throughout the level, with events and encounters taking place at specific intervals.. The standard gameplay loop revolves around moving in to a new room, ferociously shooting all the zombies before they have chance to kill you, re-loading your weapons and so forth. There’s not really a lot of depth here, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ridiculously enjoyable. There’s more of a focus on massive, wild set-piece battles and encounters than creating a sense of creeping terror and dread, and more often than not you’ll find yourself being chased through a sewer system by a giant four-armed abomination, or gunning down an oversized autonomous suit of medieval armour.
Although they take place at various points in the timeline, the first four games all take place in the same canon. Overkill used familiar character ‘G’, but acted as more of a standalone experience – whilst the gameplay was the same as you’d expect, it was fairly thematically different. Scarlet Dawn seems to be more of a soft reboot for the series, returning to the original story (set after the events of HOTD 4), but with the general plot and setting feeling like a modern take on the first game. It also looks really good, from the footage taken at location tests.
You’re probably going to have to go out of your way a little to experience The House Of The Dead, and playing on the arcade cabinets is by no means cheap, but if you’ve never had the chance to do so – I’d argue that you’re legitimately missing out. I’ve had more than my fair share of laughs and memories playing various entries in the series over the years, and I feel that it’s a real shame that there’s plenty of people who haven’t.
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