Date Released: April 18, 2012
Date Reviewed: May 19, 2012
Genre: Lightgun Shooter
Players: 1-2 Local Players
Length: 40+ Minutes
The House of the Dead 4 is the 2005 lightgun arcade shooter developed by SEGA-AM1. The title has become available to home consoles for the first time in 2012 as a download on the PlayStation 3′s Sony Entertainment Network. This newly released version includes both the original arcade game and it’s direct sequel The House of the Dead 4: Special for a budget price point. Functionality for PlayStation Move and the standard PlayStation 3 controller is also included.
The House of the Dead 4 is a ‘rail-shooter’ where the player is pulled forward without proper control of their character and can only aim with their gun. As the game progresses, players must shoot the undead, other hazards and sometimes special items until they disappear to increase their score.
The game is designed for people waiting around an arcade or for those just looking to casually try out a game that seems fun. The overall experience is designed to be short, immediately enjoyable and take money based on how long one wants to play or how well they want to improve their scores. As this version is a home release, the developers were tasked with finding ways to make the game enjoyable, but still challenging. In respect of the fans, instead of setting the game to be played a specific way, players have the option to customize how many lives and ‘hit-points’ they have before a game over. There are also five difficulty options making the game much easier or much harder than the arcade original depending on what is chosen.
The entirety of the game revolves around improving one’s score and comparing them to other players, but the game does not suffer or become a chore because of this. Those uninterested in ‘Score attacking’ will be able to ignore it and enjoy multiple playthroughs to find hidden passageways, fight different types of foes and see several different endings – A total of 8 different endings across both games are possible.
[Over 50 enemies on screen at once are possible]
Although the fourth in the series of games, The House of the Dead 4 actually takes place before the events of The House of the Dead III. Players take the role of James Taylor from The House of the Dead 2 and the newcomer Kate Green on an investigation into the reemergence of the criminal mastermind Goldman, who was thought to have died. Goldman believes that turning humans into mutants is the logical and natural future for the world, unless humans would rather become extinct.
The story continues in the unlockable sequel The House of the Dead 4: Special. This sees Kate Green and series mainstay ‘G’ working together to stop The Magician, who has mysteriously returned from death after previous games.
The game’s narrative is far and beyond the worst portion of the package, but it does not distract from the experience as the cutscenes are so short (typically under 30 seconds) and can be skipped, even in the first playthrough. Even so, the characters are enjoyable and the settings are diverse and engaging.
[Goldman has returned and is up to no good once again]
Successful shooting requires more than just unloading bullets into the zombies until they disappear. Although the game offers an unlimited amount of bullets, it is encouraged that players try aiming for the heads and miss as little as possible. Conceptually it appears dull, but several elements are in place to builds tension, such as offering players more points for allowing enemies to come as close as possible before they are defeated. The animations of these hoards are not always the same and several different variants exist so that the player cannot simply aim and shoot at a specific height of the television and expect good results, the game strongly works against this with the sub-machinegun bullets coming at such a fast rate that even a few seconds of shooting at nothing could severely hinder the score count.
Many portions of the game have quick time events in the form of shaking zombies off of oneself, opening doors or breaking free of a trap. This is not done by button prompts, but where the player is actually required to physically shake the controller to fill up a completion rate bar, with faster completion leading to a higher score. In the main version of The House of the Dead 4, failure only results in losing one hit-point or has enemies knock the player down onto the floor where they need to aim upwards from the ground at the zombies, whereas the unlockable The House of the Dead 4: Special has some portions that require the player to succeed a usually monotonous event (such as throwing a single grenade at the correct part of the screen) where failure will result in a complete game over. Not a loss of health or life, the game simply ends. This is easily the worst concept in the series to date and only leads to frustration, whereas the quick time events in the standard version of The House of the Dead 4 add a lot to the overall experience and should become a franchise staple.
[Most of the bosses are absolutely massive, taking up the entire screen]
At the end of each level, players will fight a boss named after a tarot card, each of which have unique designs and attack patterns. Shooting them correctly for an extended period will cancel out their attacks or stall an animation, with some of the later enemies having especially unique movements that are tricky to avoid. In most cases, the game will instantly identify how they can be damaged, but they are never presented in ways that make the combat overly easy; They are simply in place to not confuse or frustrate the player with tedium.
Secret items are hidden throughout each chapter. Outside of the basic health extras, these items are usually very conceptually unique and add to the silliness, such as a hopping golden frog or a bell the player must continuously shoot to ring for points. Many of these are found in some of the boxes or barrels throughout levels, but the majority of them are in locations that are hard to reach or are dangerous to focus on instead of the mutants. Just like each release in the series before it, they are usually hard to obtain without the player specifically knowing about them ahead of time, but can add a lot of replay value to the overall package.
