Dreamcast Reviews H

Half Life
Grade: NA
Publisher: Sierra (2000)
Reviewed: 2022/2/27

screenshotHalf Life for the Dreamcast was canceled just a few weeks from its projected release date, and you're about to find out why. A kind reader provided me with a working copy of this unreleased prototype. I didn't expect to spend much time reviewing it but found myself sucked in because quite frankly Half Life in any form is damn good.

It's a compelling first-person shooter about an underground lab experiment gone wrong. Consider it a thinking-man's Doom (Sega 32X, 1994). Half Life doesn't employ cut-scenes to convey its intense sci-fi storyline. No, you experience the story as events unfold around you. It's incredibly immersive and frequently alarming.

This Dreamcast port boasts sharp graphics and spine-tingling audio. There seem to be only three types of scientists working in the facility: the old one, the black guy, and the other guy. You know a game is old-school when your first weapon is a crowbar! Textures appear blurry textures up close but I never experienced the nausea I felt while reviewing Orange Box (Xbox 360, 2007).

The biggest flaw with this Dreamcast port is evident from the start. Load screens, load screens, and more load screens. It seems like every freaking time you turn a corner you're staring at another one. And these are long, PS1-caliber loads. You can save your progress at any time from the pause screen, but that's equally time-consuming.

The Dreamcast controller isn't designed for Half Life. Using the analog stick to look around works great, but using four diamond-configured buttons to move is clumsy when you're trying to creep over catwalks. The digital pad is overloaded with various functions like jump, use, duck, and flashlight. Trigger is used to fire (naturally) and the auto-aim feature is pretty sweet.

Half Life's frame rate seems smooth at first but becomes an intermittent issue. In one scene you're riding down an elevator and "chicken" creatures are raining from above. The problem is, you only get a glimpse at them because they are blinking all over the place. You find yourself shooting like a madman at these unholy, unseen poultry.

Another problem more inherent with the game itself is its aggravating first-person platform-jumping. The general concept is bad enough, but sliding off an elevated box after a risky leap is downright demoralizing, especially since you're in for a lengthy reload.

Playing Half Life on your Dreamcast will remind you how much you wish you were playing it on another platform. There may be an A game in here somewhere, but this half-baked version is closer to a D. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Heavy Metal Geomatrix
Grade: D-
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Reviewed: 2006/12/24
Rating: Mature (blood, strong lyrics, violence)

screenshotDid Capcom truly believe that a heavy metal soundtrack could justify a whole new fighting game? According to my friend Scott, there are some big musical names here, including Megadeth and Halford, but it's hardly enough to carry a mediocre fighter like Geomatrix.

Heavy Metal's shallow gameplay consists of one-on-one battles with an unhealthy emphasis on enormous guns. The expansive 3D arenas range from Egyptian ruins, to a castle, to a run-down stadium, but none are particularly memorable. Muscle-bound cyborgs and top-heavy babes round out the generic roster of fighters.

The battles are a mix of shooting and melee, but the control scheme is very counterintuitive. The ability to jump and hover is somewhat useful, but laying traps seems silly when you consider this is a one-on-one affair. The camera control is seriously lacking, so you often can't tell where the heck you are. Other glitches include CPU opponents who seem intent on running through (and getting stuck inside of) the walls.

The best thing about Heavy Metal's matches is how mercifully short they are. Ironically, the relentless soundtrack is arguably the worst aspect of the entire game. If the awkward camerawork doesn't give you a headache, the non-stop, grinding guitars certainly will. I don't know anyone who has ever enjoyed Heavy Metal Geomatrix, and I doubt I ever will. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

House of the Dead 2
Grade: A
Publisher: Sega (1999)
Reviewed: 2022/2/27
Rating: Mature 17+ (animated blood and gore, violence)

screenshotHouse of the Dead 2 deserves a spot on any list of quintessential Dreamcast titles. This light-gun shooter offers ghoulish graphics, a B-movie storyline, and unforgettable soundtrack. Its pick-up-and-play gameplay is pure arcade fun. Viewing the action from a first-person perspective, you automatically venture through roads and hallways of a zombie-infested city inspired by Venice.

The simple gameplay is purely aim-and-fire, occasionally shooting offscreen to reload. You can feel the adrenaline while blasting the limbs off approaching undead, green blood splattering. Depending on where you shoot a zombie, an arm may fly off, a hole could be blown in its chest, or its head could be blown clean off. Memorable bosses include a headless knight, a hydra, and a "bleeding heart" leaping lizard.

You don't control your movement directly but your path will branch depending on the innocent civilians you manage to save (or don't save). This adds substantial replay value, as you're likely to see something new with each play-through. Power-ups and bonus items are dispensed by destroying barrels and crates in the scenery, so keep an eye out. I play this game with friends every Halloween, and to this day we're still discovering new routes and hidden goodies.

One element that makes House of the Dead 2 so endearing is its cardboard acting and hilarious dialogue. Unintentionally funny lines include "James, go and stop the confusion in the city", "Don't come! Don't come!", and of course the classic "Suffer like G did?" I manage to incorporate that last one into my personal conversations all the time.

Light gun games tend to age poorly because the guns require an old-fashioned CRT-style television. Two of my original Dreamcast light guns (Starfire and Mad Catz) no longer seem to function at all for some reason. My Pelican gun works to a satisfactory extent, but only if you crank up the brightness and sit at a proper distance.

You always have the option of using a normal controller, but this will mean knocking down the grade by a letter (sorry). Your aim is more precise with a controller but trying to track flying creatures is nearly impossible. In two-player mode the two gun sights can be easy to confuse.

This disc also includes an "original" mode that lets you use items you've collected in previous missions. Control issues notwithstanding, House of the Dead 2 may be the most satisfying light gun shooter you'll ever play. It nailed the formula so perfectly that even subsequent House of the Dead games have struggled to measure up. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1-2 players 

Hydro Thunder
Grade: A
Publisher: Midway (1999)
Reviewed: 2004/9/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis "launch title" (released on the same day as the system) is my favorite Dreamcast game of all time. Hydro Thunder is pure arcade bliss, with eye candy galore, simple controls and some of the most exhilarating gameplay you'll ever experience in a video game. Imagine an amusement park water ride that moves at the speed of a roller coaster, and you'll start to appreciate what Hydro Thunder has to offer.

This wild racer features 13 power boats and 14 astonishing tracks. From the exotic jungles of the Lost World, to the gigantic ice formations of the Arctic Circle, to the majestic ancient ruins of the Greek Isles, each track is magnificent in scale and full of surprises. Complementing the smooth graphics is a dramatic musical score and some hilarious sound effects.

The intuitive control scheme makes it easy to maintain control even as your boat is careening down rapids at high speeds. Large floating icons provide turbo, and using your turbo power efficiently is key to winning. Numerous ramps allow for plenty of opportunities to catch big air, and your stomach will drop as you go over huge waterfalls, some over 400 feet tall!

A split screen mode allows two players to race head-to-head, and while it's a step down in terms of speed, it's still a lot of fun. Two minor complaints are the lack of a restart option and an automatic save. But all in all Hydro Thunder truly delivers on the promise of the Dreamcast. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1-2 players 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Shinforce, Sega.com, Racket Boy, Wikipedia, GameSpot, Video Games Museum, Moby Games, Sega Dreamcast.com, The Dreamcast Junkyard