Players assume the role of agents Thomas Rogan and "G" in their efforts to repel the dangerous, inhumane experiments of Dr. Curien, a madman.
The House of the Dead is a rail shooter light gun game. Players use a light gun (or mouse, in the PC version) to aim and shoot at approaching enemies. The characters' pistols use magazines which holds 6 rounds, and are required to reload once each magazine is empty. A set of torches next to the magazine of each player represents remaining health. When a player is hurt or shoots a civilian, one of their torches is removed, signifying damage. A player is dead when all torches are lost. A player may then continue by inserting more credits, if playing on an arcade machine, and pressing the "continue" or "start" button. There are first-aid packs available throughout the game that will restore one torch. These are found either in the possession of civilians that the player has rescued or inside breakable objects. Similarly, there are also special items located in breakable objects that will grant a bonus to whoever shoots it.
Throughout the course of the game, players are given numerous situations in which their actions will have an effect on the direction of gameplay. For instance, in the beginning of the game, a civilian is about to be thrown off the bridge to his death. If players save the civilian, they will enter the house directly through the front door; however, if the civilian dies, players are redirected to an underground route through the sewers.
AMS agents Thomas Rogan and G are sent on an assignment on December 18, 1998 to investigate a panicked phone call from Rogan's fiancée, Sophie Richards, and a series of disappearances at the Curien Mansion, home and laboratory of Dr. Curien, a biochemist and geneticist. Curien was obsessed with discovering the very nature of life and death, backed by the DBR Corporation and its scientists. The nature of the experiments, however, drove Dr. Curien insane, resulting in him releasing his experimental subjects into the world. Once they get there, a mortally wounded man gives them a small book showing all the bosses and their weak points. They use it every time they confront a boss.
Amidst the chaos wrought by Curien, Rogan and "G" face many formidable foes, including The Chariot, an undead warrior who knocks Sophie aside with his bardiche and The Hanged Man, a gargoyle-like creature with bat wings and bat ears accompanied by a swarm of undead bats that takes Sophie back into the mansion at the start and killed two researchers in the courtyard. Once the AMS agents confrot Curien, he sends out The Hermit, an eight-legged spider-like creature that spits balls of webbing. While fighting it, Curien gets away.
Upon confronting Curien a second time, the AMS agents are treated to his greatest masterpiece, The Magician, a humanoid demon creature, with mastery over fire. After he releases the creature from its incubation chamber, the Magician realizes he does not have to serve any master and Dr. Curien is killed by his creation. To prevent the Magician from escaping the mansion and destroying the world, Rogan and G are forced to confront it in one final battle. They succeed in destroying Curien's creation and are given one last warning from the Magician.
The Magician explodes. Rogan and G leave the mansion, taking one last look at it from the outside. Then they go back over the entire trail with the closing credits. And then the game ends.
There are however, alternate endings in which the camera pans to the foyer one last time; the doors then open, showing either Sophie alive, running into the camera saying "Thank you!", or Sophie has now become one of the undead--the last corpse remaining, all depending on the player's score and the number of continues used.
- Thomas Rogan: An AMS agent that was sent on an assignment to investigate a series of disappearances at the Curien Mansion. His fiancée is Sophie Richards, who gives him an alarming phone call to come to her rescue. He, along with G, head to the mansion in an attempt to rid the mansion of Curien's creations and deal with Curien himself.
- G: An AMS agent that was sent with Rogan to the Curien Mansion. If players choose him as the first character, the in-game dialogue will differ, for example, Sophie will address him differently upon arrival at the mansion.
- Sophie Richards: Rogan's fiancée. She tried to call Rogan for help when the zombies started to appear, and managed to get out of the mansion, but was somehow knocked unconscious and is seen lying in front of a fountain. She awakes and runs for Rogan/G but is taken back into the house by the Hanged Man. She can later be found in a room with the Chariot, but is fatally wounded. Her survival depends on the rating the player receives upon completion of the game.
- Dr. Roy Curien: An acclaimed biochemist and geneticist that worked for the DBR Corporation. He was the mastermind behind the Curien Mansion incident. He was obsessed with discovering the very nature of life and death. This led to the creation of hideous monsters which spread from the laboratory to the outside of the mansion. Thanks to the help of Rogan and G, the creatures were repelled from escaping the mansion grounds.
- The House of the Dead on MobyGames
- The House of the Dead at Museum of the Game
- The House of the Dead at SegaSaturn.co.uk