Similar to each respective numbered release in the series, The House of the Dead 4 has heavily detailed environments and enemies. As expected with it being the first high definition release in the series, graphical quality has seen a solid upgrade over The House of the Dead III. Additions to the franchise include multiple portions of the zombies detaching as they are shot at, several different types of reflective textures and hair physics that can interact with movement, wind and explosions. Due to this, the game has aged well and is comparable to and (sometimes better than) several digital releases on the PlayStation Network almost eight years after it’s original release.
Not comparable however, are the animations of humans. Bosses and zombies all move in a believable fashion, but the humans and larger sets of objects such as vehicles appear extremely static. With earlier releases in the series, it was understandable and easy to ignore, but with the characters now looking more realistic than ever each cutscene falls into the ‘Uncanny Valley’ of creepy animations. It can be argued that the standard humans are more frightening than the zombies themselves.
Despite this, the presentation of The House of the Dead 4 is slick. The menu especially allows players to customize everything from the amount of lives to the color of the blood. Unlockables are sparse, but a ‘Making Of’ featurette and the full extra game of The House of the Dead 4 Special are more than enough considering the pricing.
[Several characters from throughout the franchise return]
In the arcade version, players would hold a plastic gun and aim at the screen, but the PlayStation 3 download release allows the choice between the PlayStation Move motion controller and the Dualshock3/SIXAXIS controller that comes standard with every PlayStation 3 sold, meaning everyone who owns the console is able to play the game.
The downloadable version is designed specifically with the PlayStation Move motion controller to replace the gun peripheral of the arcade cabinet. An optional addition to use a cursor to help aim the gun has been added, and are color coded to differentiate between the first and second players. Some players may need a small adjustment period with how the PlayStation Move works if they are used to the arcade original – This is not a design flaw of the game, but a hardware difference.
The main focus of this digital release is the PlayStation Move controller, but a lot of thought has been put into making the game enjoyable with the normal controller. Players navigate with a reticle moved by the left analog stick, shoot with the R1 button, reload with any of the face buttons (O, X, Square or Triangle) and throw grenades with the L1 button. The previously mentioned sections where the player must shake the controller are also supported with this set-up and work just as well.
However, completionists should be warned that getting all of the endings and trophies without the PlayStation Move motion controller is improbable and not recommended.
[Most levels offer multiple paths to take]
Voice acting in The House of the Dead series of games has always been comically poor, but intentionally so. Poorly written to the point of confusing, the script has more humor in it than any game in the franchise before it, but none of the purposeful jokes really take off. The real comedy however, comes from how the voices are presented and how ill-fitting the context is; The perfect example is how in a survivalist game, characters would scream or cry if they were pulled into a large group of undead monsters, while in here the main cast in the same situation will insinuate that they need to bathe or are being perverts. It is dialog like this that has made The House of the Dead into such a fan favorite game series.
[New enemies are thrown at the player every other minute]
Sound direction in The House of the Dead 4 is the best in the franchise yet. Bullets shot are notably weak-sounding, but the moans and movement noises from the undead hoards are wonderfully creepy and some of the boss enemies have massive attacks that present all types of unique effects to those listening. Surround sound in particular adds a new dimension to the game, which is best demonstrated in the unlockable sequel The House of the Dead 4: Special where the perspective is constantly changing.
The House of the Dead series has always been known for it’s fitting fast action horror infused soundtracks, but as most arcades are already quite loud, the music was usually decided to be one of the least important factors. It would be expected by most then that the soundtrack is not very good, but this is not the case. Each song is produced with high quality instruments and some use of computer-generated sounds. The themes range from industrial, electronic and sometimes even blend jazz or metal depending on the environment and what is occurring in-game, giving the title a very distinct sound a feeling.
Although the title gives the impression that The House of the Dead 4: Special is an extended or slightly altered version of the original, it is in fact a full-fledged sequel with remixed locations, bosses and some new additions, most notable of which is the return of The Magician boss from The House of the Dead 1 and 2.
What made this version of the game so ‘special’ was it’s limited arcade release had an extremely unique walk-in cabinet setup where the seat players sat on would constantly spin 160 degrees to face a screen placed behind them, where other obstacles and monsters would be found. The setup even had a function that would blow pressurized air at the players if they were hit. As can be imagined, the price for this cabinet was incredibly high, so most people will never get the chance to try it out.
Although the plot appears apocalyptic, the game manages to keep light-hearted elements to the gameplay and presentation to provide a fun and replayable experience, even without the PlayStation Move accessory. The House of the Dead 4 improves on many elements from past games in the series, while also creating some problems. For just 10 USD both games together provide a great experience for fans of the series and action games in general.
Formats: Arcade and PlayStation 3 digital release