The House of the Dead III | Developer: Wow Entertainment | Publisher: Sega | Year: 2003
Zombies break down a door on The House of the Dead III cover art for Xbox.

The House of the Dead III

The House of the Dead franchise is a favourite in arcades and amusement centres all over the world. There’s just something special about shooting zombie hordes, especially when it’s presented in such lovable B movie fashion. The House of the Dead III was the first time Sega’s famous light gun series moved away from the typical pistol-sized input. Players are instead armed with large plastic shotguns which reload in authentic pump action. Who couldn’t love that?

This visually impressive threequel was eventually ported to numerous home formats. It was an Xbox exclusive to begin with, mainly because the console shares its powerful architecture with the Sega Chihiro arcade system, for which The House of the Dead III was a premier release. The concept always felt better than the reality because those heavy shotgun peripherals need considerable strength to aim, and in my experience, you’d often stick a quid in the machine only to find one of them was broken anyway. But that’s arcades for ya.

Even so, I don’t care for the game’s art direction, its limp soundtrack, and repetitive on-rails environments. The plot takes place inside a dingy research facility for the entire duration, which means the zombie-infested rooms lack the charm and vivid colour that prior entries had.

Wow Entertainment did a sterling job with the Xbox port, as it runs at a mostly stable 60fps even when the increased number of on-screen enemies gang up together. Those enemies also cast dynamic shadows, which is notable because the Nintendo Wii version (released three years later) didn’t render those and looked flatter as a result. Xbox was truly ahead of its time in terms of performance.

The one slight niggle here is the lack of official widescreen support. Players can’t see much of their character’s hands without an unofficial patch to expand the screen and realign the cross hairs properly. When it’s patched to support 16:9, the game looks good even in 480p, though some people may find it distracting to see their character’s weapon at the side of the screen.

To that point, The House of the Dead III feels slightly different because the shotguns fire in a spread pattern to damage multiple enemies at once. Automatic reloading is enabled in the Xbox version too, resulting in a rapid fire shooting experience with less focus on precision aiming. Head shots are still effective, but reloading feels weak, and even though it’s cool that wounded zombies rise back up to continue attacking, it can occasionally upset the pace of encounters when a stubborn enemy won’t stay down. There are more new mechanics, like boss stamina gauges and cutaways where a player must quickly rescue their buddy from being bitten. Overall, the action is very familiar and still plays best with two people.

Zombies attack the screen in various gameplay screenshots of The House of the Dead III.

Even with a heavy shotgun peripheral being the central gimmick, the shooting action still feels very fast. The two-handed design of the shotgun also means you can’t use two credits to dual wield inputs!

A big criticism is how incredibly short the main Survival mode is. The divergent routes in each stage are also very uninteresting, so the game doesn’t replay well at all. There’s a lame prologue chapter, alternative endings too hard to achieve, and a final boss who is basically the same as the final boss from The House of the Dead II. The game is very light on content. A time attack mode is a novel idea at best, and there’s no “Original mode” or training mini games to freshen things up.

The main menu has a featurette on the 2003 House of the Dead movie, which lasts almost as long as the main game. How it was meant to encourage people to watch the wretched flick is a mystery. It advertises some of the film’s fake-looking gore and cringeworthy comedy, and probably forced the game into a BBFC 15 rating. What a rinky-dink mess this was.

Much better is The House of the Dead II being an unlockable extra. Including the second game was very smart because it runs in pristine resolution, and has all the extra gameplay modes from the Dreamcast version intact. It’s way more fun than the third game, and is great to have on Xbox.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy The House of the Dead III is with the light gun accessory developed by Pelican. When its various parts are reconfigured, it works as a shotgun and a sniper rifle compatible with Konami’s Silent Scope Complete. Sadly, like most light guns of yesteryear, it doesn’t work on HD televisions.

Either way, The House of the Dead III is one of the weaker games from the series. This Xbox port remains a technically accomplished effort, and it was cool that Sega gave the console one of its few light gun games to begin with. But the genre’s heyday was clearly over at this point, and this shallow package doesn’t hold up past a few hours.