I look back on my time with the House of the Dead series fondly, having spent way too many quarters on their arcade incarnations in my adolescence. You can imagine my elation in being assigned SEGA’s latest iteration for mobile, House of the Dead: Overkill – The Lost Reels. I was initially impressed, but sadly, I found the title plagued with stability issues. Despite short glimpses of promise, this game broke my heart.
House of the Dead: Overkill LR is a mobile adaptation of the Wii reboot of the same name. There are some surface differences with this new title, but overall it stays true to the originals. You’re again shooting hordes of ravenous zombies, or “mutants” as their called here, but now there’s a ’70s grindhouse film aesthetic and touchscreen controls. The mutants don’t sport bell-bottoms or Afros (unfortunately) but the game has a stylized film grain and funky wah guitar accompaniment. Compared to the earlier games, where the laughs came from ridiculously poor translation and confused voice work, the camp here is all self-conscious and superficial. The story—if you can call it a story—is told through a short series of dialog boxes between the special agents from the Wii game. I don’t know how it was for Wii, but here it just amounts to a bunch of non-sequitur variations of, “Oh no, we have to shoot all these mutants now.” Not exactly narrative virtuosity, but then again what sort of chump comes to a House of the Dead game looking for a story? Not I. Moving on.
The gameplay? Cut-and-dry, the old rails shooter formula not so much perfected as it is adapted for mobile. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase “rails shooter,” it just means that the movement is automatic. You get a screen full of mutants, and after shooting them all the camera moves to a new position, like you’re on rails. The only thing you have to worry about is the shooting, which is fairly well done here. I was happy to see the touchscreen controls aren’t so basic as tapping the enemy to fire; you have to slide your finger around to adjust the reticule and hit an on-screen button to shoot. This ups the difficulty a notch, but precision is lacking somewhat. Hit detection can be a little fluky at times, as shooting a mutant up close seems harder than it should and hitting anywhere remotely near the face often counts as a head shot.
Overkill: LR isn’t too hard to play, and the main story could probably be finished in three or four hours by a skilled player. If you enjoy the premise, there’s a fair amount of replay value in the additional survival mode and the in-game Kash set-up offers incentives to run through the story levels multiple times. The Kash can be spent on upgrades for your guns, new weapons, and one-time power-ups. There’s also a neat combo set-up, where killing enemies in rapid succession creates a chain to exponentially increase your points. Every completed level gets you a letter grade based on these accrued points, so completists will have all the more reason to come back to it.
The graphics are decent, at least on par with House of the Dead 3 (which was released over ten years agom mind you). There’s really nothing to write home about, but not much to find fault with either. They didn’t skimp on the gore: heads explode, and you can still blow off arms or make a mutant stumble with a leg shot. The variation between enemies is slim, but sufficient. The sound is fine, but there’s no voice work in this one, something I honestly miss from the old games. The funk music was also a cool touch at first, but I turned it off once it started to grate on me.
The game’s biggest drop-off is on the bug front. Incessant crashes and freeze-ups marred my otherwise enjoyable experience, and a cursory look at the Play Store reviews proves I’m not alone in this. They really dropped the ball with this one, though a recent update seems to have remedied this some. It still crashes for me, on average, once every 15 minutes, compared to once every five when I first picked it up. Either way, it’s a huge travesty, especially considering how addictive the gameplay is.
SEGA also went a little heavy on IAPs, but not damningly so. There’s a whole “extra” level to buy for another two bucks, and you can purchase the in-game Kash outright. Since you can earn Kash by playing through levels, and the grind isn’t too bad, unless you’re trying to purchase a minigun or something equally excessive. You can likely beat the basic game without spending any more money, but due to the aforementioned crashes this reviewer was unable to find out for himself.
All-in-all, House of the Dead Overkill: LR has all the elements of a good title, minus the bugginess. I try to review the game, not the bugs, but this is too messy to ignore. To be certain, I played it on multiple devices, adjusted my graphics to the lowest possible setting, even stopped every minuscule process running in the background, but no matter what I did the same crashes cropped up again and again. Hopefully some much-needed updates will fix this, because there’s some seriously fun gameplay beneath the bugs, but for now this is tragically unplayable.