House of the Dead

House of the Dead

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

First-person shooters entered the world of the macabre and gory in 1997’s House of the Dead. Sega’s frightfest offered all the usual light-gun action, but instead of soldiers, terrorists or aliens, this game pitted your shooting skills against legions of the undead.

The game’s story had special agent Tom Rowgun (and a partner in two-player mode) assigned to investigate the goings-on in a spooky old mansion. A group of the world’s greatest geneticists had been working there, and it was up to Tom to find and rescue them, along with one scientist’s lovely daughter Laura. Unfortunately, these assorted eggheads just happened to be surrounded by hundreds of flesh-eating zombies and other supernatural beasties.

As in earlier shooters like Area 51 and Virtua Cop, the action in House of the Dead unfolded like a first-person movie, with the game itself deciding where you should be looking and moving. Players weren’t left completely without control, however. In fact, House of the Dead offered multiple paths and shortcuts through the mansion. Some were secret paths opened up by shooting the right creature or object, but others were determined by how well you played the game—how accurately you shot, how many scientists you saved, etc.

Tom Rowgun’s pistol only held six bullets, but reloading was as simple as aiming away from the screen and pulling the trigger, a trick dating back to 1992’s Lethal Enforcers. It sounded simple, but when several decayed faces were running up to dine on your brains, the pressure got a bit more intense.

House of the Dead was crawling with nasties, from the traditional zombies to winged mutant dogs to knife-wielding monkeys, along with four end-of-chapter bosses—the Armored Giant, the Man-Bat, the Giant Spider and the Magician. You never knew when another soldier of the undead would pop up, and things only got tougher if there was an innocent scientist involved. Not only did you have to stop the zombie, you had to do it without hurting the humans—no small feat.

Making poor Tom’s life even more miserable, the zombies didn’t really have any vital organs. An arm or leg shot might slow the baddies down for a bit, but they’d just keep ambling toward you. Even chest shots might not do the trick, blowing open see-through holes but leaving the creature only partially destroyed. The only sure shot was a head shot, a staple of the Night of the Living Dead films.

House of the Dead managed to combine the fast-action thrills of traditional arcade shooters with the creeping dread and overwhelming gore of a horror movie, a combination that sent gamers scrambling to dig up more quarters. Sega released a sequel in 1998, House of the Dead 2, which gave our heroes the unenviable task of defending the world against a total undead invasion. The second installment attracted even more fans to the gruesome game series, proving that you can’t keep a good zombie down (even with a well-placed shot to the noggin).

Arcade Machine Release History

1997 - House of the Dead
1998 - House of the Dead 2

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