E3 2002: House of the Dead 3 impressions

We check out the next installment of Sega's zombie shooter on the Xbox.

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Sega's House of the Dead series has been coming home since the days of the Saturn when the first game, a home conversion of the arcade House of the Dead game, hit at the end of the system's life. A simple but addictive light-gun game, the title let you and a friend explore the grounds of a mansion crawling with zombies and send the zombies hurtling toward "the light" in a hail of bullets. Since then the series has seen an excellent conversion of the sequel, House of the Dead 2, for the Dreamcast, and a spin-off, the classic Typing of the Dead, was also brought over to the DC. For the latest installment, developer Wow Entertainment has opted to bring the series to the Xbox. We had a chance to spend some time with the latest version of the game and were pleased to see it was shaping up to bring even more zombie-blasting fun.

This time out the game is set in a postapocalyptic wasteland, which is littered with zombies. Not much is known about the game's exact storyline or whether it relates to the previous installments in the series, which featured rather loose plots revolving around scientists creating zombies for experiments. Regardless, you'll still find yourself going through bizarre levels plugging zombies full of lead until they drop.

Fans of the series will notice the game's main weapon has changed--you'll be using a shotgun rather than a pistol. The new weapon doesn't appear to change the way you play the game outside of the need to reload more often. The game is still a rail shooter that moves you through the levels on a set path. You'll be able to switch to different paths by shooting certain objects and/or by saving specific individuals as before. If you've played the previous entries in the series, you'll know what to expect out of House of the Dead 3.

If you're familiar with the House of the Dead series, specifically House of the Dead 2, it's likely you'll also be acquainted with playing the game with a controller. When HOTD2 hit the DC, a light-gun peripheral shortage forced players to use a standard controller when playing the game. While we were ready to experience the unpleasant flashback of trying to move an onscreen cursor to the hordes of zombies advancing on us, things didn't turn out to be too bad. The controller setup actually lent itself to speedy and precise control in the game, which was a pleasant surprise. The analog stick will move your onscreen cursor, the A button will fire your shotgun, and reloading is done with the left trigger on the Xbox controller. The setup makes it theoretically possible to fire off a near-endless stream of shots if you time it correctly. Don't get us wrong--if we could play the game with a decent light gun, we'd do it in a second, but at the moment we haven't been able to try any of the forthcoming third-party efforts. Until those become available, it's good to see that House of the Dead 3 is very playable with the Xbox controller.

Graphically the game has had an interesting journey to its current state. Early shots seemed to show a distinct change in the game's look with their cel-shaded appearance. However, since then the game's art style has shifted back toward a much more realistic appearance that is closer to what players expect from the series. The zombies are all heavily detailed thanks to macabre texture work that shows off every vein, muscle, tendon, and chunk of misshapen flesh on the hordes of the undead. You'll still be able to blast off chunks of the zombies as they lurch toward you. The environments in the game offer clean and polygon-rich modeling that shows off a ton of detail. The build we played didn't let us demolish everything we came across in the level, but we were still able to do a fair share of property damage.

In terms of the sound and voice in the game, fans of the series expecting more of the "so bad it's good" voice acting and unrepentantly cheesy dialogue may be in for a bit of a letdown. While the music in the build of the game we played was a far cry from the wonderfully cheesy guitar rock of the previous entries in the series, it was also far from final. In terms of the dialogue and voice acting, the proceedings were surprisingly serious and a bit dry. While there's nothing wrong in tightening things up in the dialogue department, we'll always have a soft spot in our hearts for such classic lines as "Don't come! Don't come!" delivered with bizarre, but emphatic, inflection.

From what we've seen so far, House of the Dead 3 is poised to offer fans of the series just what they want: over-the-top zombie carnage. While the dialogue may lack the cheese factor of the previous entries in the series, if we can still blow chunks off a zombie's belly, it's all good. Look for more on House of the Dead 3 from the show floor and in the coming months. House of the Dead 3 is currently slated to ship this fall for the Xbox.

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