House of the Dead 4 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3
Sega’s House of the Dead 4 is a slice of arcade history. The first installment of the series first hit arcades in 1997, and since then has been through a series of ports and sequels, along with a typically terrible film adaptation from the infamous Uwe Boll. The series has become one of the most recognisable light gun series available, second only to Time Crisis in terms of recognition.
The presentation for this port to PSN is suitably retro (the game first hit arcades in 2003) and the translation from arcade to console seems to have been quite seamless. When you fire up the game, it feels like your PS3 has been transformed into an arcade machine. The game’s original graphics have also been given a shiny HD overhaul, the game being available in full widescreen as well as the textures being smoothed out for a more modern feel.
The controls are also well mapped out for an arcade feel. You can either use your PlayStation Move controller as a light gun, or simply use your standard controller and move the crosshair with the analogue stick. Both methods are easy to calibrate and simple to use while playing the game. Only three buttons are really used throughout the game: One for moving the crosshair, one for firing your gun and one for throwing grenades. Using the move controller to aim is probably more fun than using the standard PS3 controller.
It has to be said that, for newcomers, House of the Dead 4 - much like its zombie antagonists - will come across as a shuffling anachronism. The gameplay is incredibly repetitive, with the sole aim being to simply unload your Uzi into wave after wave of very similar looking zombies. There is some variation in your foes; some will hurl axes at you, others will have electric batons, others will be extremely fat. But the small differences may not be enough to hold your interest. That's why you need to play with score attacks in mind and get used to what's happening so you can best your best each time through.
The fact that you only get one gun for the entire game may be another disappointment for newcomers. You’ve got a few grenades but that’s it in terms of weapon choice. And because the one gun you have is an Uzi (not a satisfying shotgun like in some previous installments), accuracy really isn’t much of an issue. Just hold down the trigger, spray anything that moves with bullets, reload, repeat. Job done. Of course, this is a port of a light gun game where there was only one gun provided with the arcade cabinet - just be sure to remember that!
There are one or two concepts that seek to add some variety to the gameplay. There are some boss battles, but again these are all pretty samey. There’s no particular strategy, just shoot the massive monster in its weak point (usually the head, who would have thought?) until it dies. There are also points where you will have to choose which path your character takes through the game, but although the environments are slightly different, these choices have little effect on the game’s story. They do however represent options for higher scores, albeit with a slightly raised risk, too.
If all of this sounds incredibly easy, it more or less is. One or two of the boss battles present a slight challenge but we still managed to beat the arcade mode in two hours on the normal difficulty setting. This may be fine in an arcade but doesn’t stack up that well for value on a console, even with the relatively low purchase price. You can also adjust the amount of damage you can take as well as the number of credits you have to play with, which makes the game even easier.
Long term fans of the series may be disappointed to learn that the plot is wafer-thin; some cobblers about stopping a nuclear missile launch by a big nasty corporation, the head of which seems intent on human extinction (quite how this benefits him is a mystery). The two main characters, James Taylor (a.k.a. you) and Kate Green have nothing interesting to say. The dialogue is woeful; the pair of them simply expressing consistent shock at their situation while continually banging on about “never giving up hope”. Kate in particular is so whiny and pathetic you wonder how she ever made it as an agent. The voice acting is complete dross but, given the poor quality of the script, this feels almost appropriate.
But then does this really matter? If you’re a House of the Dead fan then you’ll want to know about things like your accuracy score, your grading at the end of every section. And the good news is these mechanics are fully present and correct. If you hit your targets consistently enough, you get a “GOOD” badge flash up on screen, followed by “EXCELLENT”, followed by “AMAZING”, and finally “PERFECT”. It’s very satisfying to hit these accolades, and at the end of each section you are told what percentage of your shots come under these categories. This serves as great encouragement to replay sections of the game to get the perfect score.
Trophy allocation is a slight disappointment: you get one every time you complete a level, and that’s it. There’s no award for multiple headshots or anything like that. It feels like something of a missed opportunity in a game such as this.
There are a few unlockable bits and pieces that are available on completing arcade mode, one of which is House of the Dead SP (short for “Special”). This consists of a couple of bonus missions where you can play as series favourite, Agent G. However, the gameplay doesn’t change as a result of this and this bonus campaign is also quite short., but it’s an interesting addition to the story. Once you’ve completed that, you get access to more advanced difficulty options for the main arcade mode. To have these options as a bonus seems quite bizarre, particularly as the “normal” difficulty setting is so easy.
You can play with a friend in co-op mode, which is a mixed bag. We played in co-op mode and the only noticeable differences were that the game was twice as easy and over twice as fast. Although there is immense fun to be had in competing for the best stats and ranking as ba pair when you're likely to get more than you'll ever manage alone. Maybe best to do when you've worn out the game in single player mode, then.
So if you’re a fan of the series, this is more of the same zombie blasting fun, though you may find the main story a little weak. For newcomers, we’d suggest you check out the slightly superior House of the Dead 3 or the more recent and far superior House of the Dead: Overkill - Extended Cut before trying this.