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It’s not often you get a bargain, but as anybody who’s familiar with the HotD series will know, Return contains two games for the price of one. We know what you’re thinking here: “Of course it’s two games, the title says so!” But before you start demanding resignations, just bear with us for a second. You see, although House of the Dead 2 and 3 share a few things in common - namely zombies, the Zapper, and a plot as thin as a steamrollered anorexic - they are completely different games. HotD 2 is a test of skill, patience and precision, whereas 3 is a much more casual affair that can be seen off with little more than an itchy trigger finger.
Such are the differences that there is no front-end to Return, save for a choice between the two games. The impression is that Sega worked on both titles independently, only choosing to bundle them together upon realizing there was enough space on the disc. Of course this wasn’t the case, but apart from the calibration there aren’t any options shared between the two. Difficulty and blood color settings are specific to each title, as are the credit and life unlocks that you obtain after each unsuccessful play-through.
Strange as it sounds, your first port of call should be House of the Dead 3. Out of the two it’s much more similar to Ghost Squad. You can choose your path by way of a pre-mission menu, and your shotgun is powerful enough to down most enemies with just one or two shells. Given the weapon’s blast radius, it’s easy enough to clear rooms without careful aiming and, as a result, it’s a game best played without a crosshair.
Every chapter is graded, and high scores are obtained by quick kills and collecting bonus objects. Inching up the score ladder means you’re rewarded with extra lives and, ultimately, different endings. If you fancy a change of pace, however, there is a Time Trial mode in which your only concern is beating the clock.
By comparison, HotD 2 is the masochistic choice. Armed with just a pistol, you’ve really got to adjust your tactics on the fly to survive. Not all enemies can be killed with liberal use of the trigger, so you have to pick and choose your shots against the speedier and more resilient foes. Your in-game actions determine every direction you take: save certain citizens or shoot keys and your route will stray from the default path. There’s a huge amount of replay value tucked away, not least because there’s so much to see.
It’s especially true for the original mode, where powerups can be collected and used in the next play-through. At one point you’ll even unlock a time-traveling minigame that can be played for more extras. Trigger these during your next run and you could have more credits, different weapons and even civilians with giant heads, hands and feet. The options aren’t as silly as Ghost Squad’s, but they’re welcome distractions all the same.
Unless you’re expecting a huge lightgun revolution (and why would you when it’s called House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return?) there’s not much here that’ll disappoint. We’ll concede that it’s ugly, but the dated visuals carry a certain retro charm. And at 30 minutes per game there’s plenty to keep you occupied, even without factoring in the all the extra modes. For our money it has neither the charm nor the ‘one-more-go’ appeal of Ghost Squad (nor the Party mode for that matter), but the wealth of other options makes up for some of that. Second place, it seems, doesn’t have to mean second rate.
Mar 13, 2008