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The House of the Dead Remake – Switch Review

After the mixed response to Forever Entertainment’s stab at remaking Panzer Dragoon, I took a cautious approach to getting excited for The House of the Dead Remake. A lot of the footage released didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, and I found it hard to look past those gripes. The game has since seen a fair amount of clean-up since those initial trailers; but unfortunately nowhere near enough. What we have now that the game’s ready for launch is a faithful remake of SEGA’s arcade classic with some entertaining new content that is let-down by some unfortunate omissions and a totally botched presentation, including the worst localisation I’ve seen from a SEGA IP since the PS2 era.

For those unaware, The House of the Dead is a long-running series from SEGA’s beloved arcade team AM1. The original game sees AMS agents Thomas Rogan and ‘G’ set off to the Curien Mansion, after Rogan’s fiance Sophie warns them that the research team based there are being murdered. Sure enough, the duo arrive just in time to see a creature (the original development team insist they’re not zombies) eating a researcher’s face, and so they get to work trying to find the cause of all the bloodshed. The setup is exactly the same for this remake as you’d probably expect.

I will at least give Forever some credit for the breadth of basic options on offer before even starting the game. There’s the ability to select gyro controls or the thumbstick for aiming, as well as plenty of sensitivity tweaks, axis controls, and even crosshair display options. You can also enable a performance mode, albeit one that still doesn’t manage to always hit 60, and there’s helpful tools like aim assists and automatic reloading too. Part of me wishes a rapid-fire was offered here too though (you can eventually unlock something a bit like this), but mashing the hell out of both the JoyCon and Pro Controller gave me some unreal hand cramps just a couple of levels in, especially using the former despite it being more ‘gun-like’ in the hand.

In terms of the actual gameplay House of the Dead Remake manages to stick the landing, for the most part. Shooting the creatures is extremely satisfying, with ludicrous gibs aplenty and lots of (questionably rendered) blood spraying everywhere. The fantastic branching paths system of the original game is also still very much intact, and just as you’d remember it. However the gyro control, while obviously preferable to using the sticks, doesn’t always feel particularly accurate either, and I found myself re-centering it constantly. Tweaking the sensitivity did help somewhat, but it’s still a far cry from an actual lightgun, and makes some of the more split-second hostage rescues a pain in the arse.

On that note, the game can slip into its arcade trappings a bit too far sometimes, with the creatures sometimes swooping in to attack so fast that reacting feels practically impossible. The camera doesn’t help things in this regard either, as when you’re faced with larger groups of enemies it basically gains a mind of its own, jerking to and fro to focus on different foes and leaving you susceptible to getting hit from just barely off-screen. In fact, on a few occasions I actually found myself flat-out taking damage from attacks I couldn’t even see until after they’d already happened. This feels more like a glitch than an intended reproduction of The House of the Dead’s gameplay.

The core game does actually offer a decent amount of replayability on its own, again thanks to the multiple path system. The statistics menu tracks how many of these paths you’ve discovered, and there’s also achievements for finding them all. The achievement system does encourage exploring some of the game’s more niche secrets, and going for some stylish kills, but given this is a Switch exclusive it’s even more about bragging rights than these things usually are. There’s an attempt to make them worth it by tying new cheat codes to them, but I’ve unlocked a slew of achievements and have zero codes to show for them. I suspect the codes are tied to the more brutal tasks, such as beating the entire game without taking a single hit – but given what I said about the tendency of your enemies to go for cheap shots, that’s not really a goal I’m inclined to try and go for anyway.

Also advertised are new unlockable weapons that you can swap between on the fly, but the way the game describes the unlock process for these (and just about everything else) is cryptic and somewhat unhelpful. First you need to play through the game without letting a single hostage die, and only then will you have the ability to unlock these weapons by finding them hidden in each stage as collectibles. My initial impression was that this was a somewhat tedious way to garner more playtime beyond what the game already offers, but thankfully the payoff is actually worth it as the unlockable weapons are superb.

The crossbow is fairly bland but eats through boss health bars. The Assault Rifle acts as the rapid fire button I mentioned earlier, so it’s a relief for my poor, poor hands at least. The grenade launcher renders everything on screen a fine red mist, but there is still nuance in aiming the shots to make use of its blast radius properly. The game outright says this weapon was made for speedruns, and that seems about right.

