The Typing of the Dead Review
By Monica Bair |
Sega's arcade reputation is established and maintained. Even staunch pundits of its opposition can attest to that. They got everything from fighters, to racers, to beat 'em ups, to pod games, to the classic light-gun shooter all covered in spades. And just as Sega has been able to turn out the arcade content, Smilebit, a development studio within the larger company, has been able to crank out addictive title after addictive title (including Jet Grind Radio and the upcoming GUNVALKYRIE). Now, we have Typing of the Dead, Smilebit's modification of the original light-gunning House of the Dead 2. What did they modify? Well, they eschewed the inclusion of any and all light-gun functionality and instead opted to put the tasks of fending off legions of the undead on the back of your poor little keyboard. Wipe off all those sticky spills and crack your knuckles because some serious carpal tunnel syndrome awaits you (not to mention a whole lot of explodable zombies).
Good things come in small packages, or in this case poorly designed, sloppy ones. Typing of the Dead has a very rudimentary manual with little to no artistic flair or panache. Did I mention the game is also completely devoid of a solid, complete options menu? Sure, its options set does just fine for consoles, but the PC needs more meat with those potatoes. We need graphical toggles and switches, of which we get none. We also need in-game menus that allow for quitting; instead, everything is done through the use of "alt + function key" hotkey combinations. Want to quit the game? Hit the windows standard "alt+F4." So yeah, you can still quit, and it's easy, but no menu means no points!
A problem that plagued the game from its ancestral gun-toting days in the arcade was its piss poor story and story delivery. The gun maybe gone, but the crappy acting sadly got left behind. Every sentence and word is delivered so poorly that an immediate muting of the game during cutscenes will be your first, and paramount priority above all others; all the story segments between levels are thankfully skippable. Don't worry your pretty head about skipping them either --you won't be missing much. Basically there's some evil corporate guy doing some bad things (surprise, surprise). If you legitimately care about the story than you have problems and should possibly consider involving yourself in an activity that doesn't involve blowing parts off of creatures. All you need to know about Typing of the Dead is that your dude and his goon patrol move around with Dreamcast's strapped to their backs and keyboards laying over their fronts. This is all that is needed to bring down even the hardest of foes.
Aside from the terrible, rage inducing acting, the rest of the audio flair is actually pretty solid. Presses of the keyboard sound off corresponding hit or miss gunshots (depending), and the screams, moans, and groans are all zombie-rific. Typing's graphics are also a mixed bag of both passable work but at times crap that looks scraped off of the bottom of a moldy coffin: solid, but dated. Some of the textures are absolutely horrid and look worse than normal software rendered stuff. I'm talking Outcast bad and that's really saying something. There are times when textures get so pixelized that the individual blocks are actually measurable by rulers.
The title's also stuck in rendering at 640x480. The PC and its grand scalability should be able to offer us up something a bit higher than that, despite the fact that both the original arcade and subsequent Dreamcast versions ran at that resolution. It's really sad when you see the aliased artifacts and general "jagginess" of the whole thing (which is noticeably apparent). Still, it does have an arcadey aesthetic allure, something attributed to practically all of Sega's arcade and Dreamcast titles.
If there's one area where the game excels graphically it's in its animations and zombie damage. Blowing actual holes and chunks in and out of beasts and watching them reel from the impact back is truly remarkable. In fact, ever since I first played the original Virua Cop, I had always dreamed of having that level of character interaction in more games, (first person shooters for instanct). Few have yet to even come close, and Typing (or at least this fundamental portion of the House of the Dead engine) makes me long even more for its implementation elsewhere. Disturbing, but cool.
Gameplay is broken down into five major modes 5: Boss, Arcade, Drill, Tutorial, and Original. Arcade is just House of the Dead 2, only typing. Original is the same as Arcade, but with new items and such. Tutorial amounts to a set of interactive instructions and mini-tasks to get you on your way to proper typing habits. Drill is more like a subsection of mini-games and bonus trials. And the Boss mode is where zombie bosses chase your player through levels, type fast and you get away.
But how does it all play out? Simple, boxes of text appear over your enemies. You type the text that appears. Each letter typed will damage your enemy. A completed word will kill him. Multiple enemies will often advance at one time; pressing escape toggles cycles through the onscreen baddies (losing any incomplete typed text for the enemy you were on). You don't have to type spaces or capital letters, but you do have to punctuate correctly. Admittedly, the game is simplistic in design. But, if it's one thing that gaming has taught me, it's that simple can time and again prove to be not only most effective, but downright ass kicking.
The game is addicting. I'm talking crack cocaine addicting. It's also hard; not hard in the sense that completing the actual levels is difficult, though. It's in beating your own personal bests, and even the bests of your friends and coworkers where the game's longevity and challenge come in and start to shine. The game starts out slow with simple combinations of letters and familiar words, but then moves into more complex phrases and unfamiliar implementations of the rarely touched upon portions of the dictionary. Slight variations on play also up the challenge and enjoyment considerably. Certain bosses require you to type out answers to questions, while others demand precision.
After a while you'll come to the painful realization that your typical method of "Hunt and Peck" key stabbing ain't gonna cut it. You need to keep your eyes on the monitor at all times, which is kind of the point of the game. See, between all the fun you'll be having trying to beat your own, and the records of others, you'll actually be learning stuff. Improving a skill! And no, I'm not talking about blowing faces off of zombies.
I honestly don't have any real problems or issues with the gameplay. It's simplistic to be sure, but it works...so what the hell, right? I do however think that Typing of the Dead sets a new precedence for on rails shooters. Every shooting game of this ilk should from now on include this sort of typing addition... okay maybe not every one, but it would not only add immeasurably to the longevity and quality of the game at hand, but will also add something useful and maybe alleviate a bit of the pressure placed on the industry from censorship groups (attempting to teach is always appreciated even if it does involve brutally destroying hordes of Zombies).
If you like fun, you'll like Typing of the Dead. Plain as sunshine, that's all there is too it. It's simple and immensely addictive. If not for a few graphical and aural problems it'd be a near perfect game to waste hours upon hours on. But then, you wouldn't actually be wasting them, but studying! How's that for a little parent/boss/souse justification?
-- Ivan Sulic
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