I was of the impression that rail shooters aren’t really worth gamers’ time – after all, your character’s movements are predefined, and all you can do is aim and shoot at enemies who come at you from a single direction. As if to prove me wrong with impunity, SEGA went and put out a new iteration of their popular bulletfest that breathes new life into this subgenre… or should I say, brings it back from the dead?
The House of the Dead: Overkill – The Lost Reels is (besides being a mouthful) an extension of the publisher’s 2009 Wii title, and brings along the game’s campy storyline, shady settings and dark characters to make for a rock-solid entertainer that you won’t let go of in a hurry. So just how does one make a fun rail shooter, you ask? Allow me to explain.
The House of the Dead: Overkill (HOD) was originally set in Louisiana, where Special Agent G travels to find a crime lord there named Papa Caesar. G is paired up with local detective Isaac Washington to find Caesar, and the two come across his mansion that’s overrun with zombies who are reportedly the result of a military experiment gone wrong. We’ve heard all this before. In this version of the game, you play as either G or Washington, and essentially hunt Caesar as best as you can. The story barely matters in this version, though — all you need to know is that there are zombies at large, you’re in the vicinity and you need to get out of there in one piece. Thank heavens for unlimited ammo.
HOD is built for pure unadulterated fun — and built very well at that. The graphics aren’t by any means memorable but serve their purpose just fine. Gritty environments spanning a blood-spattered mansion, an all-but abandoned hospital and a shady strip club set the stage for fast-paced gory gameplay, with a contrasting funk soundtrack straight out of one of the b-movies this title is undoubtedly influenced by. You’ll want to have your headphones on for this one, as the music and sounds (including the thrilling launch of a shotgun shell and the squelch of zombie blood beneath your feet) really take this game to the next level.
Once you’ve chosen a character and configured your two-gun loadout (start things off with a pistol and a shotgun), you can right down to business: simply aim and blow away as many zombies as you can before they take you down with them. As you empty a room of the undead, your character will automatically move to the next area that needs clearing out. You can make use of those precious moments between scenes by reloading and readying yourself for the next wave of zombies.
HOD lets you warm up with the usual bevy of slow-moving zombies, but soon enough you’ll be introduced to faster ones, fatter ones who dish out double the pain, and even stationary ones who are skilled at knife-throwing! You can shoot the knives down to prevent taking damage. Similarly, you’ll need to shoot powerups such as medikits, grenades and cash that you spot lying around to collect them — they’re not always in your field of vision, so you’ll need to learn how the level works to find a window when you can get a good shot at them.
HOD offers three control schemes, of which I found two to be useful (and fun to switch between): there’s a virtual stick on the left to aim with and fire/reload/switch weapon buttons on the right, and you could choose to go with that or select the Frenzy Tap scheme which lets you tap on target areas to fire. Frenzy Tap is great for levels with enemies mostly at close range, while the virtual stick is better for sniping (particularly in Survival Mode). There’s also an accelerometer-based aiming scheme, which I’d love to see someone play with — I tried it and had my character looking like he had Parkinson’s.
Weapons And Upgrades
There’s a healthy selection of guns with very different characteristics to choose from in HOD, and you can upgrade them with cash that you earn and collect — level up everything from fire rate to reload time to create the ultimate zombie’s nightmare. I personally prefer a maxed-out shotgun, as it deals a ton of area damage and can, if aimed properly, take down multiple zombies with a single shell. If you like, you can take two of the same type of guns with you, which is great because switching guns is quicker than reloading.
There are several upgrades in the shop to trick your character out with, including increased health capacity and a free grenade at the start of levels, and consumables like reload and damage boosts (for a single level). You can buy currency with reasonably priced in-app purchases but to be honest, you can skip that and quickly play a couple of levels to score cash. I’d recommend first spending to unlock and upgrade a couple of guns to change things up and then shopping for the rest, so that you can get the most satisfaction decimating zombie hordes.
HOD includes two ‘movies’, or chapters to play through, each including four standard rail shooting levels and a boss level at the end which features slightly different gameplay — you might need to shoot down objects bosses hurl at you or shoot them enough before they attack until their health is down to naught. There’s a third movie you can purchase for $2, which also adds in two strippers as playable characters with special abilities — Varla Guns carries larger clips and Candi Stryper reloads quickly. You can also play through Survival Mode and face endless waves of zombies for kicks or practice.
While the game is mostly about gunplay, you’ll also need to employ a bit of strategy to optimize your score — choose the right character, the best loadout and spend wisely on the other upgrades available to aid your character based on your playing style. I’m not a very precise shooter and tend to fire till I run out of ammo, so I usually fast reloading Candi, two shotguns, and a damage booster for extreme violence.
Should You Buy This Game?
Yes. This is an incredibly fun shooter that’s very well produced and gets everything right. I love that you can get started quickly, and slowly master the game over time with repeated playthroughs, which is exactly how things should be. Being a rail shooter as opposed to a typical FPS means that you don’t have to be an experienced gamer to rack up decent scores and earn enough in-game currency for upgrades. The pace is perfect, and the simple gameplay means you can get into it whether you have five minutes or an hour.
If anything, I’d say that this game is a tad overpiced at $5 for two movies and $2 for the third — an extra movie or two for the same price would have really hit the spot. Other than that, this is a perfect title for touchscreen devices. HOD is one of the few games that I’ll continue to play even after I’m finished reviewing it. Make room in your app purchase budget for this one — you won’t regret it.