When I began to look at House of the Dead 2 (HOD2), I didn't expect to find a revolutionary game. The last gun-shooter game I played was Virtua Cop 2 and the one before that was Area 51. Knowing that I have limited exposure to this genre, I was prepared to be taken to the next level by Sega. One of worse things would-be developers do when they port these titles is to mangle the visuals. Often, they fail to take advantage of the PC's graphical prowess, relegating the title to 320x200 resolutions or something completely absurd like that.
As I'm a newcomer to the House of the Dead franchise, I had no idea what to expect. The premise rests around you taking the persona of ASM agents that apparently go around gun-toting like the Duchovny and Anderson duo in X-Files. Also like them, you run into all sorts of things that if you were to report them to your superiors, they would send you straight to an asylum. The developers for HOD2 have spared nothing in gore. I'm not sure how it will stand up to the current scrutiny of gore and violence in video games. However, the blood is all green so perhaps Germans will be all happy that finally we get the same treatment as they do. As an agent in the AMS, you seem to have some sidekicks with you who help you drive boats and clear out alternate passageways while they get themselves in trouble. Often, they get killed and contribute absolutely nil to the action. For example, in one scenario where I was on a boat, the driver of the boat told me to cover him and the female partner agent. All the while, I am eliminating enemies by the dozens emerging from the water, jumping on to the boat from overhead and clawing into the boat compartment. There was not one instance that I saw his partner use her gun. In fact, the most useful thing she does throughout the entire plotline is to answer her cellphone and yell for help.
It is true that shooter titles have been seen as too shallow before. The attempts to wrap an interactive story to it has been tried since the days of Dragon's Lair; to which I think to this day, still has a compelling storyline. The story in this title, however, is a bit cliched. The ending is about as profound, for a split second, as Hitman and it provides a rational explanation as to why you keep fighting off the same creatures. In fact, it provides a logical explanation as to why you keep fighting the same bosses. There are several bosses throughout the game and the title provides assistance so you don't have to waste credits in figuring out a creature's "weak point". Even if you are in doubt, it's usually a heart cavity that some geneticist probably forgot to close up when crafting the creature. Some of these bosses are interesting. In fact, they are interesting enough that the developers use them multiple times. But of course, if all these creatures are just gestated, it's completely logical they can appear again and again.
The plot would have been mildly engaging if it were not for the absolutely horrible voice acting. I do not admit to be a trained film critic but the deadpan voices, misplaced emotions and horrible screenplay make the cutscenes completely optional to the title. And if it weren't for the fact that I had to view the whole story, I would have skipped all of them. Some of the voices are too quiet to be heard and the on-screen persona you assume is ridiculously off-key on everything. Finally, the mastermind behind the whole terror fiasco, a suit only known by the name Goldman, scares me with his monotony rather than any genuine hints of evil. Altogether, this title might have been better mute. The only commendable performance is from the cell phone toting female agent whose screams sound genuine enough.
Technically, this title has a variety of options when it comes to input. You can set mouse, keyboard or even joystick control. There is also support for light guns which I did not have in possession to test but I'm sure people won't have too much trouble with setting those up, which I should add, I have heard nothing but good things about ACT Labs' GS set. Graphically, the title started off pretty well with decent graphics for such a title and crisp gun sounds. As I began to get further into the game, I experienced slight graphics glitches, perhaps because of my now dated Voodoo 5 card, that involved textures shearing in all directions. Luckily, I still weathered through the whole ordeal. I was saddened to see that explosions and gun effects looked 2D. The only decent 3D visuals were reserved for one of the last bosses, which are full of eye candy indeed. I often wondered why these weren't used more often. The whole game is punctuated by some upbeat music that seemed to find its origins from the coin-op arcades. Bosses make the music switch dynamically into "boss music". They didn't seem to detract from the experience but they were often very upbeat and removed any potential tension you might get from silence or something slower paced. Sometimes throughout the title, I lost the sound for my gun or monsters would suddenly lose their associated sounds but they usually periodically re-appeared several scenes later.
HOD2 gives you incentive to save various civilians because they offer power-ups or point you to the right direction. Often, they are engaged in dramatic struggles that you have to resolve. Beyond this scripted nature, the enemies are not anything you haven't seen before. They come in two flavours: ones that throw projectiles and ones that try to impale you with some weapon or even themselves. For this title, most of them seem to come in the latter form. There are some innovative things like a copy of the Alien-esque face-hugger blowing up from a monster's chest. Some of the creatures lack feet and crawl along pipes above to ambush you. Though these are innovative, they are too far and few in between. I found that creatures that hurt you in hand-to-hand combat tend to leave a mark on you much longer than before. So if a barrel hits you, you can expect to not see the enemy (although it doesn't seem to impede your ability to continue firing) until the barrel peels off your sights.
All in all, HOD2 is well paced as there is never a dull moment or any frustrating moments where you don't know where to put your bullets. However, I've managed to finish the title in about two hours, which makes for a short ride. It would be even shorter if I avoided the atrocious cut scenes. The game is supplemented by mini-games involving hostage rescue (which just has you going through the hostage-saving instances) and time attacks on the various bosses. These all take place in the same environs as the arcade or original mode though and I was hoping for some variation since I already knew some of the surprises by going through the actual game itself. You can even elect to battle HOD2 with a friend over network. Altogether though, I don't think this title is particularly compelling if you don't already own a light gun. Having recently played Confidential Mission for the Dreamcast, I have to say that HOD2 is a bit over the top and I was not able, in this PC port, to appreciate the hoopla attached to this franchise. Of course, it is also one of the few light gun enabled titles for the Dreamcast so perhaps they didn't have too much of a choice and for PC light gun owners, this is one of the few professional titles to come around for their controllers.