Games of Decades Past is a series celebrating the birthdays of games turning 10 years old. Whether you remember it like it was yesterday or it was so dated at launch that you thought it came out in 1997, I am determined to make you feel old with some retrospectives on a few of the best and worst games from a decade past.
Very few game series from before the turn of the 21st century were able to keep their core design and thrive all the way up to 2019. Alongside the likes of Doom and Super Mario, House of the Dead has managed to deliver the same arcade light gun experience for over 20 years and still retain its trademark B-Movie charm and popularity (at least in Japan).
When it came time for a fifth game in the long-running series, Sega decided to bring the series exclusively to home consoles. It would be developed by London-based developers Headstrong Games and focus on appealing to the western market. This led to the 2009 release of House of the Dead: Overkill for the Wii. Rather than keep the cheesy sci-fi zombie story of the last four games going, Headstrong decided on a completely new direction. House of the Dead would take the shape of an American grindhouse exploitation flick from the 70s, complete with film imperfections and cheesy music to boot. It was loud, unapologetically crude, filled to the brim with profanity, and even won a Guinness World Record for the most F-Bombs dropped in a video game (which it later lost to Mafia II). In short, it was beautiful.
Being able to draw in new players with an attractive (at the time) Wii game made for adult gamers was an enviable spot for Sega to be in. That shiny new World Record helped advertise the game to the less mature of us, and it went on to surprise Sega with strong sales and a newly acquired fanbase for this odd take on the classic series and characters. This led to an eventual port to the PlayStation 3 in 2011 featuring two new levels, HD graphics (that still hold up very well today) and of course, PlayStation Move functionality.
Aside from series mainstay, Agent G (who has still been altered drastically), House of the Dead: Overkill introduced a new cast of characters that could bant their way through the worst of apocalyptic nightmares. Isaac Washington plays your partner/Player 2, taking heavy inspiration from films like Shaft, he can find a way to fit a “fuck” in any word, and contributes heavily to the game’s 189 of them. Next up is Varla Guns. If this were a Rodriguez/Tarantino movie (which the game can honestly be mistaken for), she’d no doubt be played by Michelle Rodriguez. She’s a hard biker chick with gun tattoos, a “complex” backstory, and a remarkably skimpy lack of clothing. If you thought this game took itself seriously at all, the moment she comes into frame is proof that the devs knew exactly what they were doing. Toss in a Burt Reynolds villain, some easy jokes like an ice cream truck called “Captain Cream Pie”, and they really hit the theming on the head. This isn’t your dad’s House of the Dead, but your dad would still probably dig it.
Though the gameplay remains largely the same as the originals, some big changes were made when the series made its way home. First off, branching paths have been removed. Instead they’ve been replaced with the Director’s Cut, a version of the game that extends all the levels far beyond “a casual playthrough.” Collectibles scattered all over each level and a comprehensive weapon upgrade system enabled the game to have just as much replayability as its predecessors without the need for Sega’s classic quarter draining arcade mechanic.
For a long while, this was the last House of the Dead game released by Sega, eventually getting a PS3 port as stated above, but then it ended up being ported to Steam as a bonus feature included in the popular conversion called Typing of the Dead: Overkill, which made it one of Sega’s first forays into its recent lineup of great PC ports like Bayonetta, Yakuza 0, and Vanquish. The game saw players defeating the zombies by typing everything from simple words to complex sentences to fire shots at the same scripted zombies as usual, and supported downloadable dictionaries, so if you think typing up Shakespeare to kill a vomit-spewing gaseous hell beast is hilarious like the rest of us, Sega has you covered. Despite a lot of work obviously going into the typing component, the game also included the standard Extended Cut released on PS3, making it playable with a mouse and keyboard to boot.
Then finally, after literally almost a decade past, Sega released House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn for Japanese arcades in September of 2018. It was determined to be a return to form for the series, featuring characters from House of the Dead 4, returning bosses from the first game, a focus on an actual “house”, and the return of the branching paths system. So, what did Sega learn from their time with Overkill? Well quite a bit actually.
The game now has a profile system so you can save your progress and in-game money to buy weapons and upgrades for subsequent playthroughs (sound familiar?). And while the cheesy grindhouse vibe is completely gone, the focus on aesthetic has been revamped, making House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn look like something you’d expect from this century. The new game features the use of Unreal Engine 4 to create realistic fire effects and intricately detailed levels, making it the smoothest looking House of the Dead to date.
So what else is there to say about House of the Dead: Overkill? Either a black sheep or a wonderful experiment in one of Sega’s best arcade franchises, it truly stood out when it hit store shelves ten years ago, and if the cult following and continued sales through its spin-off/Extended Cut port combo on Steam are anything to go by, it still has a lot of life before Sega decides to send Scarlet Dawn home.