Friday, October 31, 2008

House of the Dead Saturn Review

In the arcades, House of the Dead impressed with a few new twists on the shooter formula. Instead of the one-shot one-kill mentality that existed in most shooters at the time, HotD included zombies that wouldn't stay down after only one bullet. The undead would just keep coming, despite losing their limbs or chunks of their bodies. HotD also introduced multiple pathways, as certain parts of the each stage contained extra twists and turns, opened by rescued hostages or hidden switches. With another arcade success up their sleeves, it was inevitable HotD would find its way to the Saturn.

And that it did in 1998, at the very end of the system's life. Is it still a success? To get straight to the point: Not really. While it is still technically The House of the Dead on the Saturn, it really doesn't look like it. The graphics are bad. Really bad. This is one of the worst looking games on the Saturn. Polygons have been removed, as expected in a Model 2 conversion, but the level of detail that has been dumbed down is just nasty. The textures used in this game are just awful, pixelated messes that at most times bear very little resemblance to their arcade counterparts. Everything blurs together in a muddy mess of brown and gray, making it hard to spot enemies. Not too mention, this graphical mess is a clunker, too, chugging along at a very poor frame rate.

Even though the graphics are bad, it wouldn't be too much of a problem as long as the game still felt like it did in the arcade. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The low frame rate makes the game harder to play than it should be, causing players to adjust to the poor graphics, rather than develop zombie-shooting skills. The Stunner gun feels really unresponsive, which is a shame, because it's one of the most accurate light guns I've used on a home console. Sega has demonstrated with the Virtua Cop series that a smooth frame rate and responsive gun control are completely possible and should be expected, but it just doesn't happen here. It seems that the poor frame rate causes the game to register hits slightly slower, and because of that, nothing feels precise.Just to double check and make sure that I'm not just sucking, I went back and played through Virtua Cop 1 and 2. No problems there. I tried adjusting the gun calibration, but it didn't seem to help. So, I went to the next logical stepped and plugged in a controller. Oddly, enough, when using a controller, the targeting reticle moves around at a good 30 frames per second while the rest of the game stutters along. The end result is that the game is actually easier to play with a controller than with the gun, which pretty much defeats the purpose of games in this genre.

The home release includes, in addition to the standard arcade mode, a new Saturn mode, where different characters can be selected. The difference between these characters include the number of lives they have per credit, how many rounds they can fire before reloading, and how much damage their guns can do. Does it add to the game? If you master arcade, it could be fun to mix it up a bit with these options, but ultimately, it's still the same levels. Lastly is a boss mode, which could be good for practice on a problematic boss, but personally, I've never had the desire to replay the bosses outside of the normal game.All in all, I'm really disappointed with this game. It should have been another classic Saturn shooter from Sega, but it just ends up being a let-down. It appears that half-way through the game, development just stopped and whatever was done was released. If the poor graphics didn't affect the controls, it wouldn't be as bad, but the low frame rate makes precision targeting and reactions really hard with the gun. Unfortunately, HotD without the gun is like a dog without a bone.


There may be no final justice for this game. It was set to be an unlockable in the Dreamcast's House of the Dead 2, but was cut due to time constraints. Supposedly it was to appear in the House of the Dead 2&3 Return on the Wii, but the graphics were deemed to be too aged.

Collectors are looking for this game, so if you really want it, I'd suggest going the import route. The Japanese version is pretty cheap and besides about $60, the only difference is that all of the blood is green instead of red.

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