As of 2009, there are five House of the Dead games originating in a first person rail shooter format available. The main series all have common elements of a pair of agents teaming up to take on hordes of biologically engineered undead (referred to as 'mutants' in Overkill). The games are divided into chapters, each of which culminates in a boss battle against usually massive, terrifying creatures. The bosses in games 1-4 are all named after the Major Arcana of occult tarot. The games are all controlled with a light gun in the arcades, but can be played with controllers or a mouse on consoles or the computer.
Gameplay elements differ among the different games in the series, with each having different characters, firearms, and types of enemies. In many of the games, there are branching paths (determined by one's actions) and unlockable bonuses, along with different endings based on one's performance.
Several spin-offs to the mainstream storyline have also been produced (including a virtual pinball game, an English tutorial and a typing tutorial), as well as two films. In addition, select enemy characters appearing in the first two games were adapted into fully articulated action figures by Palisade Toys, which canceled the second toy line before street release due to limited returns from the first series.
Every game in the main series is an on-rails light-gun shooter and chronologically runs as follows: 1 - 2 - 4 (& Special) - III.
Main article: The House of the Dead (video game)On December 18, 1998, the insane and disillusioned Dr. Curien plans to mobilize his armies of undead unto the unsuspecting populace. AMS agents Thomas Rogan and "G" are dispatched to his mansion to put a stop to the madman and rescue Sophie Richards, Rogan's fiancée.
Main article: The House of the Dead 2On February 26, 2000, Goldman, the man behind the Curien Mansion case, claims responsibility. Fueled by his detest of humankind's complete lack of responsibility toward its assigned task, Goldman initiates an attack on Venice while his Emperor project develops. Two new agents named James Taylor and Gary Stewart are sent in to tackle this case.
Main article: The House of the Dead IIIIn the post-apocalyptic world of 2019, Thomas Rogan and his team of commandos infiltrate the EFI Research Facility in hopes of finding the source of the planet's collapse. Losing contact with him, his daughter Lisa Rogan and former partner "G" set out on a search and recover mission, unaware that what awaits them has ties to the distant past and the very genesis of the undead horde.
Main article: The House of the Dead 4This game is set in the year 2003 and fills the gap between the second and third games. It features veteran AMS agent James Taylor (who was one of the protagonists in The House of the Dead 2) and newcomer Kate Green, who are investigating the Goldman Incident of 2000. Following a sudden earthquake, they are shocked to discover that the undead from three years prior have returned, seemingly unharmed, and locked in a lab, but they soon break out and wreak havoc once again. Intent on preventing a nuclear disaster, they must once again cross paths with the seemingly deceased Goldman.
- The Typing of the Dead
- The Typing of the Dead 2
- The Pinball of the Dead
- Zombie Revenge
- The House of the Dead: Overkill
Main article: The House of the Dead 2 & 3 ReturnThe House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return is a re-release of The House of the Dead 2 and III for the Nintendo Wii. It is largely the same as the originals, except for some minor changes. A new melee attack can be used to defend oneself and the game is Wii Zapper compatible.
The House of the Dead EX is a more casual spin-off to the main games and adds a more humorous twist to the series. Players play either Zobio or Zobiko, a pair of young zombies in love, who seek to escape from captivity. As opposed to the general gameplay of the series, EX's levels are made up of a series of minigames. Sections are split up into various paths, some of which use the lightgun, such as shooting apples, and others which use a foot pedal on the machine, such as stomping on spiders. The goal of each level is to fulfil a quota within the time limit, indicated by long hands reaching towards each other. It runs on the Lindbergh arcade system and is also the first game in the series to use a pedal. The game was slated for release in December 2008, but was released later in 2009.
Main article: Zombie RevengeZombie Revenge is a Beat em' up spin off to the first House of the Dead game. The final chapter of the game takes place in The House of the Dead's Curien Mansion. The game was released in the Arcades and the Dreamcast.
Main article: The House of the Dead: OverkillIn 1991, Agent G, on his first assignment, teams up with local cop Issac Washington to investigate mysterious disappearances in Louisiana. Unfortunately, they encounter hordes of mutants in Bayou City. Overkill is also the first and only game to use bosses that are not named after Major Arcana cards. It was originally released for the Nintendo Wii in February 2009, and was later remade for the PlayStation 3 as a Move-compatible game in October 2011.
The series is also represented in Sega Superstars Tennis, where the mansion is a playable court and there is also a minigame in which players must aim their shots to fend off a horde of oncoming zombies. In this game, instead of The House of the Dead the series is referred to as "Curien Mansion" because the series is banned in Germany.
Again represented as Curien Mansion, the series is represented in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with three race tracks, and the rider's duo Zobio and Zobiko (only Zobio on the Nintendo DS) from The House of the Dead: EX. During their All-Star move, Zobio drinks a magic potion which makes him grow in size and he then slams his opponents with his strength while Zobiko rides him.
Main articles: House of the Dead (film) and House of the Dead 2 (film)In 2003, the first film, directed by Uwe Boll and produced by Brightlight Pictures, was released. Given limited theatrical release with the intent of becoming a cult film, it served as a loose prequel to the game, but received very poor reviews and little box office return.
In 2004, a sequel to the first film was greenlit. The previous director was unable to direct the sequel due to commitments to his other films, and Michael Hurst was chosen to take his place. This movie is the closest to its source, featuring AMS agents going to a school to stop a zombie outbreak from spreading.
