Try as I might, the original House of the Dead was never able to grace the insides of my Saturn, so I ended up starting out the series with its sequel. Over the years, I've logged quite a few hours into the Dreamcast HotD2 and played through it several times. I've also played numbers three and four in the arcade, though not for an extended period of time. With this in mind, as I went through the original, I couldn't help but thinking to myself, "I've been here before."
When The House of the Dead came out, it was a new twist on the gun game formula. Instead of employing the one-shot-one-kill motif, enemies kept coming at you until you blasted them to pieces or scored a head shot. Maybe the more skilled could head-shot their way to victory, but I'd usually go out in a hail of gunfire.
This was also one of the first light gun games to employ multiple paths, so depending on who was saved or what arrows were shot on the elevator, a different direction could be taken. In a short arcade game, anything to help increase the replay value is good.
The House of the Dead is still fun and still plays well. Basically, if you're a fan of light-gun games, this'll scratch your itch, but the game has been done several times since then. HotD2 is more of the same (some bosses are identical) with a different setting and better graphics. To mix up the formula over the years, HotD3 added a shotgun help off zombies and HotD4 did the duty with an SMG.
While I enjoyed the original, I can't help but feeling that it has been eclipsed by its sequels. What made it stand out in the arcades back in '98 has been improved, at least graphically, in the newer versions. While it's fun for a trip down memory lane and to see the series' origins, it's a short romp that has been done before.