The House of the Dead is a rail shooter light gun game, first released by Sega in Japan in September 13, 1996, with the international released following in March 4, 1997. Players use a light gun (or mouse, in the PC version) to aim and shoot at approaching zombies. The characters’ pistols use magazines which hold 6 rounds; players reload by shooting away from the screen. A set of torches next to the magazine of each player represents remaining health. When a player sustains damage or shoots a civilian, one of their torches is removed. The player dies when all torches are lost. First-aid packs are available throughout the game which restore one torch. These are found either in the possession of civilians whom 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 faced with numerous situations in which their action (or inaction) will have an effect on the direction of gameplay. This is exemplified in the opening stage of the game when a civilian is about to be thrown from the bridge to his death. If the player saves the civilian, they will enter the house directly through the front door; however, if the player fails to rescue the civilian, the character is redirected to an underground route through the sewers. If the player rescues all civilians, a secret room full of lives and bonuses is revealed toward the end of the game.