Another sequel was announced. Mindfire Entertainment co-founder Mark Altman has stated in discussions that "It's a completely different approach to the material than the first two films." It was also stated that it may not be called House of the Dead 3 as Sega wasn't releasing the latest installment on home consoles." Eventually Mindfire Entertainment released Dead & Deader starring Dean Cain and the House Of the Dead name was not attached.
- Thomas Rogan: One of the main protagonists in the first The House of the Dead video game. He reappears in the third game, leading a strike force to investigate a zombie-infested facility with his commanding troops. He also makes a cameo appearance in House of the Dead 2 in the "good" ending, where he tells the player that they will go onto their next battle.
- Dan Taylor: One of the minor protagonists in the third The House of the Dead video game. He was the only AMS commando and serves its captain that wasn't infected by the zombies in the game, due to his strong immune systems as well as other AMS agents, also immuned to the infections of the zombie enemies throughout the game. He reveals that his surname matches the Taylor family, who was the separated cousin of James.
- Agent "G": Agent G is one of the main protagonists who appears throughout the series. He is among the main playable characters in the first and third arcade games, as well as House of the Dead 4 Special and Overkill. He also makes cameo appearances in the second game and in one of the endings in House of the Dead 4. He is the only character to appear in every main game. Plotwise, he appeared in The House of the Dead series for about 28 years from Overkill to the third game.
- James Taylor: The main protagonist in House of the Dead 2 and 4. In the fourth game he sacrifices himself to kill the World, the final boss. He was revealed as one of the Taylor family, he's the older cousin of Dan.
- Gary Stewart: The second protagonist in the second game. He also makes a brief cameo appearance in the fourth game in a flashback segment.
- Harry Harris: first unplayable protagonist in the second game. He and his partner, Amy Crystal rescue civilians, he was injured by Strength.
- Amy Crystal: second unplayble protagonist in the second game. She and her partner, Harry Harris, trapped by Goldman's traps and encounter by Strength.
- Roy Curien: The mad scientist responsible for creating the zombies and serves as main antagonist in the first game, unleashing them on his personnel from the laboratory deep within his mansion. Prior to the final battle, he met his demise at the hands of his creation, The Magician. Flashback segments in the third game reveal that he was originally seeking a cure for an illness threatening his son Daniel's life, descending into madness as his findings led him toward power controlling life and death. He would undergo a 19-year resurrection process since his demise, in which he would be reborn as his final creation, the Wheel of Fate. The Wheel was finally destroyed for good by his son Daniel and Lisa Rogan.
- Caleb Goldman: The main antagonist of House of the Dead 2 and 4. A man who detests mankind's role in the world, he helped finance Curien's experiments in the first game before unleashing his own. He commits suicide in the second game's ending, but not before arranging a backup plan which would shape the events of the fourth game, in which he would also reappear in several flashback segments and recordings.
- The Mystery Man is a unidentified figure in a suit who appears at the end of the third and fourth games. Fans of the series have speculated that this could be Harry Harris, a supporting and unplayable AMS agent that is seriously injured by Strength in House of the Dead 2, he confirming as either a supporting character or an antagonist.
- The Magician: Curien's masterpiece. The most intelligent of his creations, the Magician has the power of pyrokinesis and can dash around quickly. Introduced as the final boss of the first game, this recurring boss has made numerous appearances in the series. Refusing to take orders from an inferior being, he turned on his creator and set out to destroy the world, but met his demise at the hands of Rogan and G. He is resurrected by Goldman in the second game, confronting James and Gary to prevent them from stopping the birth of the Emperor. His weak points are his exposed muscles. He makes a cameo appearance as a bonus item in the third game, before reprising his role as the final boss once again in The House of the Dead 4 Special, with the intent of unleashing his army of clones throughout the world. A variant of this character also appears as the final boss in the spin-off game Zombie Revenge under the name Black Magician Type 01.
The main gameplay mechanic is the gun. The type of gun varies with the game. The first two installments featured pistols, the third featured a shotgun, and the fourth featured a submachine gun. Overkill features different firearms which can be changed to the players' liking. The player must clear each area of zombies. The instructions on the cabinets note that a head shot is the most effective way to kill zombies.
Successful clearing will result in boss battles. Before most battles, the game will show what the bosses' weak point is. Final bosses have no identifiable weak point. If the boss is shot enough times, it will recoil; otherwise, it will take one of the player's lives. All of the bosses in the first four House of the Dead games are named after Major Arcana cards. They are also classified by 'types', which are shown as either a number or Greek letter.
There are also some different branching paths in the games, that are usually accessed by shooting a door or an object and sometimes when a civilian is killed.
The first two The House of the Dead games featured civilians. If the player successfully rescued civilians from the zombies, the civilian would sometimes reward the player with an extra life. The last two games did not feature civilians. In the third game, occasionally the player's partner would get in trouble and the player would be rewarded if he or she saved the partner's life. Players can also obtain extra lives by shooting boxes, crates, vases and destructible scenery.
The first four arcade games have multiple endings, depending on how well the player did in terms of civilians rescued, shooting percentage, score, and lives left. Every game has one "bad" ending, usually involving one of the characters transforming into a zombie. The ending will also change depending on if one or two players are playing.