Hands-On GamingStaring Down the Barrel
The cabinet's monitor displayed an exploded view of the entire scene, while pressing one's eye up to the mini screen mounted within the spotting scope of the rifle provided a cleverly calculated magnified target. Holding the highly accurate rifle steady was no small feat, particularly with the long range shots, but as soon as that bad guy ambled unknowingly into your crosshairs, a slow exhale and gentle squeeze of the trigger would cause his head to explode like a watermelon in a microwave. Bloody marvelous! Silent Scope offered an embarrassingly absorbing voyeuristic experience; assassinating wrong-doers from a safe distance with the perilously long arm of high-velocity justice.
Of course, it's not just the hardware that makes a decent shooting game work. An example of both how to do it right and wrong can be found in Sega's magnificent zombie wasting gore-a-thon series, House of the Dead. The third installment most accurately touched on the hallowed ground of the living dead movies, with a wonderfully tactile pump action shotgun for putting the undead back in the ground. The scope of such a weapon was far reaching; no more unrealistic shooting off screen to reload, a weapon that could actually cut a swathe through the stumbling hoards and, most importantly (and this might seem insignificant, but bear with me), you can attach a torch to the barrel.
While this might appear a minor aspect of the thrill-a-minute zombie-thon, the gun-mounted searchlight was an important aspect of HOTDIII's gameplay. Any zombie film fanatic will agree that no living dead film is complete without our protagonist tiptoeing through a pitch black room with a distinctly insufficient torch, only to illuminate a ghoul crouching on the floor two feet away, feeding on the last poor sucker who wandered through the room without turning the lights on. This small, but vital, aspect of gameplay made for a spectacularly chilling few minutes of tension; scouring the dark room for that elusive flesh muncher, then firing in panicked fury when it turns out to be right in front of you. You feel a genuine sense of relief when the lights come back up and it's open season once again.
The fourth (and current) game of the series, however, fell into the same trap as many other shooting games. Rather than examining the undead genre and tailoring the game to reflect the many well-established premises, the designers simply stuck a different gun on the cabinet. This time, it was the faithful old Uzi, but House of the Dead IV completely botches the reloading process HOTDIII mastered. Rather than fluidly reloading a high-powered shotgun, the player has to vigorously shake the Uzi to simulate inserting another magazine into the gun, leaving the player feeling like a total spaz on the arcade floor, vibrating themselves for the want of repelling a standard zombie drone.
The long and celebrated history of the light-gun proves that processing power alone does not make a game. It takes an inordinate amount of inspiration to build a success around this most popular of videogame peripherals, which is also an integral aspect of one the most unforgiving genre's the industry has ever known.
Spanner has written articles for several publications, including Retro Gamer. He is a self-proclaimed horror junkie, with a deep appreciation for all things Romero.