Perhaps the highlight is the “Pitter”’; arguably a reference to SEGA’s vaguely House of the Dead aligned (yet Namco published) Vampire Night. It launches wooden stakes at the creatures, with the real kicker being that it launches them towards whatever’s behind them and pins them there, much like Half-Life 2’s own crossbow weapon. It’s absolutely hilarious watching your foes fly across the entire room with a stake through them, and it made the tedium of unlocking the weapons so very worth it.

The extra weapons are also pretty much essential for another brand-new mode introduced here, Horde Mode. Essentially, this setting just triples the amount of zombies you’ll fight, and leads to some utterly chaotic, bloody, and cathartic gameplay, albeit at the expense of the performance. This mode also exacerbates the issues I had with the cheap shots and camera, as the game really struggles to keep up with the amount of zombies it throws at you. I do find it questionable that this mode is unlocked from the start too, as it’s almost necessary that you have the kind of firepower only the new weapons can offer.

Overall, the game itself seems fine enough. Recreated faithfully, with some added bells and whistles to justify the price tag. It all sounds good, but the seams quickly fall apart thanks to the game’s shockingly piss-poor presentation on just about every front.

For one thing, the graphics are not exactly pretty a lot of the time. Both the characters and the creatures are recreated faithfully with a modern look, but the fidelity isn’t there, and nor is the animation. The hostages in particular look like an old Garry’s Mod video, with borderline broken-looking facial animation. You could argue it suits House of the Dead’s cheesy nature, but to me it’s not ‘so bad it’s good’; it’s just flat-out amateurish. Enemies also devolve into rather ugly blobs, an effect that The House of the Dead 2 handled better on hardware a lot older than this. Unfortunately it’s not just the visuals that suffer, as the sound mix also proves questionable. The voice acting isn’t the worst I’ve heard and really, it wouldn’t be a game in this series without iffy acting, but the new ‘Reload’ call gets grating very quickly and G’s voice acting is particularly shoddy. There’s also no option to use the original soundtrack, which hits particularly hard once the second stage starts up. While most of the new arrangements actually stack up decently to the originals, Revenge certainly does not. And that’s a problem, given it’s probably my favourite track from the original game. Again though, the sound mixing isn’t particularly great by default, so I could barely hear it over the onscreen carnage anyway.

However, one of the most blatant examples of the game’s total lack of polish is in the text. The localisation is utterly atrocious, with a slew of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and utter nonsense that feels like a child wrote it. From character bios to loading screen text and stage descriptions, some of the writing flat-out makes no sense, and makes me wonder if the lead localising duty got left to Google Translate. The game also throws random ASCII emoji into loading screens, and it ends with “Thank You For Playing :)”, including the IRC-era smiley face tacked on the end! It just feels amateurish and gives it the vibe of a quick student project, not a video game that SEGA approved and is being sold with their blessing.

It’s a shame as there’s other elements of the game where it’s clear that care and dedication was taken. One particularly neat detail is that the continues are represented by the game tokens once used at SEGA Joypolis – a very niche reference! But in addition, the in-game bestiary has every creature represented using their accurate names, taken from various rare guidebooks and other niche sources (a thanks is actually given to the various members of the House of the Dead fan community who sourced this information in the credits, which is nice to see). I don’t doubt that the developers had their heart in the right place here, and a lot of this game is impressively faithful to the original, but the polish simply is not there. At one point I entered a room in the game that totally failed to load, leaving nothing but floating creatures and graphical effects. In another instance, the game crashed entirely after finishing a level.

What we’re ultimately left with then, is another game from Forever that winds up feeling very cheap. It’s basically “House of the Dead – Now With ‘Eurojank!’”, and I’m not sure that’s something anyone wanted. For getting your modern House of the Dead fix, it’ll certainly suffice – having a version of the game on a current platform with a decent alternative to a lightgun is great, as playing the PC version with a mouse just isn’t really the same. But yet again, it makes me wish SEGA would actually supervise this stuff, as the same company that prides itself on the utterly sublime effort that went into localising titles like Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Lost Judgment shouldn’t then be allowing a remake of a 30 year old game show up with a localisation that’s so poorly done. It’s a passable remake overall, but yet again I’m left wondering what could’ve been done in more capable hands.

6/10

Written by Liam “Tracker” Ashcroft 5/4/2022
A copy of the Nintendo Switch game was provided by the publisher for review

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