Version tested: Xbox
At times like this, we wish reviews were read out by 'Mr Movie Voice'. You know the one. The same one that accompanies every film trailer ever, and the occasional Carlsberg advert. House of the Dead 3 relies on such Marlboro man dramatics to accompany its supposedly scary "festival of gore", and as such it would probably make our review slightly more compelling as a result. At the very least, it would be a heck of a sight easier if we could just read this out to you, after the RSI-inducing fest of button-bashing that HOTD3 inevitably becomes. Typing. Ouch.
Being the ultimate zombie light gun series, you wonder what Wow Entertainment could do to improve upon it in the third version - apart from updating the comical voice overs from parts one and two, and maybe making it a bit longer. But anyone into games of this overtly simplistic nature won't mind too much about the hilarious acting and dubious scripts - if anything, they're part of the hammy charm. It goes without saying that both are present and correct, although this time around it appears that Wow has at least gone to the effort of making the English voiceovers sound vaguely like they were read out by opium smoking English speaking voice actors, rather than the confused foreign exchange students they hijacked for the previous outings. It goes without saying that the plot's still utter nonsense, and the acting's still hilarious. Just kind of polished, refined, hilarious nonsense. God help us.
Save their sorry arses
Ok, just to prove we actually paid attention, HOTD3 is set in the year 2019 - 20 years after HOTD2's 'Curien Mansion Incident'. We're asked to step into the shoes of Lisa Rogan or G (again) to "embark on a chilling journey into the loathsome pit of malevolence" (eek) and traverse "an industrial depot lost amid swirling desert sands". To put it bluntly, two AMS agents have gone missing, and we've got to "head into the depths of an apocalyptic nightmare" to save their sorry arses, and shoot lots and lots of undead along the way. How unlucky can you get?
While the previous versions were laughably simple in structure, there's barely anything more adrenaline inducing in gaming than fending off hundreds of marauding, blood thirsty zombies and then doing battle with a manic boss. It may strictly involve the player stabbing the trigger as fast as humanly possible, and trying to aim accurately, but as pure gaming experiences go, it gets the pulse going like almost nothing else. Even though it is about as complex as Space Invaders, it's pure. And in this ever more complicated videogaming age, pure gaming experiences are a rare beast. Just point and blast. Sometimes you have to sit back and reflect: what more do you want?
You want me to slay hundreds of zombies? With a joypad?
Well, in our case, we could've done with a light gun being supplied with the game - but it was not to be. We struggled manfully on with a mere joypad for a weapon, but we can gleefully report that unlike HOTD2 on the Dreamcast, the third Of The Dead plays like a dream on Controller S, with the default settings immediately suited to our liking - although the option to adjust the sensitivity to your preference will no doubt go down well. In terms of control, you won't have a great deal of trouble working it out. Merely steer the cursor with the left stick and fire with A - with the option to reload with the left trigger if you feel the need. Unlike previous versions, the game automatically reloads you as soon as you run out. How thoughtful.
As with the last two HOTDs, Wow feels the need to break up the mindless blasting with mini cut scenes to further the dubious plot, and - more importantly - to give your aching right thumb a break. It really doesn't matter what the glib lead characters are wibbling on about, but if you can focus your fried synapses on some dubious dialogue for a few seconds you'll realise that Lisa is in fact the daughter of one of the lead characters of the previous game - and is quite keen to prove herself, while the infamous G (partner of aforementioned father in HOTD2) does his best to get caught up in as many scrapes as possible and offer his calm, sage-like wisdom. As sagely as you can imagine in the midst of a relentless fight against the undead.
Sega's getting the hang of this Xbox lark
Seeing as over three long years have passed since the last HOTD effort, you'd expect something special to have occurred in the graphical department, and you'd be right. Being a fully on rails shooter, Wow has the chance to throw impressive creatures and effects at the player at every turn and doesn't shirk from the challenge. Being yet another Sega Xbox exclusive, it features the kind of high gloss, cutting edge visuals that are slowly becoming a trademark of the console - and about time too. For too long, many of Sega's Xbox releases have looked like rushed ports of work in progress Dreamcast titles - and following hard on the heels of Panzer Dragoon Orta, this is another exclusive Xbox offering from Sega that does the platform justice, and is consistently full of well animated and highly detailed, deliciously evil creatures of death and destruction.
It's hard to say anything about the game that will surprise anyone with HOTD experience. You (and a second player, if you have a friend nearby) shoot everything as fast as you can. Sometimes you get the chance to choose your path through each of the five episodes - although the end result is inevitably a giant boss monster with an easy to target 'weak spot'. "Five episodes?" I hear you cry. Yes, and each one with take you no more than about five minutes to traverse through, meaning that if you're skilful, you'll have beaten the game in around 25 minutes. And guess how long it took us? Yep, 25 minutes, on our second go, without a light gun. Admittedly the last boss is stupidly tough, and you'll probably need to up the number of continues and lives before you'll beat it, but even by our questionable gaming standards, 25 minutes is by some margin the fastest time we've ever conquered a game (and we thought beating Max Payne in nine hours straight on our first go was quite an achievement). In fact from turning on the game for the first time, to completion was under an hour - although it's worth pointing out that completion does unlock the superb, and far more challenging HOTD2 - an exact port of the 1999 Dreamcast game that was one of the machine's biggest sellers.
This review took longer than the game
There is the Time Attack mode to conquer, and 15 minute preview of The House Of The Dead movie to watch if you can be bothered [it looks pants - Ed], and plenty of options available to make it more challenging, but the point is, it's the shortest game ever, and that's not acceptable for a full price release. And no matter how 'pumped' we feel after playing it, it's a minigame. It should be a tenner - not forty quid. For the asking price there should be five to ten times the number of levels; bunging in an old game is a nice touch, but it doesn't make up for Wow's Scrooge-like main offering. Tut tut.
Rating at £40 - 3/10 Rating at £10 - 8/10