The House of the Dead III Preview

Sega's serves up a dose of zombie-killing fun on the Xbox.

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Sega's House of the Dead series was an important part of the arcade revival of light gun shooters when it was first released in the US in 1997. The franchise offered a different twist on the reality-based shooters, such as the Virtua Cop and Time Crisis games, by placing a wide assortment of undead menaces in players' crosshairs. The latest installment in the series, The House of the Dead III, continues the fine tradition of zombie shooting on the Xbox. We had a chance to check out a previewable build of the upcoming game to see how it's coming together. Offering some twists on the gameplay of the previous games, gorgeous graphics, and some unlockables to discover, The House of the Dead III seems to be capably carrying the zombie-killing torch on the Xbox.

Zombies and shotguns--two great tastes that taste great together.
Zombies and shotguns--two great tastes that taste great together.

The game's story picks up in 2019, 19 years after the events in The House of The Dead 2, and it involves newcomer Lisa Rogan, the daughter of Thomas Rogan, and former AMS agent "G," who was last seen in The House of the Dead 2 with Lisa's father. The game starts with a prologue that you'll actually play in as Thomas Rogan, who has left the AMS and formed a new secret division dedicated to dealing with bizarre and dangerous undead menaces. Unfortunately, things go awry during the prologue's assault on a complex crawling with the life-challenged, and he disappears. When the proper game starts, two weeks after the events in the prologue, you'll play as either Lisa or G as they set out to find Rogan. The pair's search will take them through five chapters and pit them against a twisted mix of zombies and genetic experiments gone horribly wrong. Along the way, you'll gain some insight into Dr. Curien's insane mind and come to understand his motivation for playing reanimator.

Who wants some?
Who wants some?

The House of the Dead III features the same basic structure as its predecessors in that you'll go through a level shooting anything that moves, as well as crates and other assorted breakables. This time out, you'll be packing a shotgun that doles out messy damage in a wide area. Most levels will feature a boss battle and at least one branch or alternate path. There were two modes in our build of the game: survival and time attack. Survival plays like a traditional arcade mode and offers a set number of continues that are shared when playing with two players. Time attack offers a greater challenge by giving you an initial time limit of 30 seconds that ticks away as you go through a level. You'll earn units of time to extend the overall limit based on how fast your reflexes are and how well you aim. If you manage to finish the game in survival mode, you'll unlock a nostalgic extra in the form of the full version of The House of the Dead 2, which features all the gameplay modes from the home conversion for the PC. In addition, the game offers a featurette that provides a lengthy look at the upcoming House of the Dead movie, which is slated for release next year.

Flanders Was a Zombie?

Getting a handle on the game's control, which supports a light gun or a regular Xbox controller, isn't too much of a challenge. We were able to try out both methods and were pretty satisfied with them, although using a light gun instead of a controller is obviously the way to go. When using a controller, you'll be able to configure the control scheme to your liking. The default setup assigns shooting to the right trigger and A button and reloading to the left trigger and B button. The X button will speed up the onscreen cursor when held down, and the Y button will center it. However, if you're a fan of light gun games, you'll be looking for your light-gunning options. While Sega is passing on developing a gun peripheral, third parties are ready to save the day. We got hold of a Mad Catz Blaster, a little green number in the shape of a submachine gun that has a slot for an Xbox memory unit where an ammunition clip would go, to see how the gun and game worked together. After some brief calibration weirdness, the gun handled well and offered a pleasant surprise thanks to its vibration support, which gave it a bit of kick when we were playing. Granted, it isn't quite the same as using the massive pump-action shotgun in the arcade version, but it's still a solid tactile experience.

Clearly these things must be put down in as messy a fashion as possible.
Clearly these things must be put down in as messy a fashion as possible.

In terms of its graphics and audio, The House of the Dead III is easily the best entry in the series, at home or in the arcade, to date. The environments in the game are massive and detailed, using a generous number of polygons and a liberal dose of lighting, bump mapping, particle effects, and solid texture work to bring the game's twisted levels to life. However, the real stars of the game are the assorted undead you'll be plugging full of holes. The zombies and creatures you'll encounter are extremely detailed and have been constructed with the same attention to detail that the environments have. As good as your foes look before you shoot them, they look even better with chunks missing out of them, which is a testament to developer Wow Entertainment's skill with the Xbox hardware. Riddling the highly detailed creatures with bullets is made all the more satisfying thanks to the game's robust sound and Dolby 5.1 support, which definitely help pull you into the game. In particular, the shotgun fire from your weapon and the assorted growls and groans from your targets are very strong. The soundtrack is good enough but lacks the catchy hooks of The House of the Dead 2's soundtrack. The voice acting is as shaky as expected--it just wouldn't be a House of the Dead game without questionable voice acting--but the lines lack the campy punch of the previous game's lines. While Lisa and G do get to utter a few keepers, there isn't anything that's quite on the same level as The House of the Dead 2 samples like "Don't come!," "My God," or anything uttered by Curien.

Who wants a face full of shotgun shells?
Who wants a face full of shotgun shells?

While The House of the Dead III is a solid enough experience right now, there were some things in our build of the game that we hope will be tightened up before the final release. The timing for the auto reload on the shotgun is off just enough to be irksome and occasionally fatal, so it would be nice if there were an option to speed up or turn off the auto reload feature in the final game. In addition, the game's length, while comparable to that of its predecessor, left us wanting more. Granted, The House of the Dead 2 is also included in this package, but it would have been nice to have seen an original mode unique to The House of the Dead III.

Judging from what we've played so far, The House of the Dead III is shaping up well enough. Much like every game in the franchise, the latest installment is at its best when played with a friend. The gameplay is solid and stays true to the other entries in the series, and the game's graphics and sound are very impressive. Since the Xbox software library is currently devoid of light-gun shooters, The House of the Dead III should capably fit the bill. Anyone eager to get their zombie killing on can look for the game later this month.

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