Experiencing the Horror- House of the Living Dead

Back in November of last year I spent some time reviewing The Evil Dead tie-in game for the ZX Spectrum, an English computer that preexisted the Commodore 64 by a few months and shared a number of its games. Though I discovered that playing through The Evil Dead for ZX Spectrum was about as much fun as chopping your own hand off with a chainsaw while your demon-possessed girlfriend giggles in the corner, I did notice something while I browsed the World Of Spectrum website.

The Spectrum had a TON of horror games.

In fairness, the Spectrum had a lot of games, with more still being released via homebrew to this day, but the horror genre is well-represented amongst them. Movie tie-in games like The Evil Dead make up a number of the horror games, but there were originals available as well.

Originals like House of the Living Dead.

I look and look and I see "enter", "insert", "home"...but where's the damn "any" key?!

I look and look and I see “enter”, “insert”, “home”…but where’s the damn “any” key?!

Jumping into House of the Living Dead, the first thing that you notice is the game’s striking similarity to Pac-Man. It’s honestly a Pac-Man clone. The gameplay is simpler than in that game, though; the levels are much smaller and less maze-like, and initially you’re presented with one enemy. The opening of the game calls it a vampire bat, though it looks more like a dragon to me. At least, it looks like a monster, unlike the more abstract enemies that were present in the Spectrum’s Evil Dead game.

The objective of the game is to collect four pieces of a cross which have been scattered to the four corners of the board without being touched by a monster. Once you have a piece of the cross, you need to place it on a tile in the center of the board. Return all four pieces to the center and the formed cross generates a holy light, banishing the monsters from the board. With each level you clear, another monster is added, and by the time you reach the fourth level you’ll have to contend with two dragon-bats and not one, but two- count ’em, TWO- spooky skeletons!

'Ol purple up there is just waiting for you to get close enough...

‘Ol purple up there is just waiting for you to get close enough…

Really, the game holds up well, considering its age. The simplistic graphics are bright- one might even call them vibrant- and unlike The Evil Dead, the controls are serviceable. The sound design of the game is excellent for the era. Though it would have been nice were there some game mechanic included to allow the player to fight back against the monsters, as there was in Pac-Man, the gameplay overall holds up well. The random movement patterns of the monsters gives the game a frantic feel, since you never know where the creatures will end up moving next, and there is a slight strategy element in trying to put as much distance between the player and the monsters as possible while still leaving a path to the next piece of the cross. Of course, none of this will be sufficient to entertain a modern gamer for very long.

Why are the skeletons yellow? Who knows.

Why are the skeletons yellow? Who knows.

According to an advertisement archived on World Of Spectrum, House Of The Living Dead was available for £5.95 via mail order, and when compared to The Evil Dead, I’d venture to say it was worth the money at the time.

Game over, man!

Game over, man!

While playing through this game, I experienced the same odd feeling that I had when I played through The Evil Dead; the nagging suspicion that there was an aspect of the experience that I was missing. I wonder if there isn’t something more to that. Perhaps in playing these games on a modern computer via an emulator there’s a tactile part of the original experience of playing the game on a ZX Spectrum thirty years ago that cannot be replicated. I suspect there is, and that gamers who were not present to live that experience will forever be left to wonder what it must have been like to play the game in 1983.








House of the Living Dead, ZX Spectrum, and all associated IP and such are the property of their respective owners. Images in this article are intended to be compliant with applicable Fair Use for the purpose of review. 

~ by Redgoateerob on April 24, 2013.

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