Two years ago, Polish studio Forever Entertainment released an HD remake of Sega Saturn classic Panzer Dragoon. Our review at the time stated that the remake was interesting but flawed, but ultimately concluded that even though it wasn’t perfect, we were glad it at least existed so that more people could at least get a chance to play it in some form.
Fast forward to the present day and Forever Entertainment is back with another remake of a classic Sega IP, and this time it’s the legendary arcade light gun shooter The House of the Dead. As fate would have it, it turns out our opinion of it is much the same as Forever’s take on Panzer Dragoon: it’s welcome, but it’s not perfect.
For those who’ve been unfortunate enough to not have The House of the Dead in their lives up to this point, the game takes place in and around the Curien Mansion, as players try to put a stop to the evil Dr Curien and his laboratory. Curien has been performing some fairly grim experiments which have resulted in his mansion being overrun with a horde of zombies and other mutants, so it’s up to you to clear the house (of the dead), slap a few bullets into Curien’s rump on the way out, and also rescue your girlfriend who was at the house because reasons.
As wonderfully versatile as the Switch is, light gun games can prove a little tricky for it because there’s no truly perfect way to replicate the experience. The Wii provided one of the best and most accurate home light gun experiences because its sensor bar provided constant tracking of the Remote’s pointer, but without a sensor bar the Switch has to rely purely on gyro controls and that isn’t ideal.
Whether you’re playing with the Joy-Con separately in either hand, using the Pro Controller or in handheld mode, there’s an option to play with gyro controls. On paper that’s the best way to do it, and keeping it calibrated isn’t even a massive problem — pushing the cursor to the edge of the screen and bringing it back to the centre generally gets the job done.
The main problem we have with the gyro controls is that every time we fire (either with the ‘A’ button or particularly with the ‘ZR’ trigger), the cursor twitches and throws off our aim. We aren’t sure if this is down to over-sensitivity on the controller’s part, but it can make things really frustrating when you’re trying to hit targets at a distance or even at mid-range.
It’s also a mess for boss fights, where you ideally want to keep your cursor focused on a weak spot but it’s jumping all over the place. We should note that we’re not exactly John Woo stuntmen when playing light gun games: we consciously tried to keep our hands and trigger fingers as steady as possible while playing and the cursor still kept jumping.
We found that playing with a Pro Controller remedied the situation a little. Not entirely, mind you, but enough that things weren’t so frustrating. Let’s face it, though, when you’re playing a light gun game you want to feel like you’re holding a gun, and the Joy-Con is more gun-like than a Pro Controller (even if it’s a tiny gun like the one in Men in Black).
There’s also the option to use the Control Stick to move the cursor instead, which is obviously far less intuitive but is at least more accurate. The default settings for this do the job for the most part (though it’s hard to react and aim quickly) but there are a bunch of sensitivity settings you can mess around with until you get something you’re happy enough with. Obviously though, it’s still not an ideal situation: one of the main benefits of this genre is that anyone, regardless of gaming ability, is supposed to be able to just pick up a ‘gun’ and immediately know what they’re doing. That level of intuitive control is certainly not present here.
(Incidentally, while we’re at it, we’d love it if Forever Entertainment could patch in the ability to use the touch screen to just tap where we want to shoot. It would obviously make the game a lot easier, but at least it would be perfectly accurate, and it would be a great help in the Horde mode, which we’ll address in a second.)
Assuming you can find a control method that you’re happy enough with, the game itself is as entertaining as House of the Dead has ever been. Blowing away zombie heads is still brilliantly satisfying, as is saving the helpless scientists from being attacked, all while relishing in the beautifully awful voice acting. There’s also the option to blast through it with a pal with local multiplayer.
Being an arcade game, though, it’s still very brief. There are a few different endings to provide at least some replay value, but the control issues mean trying to get some of them (which requires a high degree of accuracy and skill) could have you tearing your own face off, ironically.
Once you’ve had your fill of the main arcade mode there’s also a new mode called Horde, which is essentially the same thing but gives you a load of zombies to deal with in each area instead of just a couple at a time. In a sense it’s a more fun, action-packed version of the game, but in practice it also exposes the control issues even more when you have more targets to quickly deal with.
Visually, it’s… fine. As it’s a remake this isn’t just the original arcade game with an HD upscale and hi-res textures applied: all the game’s characters, locations and enemies have been rebuilt from scratch. When you look at them in these static screenshots they may look a bit rubbish, but it’s also important to note that they usually appear and attack so quickly that you don’t have time to sit there and study the quality of their character models. They’re detailed enough, and the improved lighting is nice and moody, if a tad basic.
Where the game does suffer a little is in performance. On its default setting the frame rate can judder frequently, which isn’t ideal for a game that requires quick reactions like this. There’s an option to turn on a ‘Performance’ mode which brings everything far closer to a stable frame rate, but while this essentially solves the problem without too many compromises while docked, it can make things look blurrier when playing in handheld mode.
Ultimately, The House of the Dead: Remake has clearly been made with love for the source material and fans of the original will still likely enjoy seeing how Forever Entertainment has given it a new lick of paint. How much fun you’ll have with it, however, will depend on how willing you are to tinker with its settings until you’re happy enough with its controls. It’s infuriating every time you fail to save a scientist because you’re blasting away at a zombie and don’t hit it through no fault of your own, and you shouldn’t have to spend time twiddling with sensitivity and dead zone options to alleviate something that should just ‘work’.
When it all works like it should, The House of the Dead: Remake is a fun update of a Sega arcade classic. The performance can be janky and the controls clunky on its default settings, but if you’re willing to put the time in to tweak them you should get something you’re happier with. You shouldn’t have to do that with a light gun shooter, though, and the fact you do has to go down as a failing on the game’s part.