Looking Back at the Arcade Classic
As the season of fear is here lets start by looking back at when the arcade was a major part of the gamer community while having its fair share of horror classics. Specifically, I want to reflect upon a game that felt like Resident Evil for the arcade but also has had a major influence on horror games.
Released for the arcade back in 1996, The House of the Dead was a horror themed light gun shooter that took gamers on a terrifying adventure. While the premise was simple and familiar, the action was groundbreaking and the characters along with the bosses have become icons in their own right. Gamers Nightmare will start the season by looking back at The House of the Dead and how it served as a catalyst for the popularity of zombies in pop culture.
Please note that the photos used are from the remake that was released in 2022.
One Night at the Curien Mansion
Back in the days when the arcade was a major part of the video game community, The House of the Dead could be seen in most establishments. Growing up, you could stumble upon it in almost any venue that had arcade cabinets as part of the entertainment. I would spend hours just blasting away zombies with the help of anyone who wanted to join me.
AMS Agent Thomas Rogan and G receive a distress call regarding unspeakable horrors at the Curien Mansion. Upon their arrival, they witness the staff attacked by zombies and other undead creatures. One of the scientists gives them a journal pointing to Dr. Curien as the culprit behind the outbreak. It also serves as a guide on how to defeat each creature. Players must traverse the mansion, battle the undead, and try to rescue the survivors. All while racing to stop Dr. Curien from unleashing his ultimate creation.
With a gun in hand, players would blast hordes of zombies and other nightmarish creatures. Fighting the undead was not easy, particularly when torrents of blood and gore painted the screen. The journey was far from linear; rescuing scientists not only provided some needed health but also unlocked shortcuts throughout the stage. Failing to save one of them led to navigating a more treacherous route. Each stage culminated in a formidable boss battle that pushed a player’s skills to their limits—a challenge both arduous and immensely satisfying. It also reaffirmed that this is a game better played with a friend than solo.
A Nightmare Is Born
The House of the Dead was a game hard to miss at the arcade. From the artwork that decorated the cabinet to the gory intro, it was going to get your attention. Plus you could not forget how it would proclaim to the venue “THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD”. All of this promoted exactly what you would expect. Upon its release; it was highly praised by critics while becoming one of the highest-grossing arcade titles. It would be ported to the PC and Sega Saturn in 1998. Gamer would get the chance to experience the nightmare once again with The House of the Dead Remake in 2022.
Being a violent game released in the 90’s, it was obviously going to be a lightning rod for controversy. Several cities and states attempted to ban or restrict violent video games, with The House of the Dead being singled out as an example. Thankfully, every court stroke down these attempts for being a violation of the First Amendment.
Though the controversy surrounding it may have faded swiftly, its enduring influence on pop culture remains undeniable. Alongside Resident Evil, it played a pivotal role in propelling zombie-themed video games into the mainstream, a legacy felt for decades. Simultaneously, it acted as a catalyst for a renaissance of zombies in various works of popular culture. The game even spawned two movie adaptations, but it’s best to skip the first one. Despite the passing of the initial craze, timeless treasures like The House of the Dead continue to be cherished by gamers.
THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD
The House of the Dead is an arcade classic and a reminder that horror games were not limited to just consoles and the PC. At a time when home technology was limited, the arcade could create an unforgettable terror. While those days are long gone, its legacy will never be forgotten.
Did you ever play The House of the Dead and what are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comment section.
8Bit/Digi is an independent media outlet that provides insight into the video game community and industry of the San Francisco Bay Area.