House of the Dead 4 Review
Posted by Christopher Ingram
Kill 'em again!
Years ago, gamers' weekends weren't filled with online multiplayer binge sessions. Instead, they filled local arcades with a pocketful of quarters, ready to show off their skills and hopefully land a top score on a cabinet for bragging rights. One series that made its name in these arcades is SEGA's zombie-infested light gun shooter, The House of the Dead (HotD). As local arcades have diminished over the years, the HotD titles have infested the PlayStation Network, with House of the Dead 4 the latest entry trying to eat your brains.
What makes this HotD so special is that many people have never had the chance to play it, as it released outside of Japan in 2006, long after arcade weekends fell off. Filling in the events between House of the Dead 2 and House of the Dead III, you take control of James Taylor (HotD 2) and blonde newbie Kate Green and fight through the flesh-eating hordes to stop a madman from launching nuclear missiles. The hysterically bad B-movie storyline is filled with the typical cheesy dialogue we’ve come to expect, and is as perfectly fitting here as always. But what matters the most is what had us dumping quarters into HotD cabinets for years: the unrelenting spraying of hot lead into rotting zombie flesh.
If there’s one place where PlayStation Move shines the brightest, it’s in on-rails shooters. Even with all the blood and gore in this house full of the walking dead, the unparalleled precision, speed and accuracy Move brings to the table never loses its lustre. This works wonders with the game’s new scoring system too. Headshots aren’t just recommended anymore, they’re absolutely vital if you want any chance of landing top scores. As usual, the zombies are in full pursuit to make your brains their dinner and are just as persistent here as in previous titles. Some types will even use their ranged weapons (knives, boulders, etc.) to defend their heads from your hailstorm of bullets, only allowing a small window of opportunity to put a bullet into their gruesome faces.
The only thing that stands between James and Kate becoming walking dead themselves is a pair of fully automatic pistols and a handful of grenades. Controls are as simple as point and shoot with the Move controller, while giving the controller a quick shake will reload your weapon. Holding the Move button and making a quick flicking motion will toss a grenade when the going gets too tough. Find yourself missing a few consecutive headshots and you’ll find yourself needing to rapidly shake the Move controller to push the fleshy ghouls off you. With Move in hand, the controls are just as natural here as when stepping up to the arcade cabinet and taking hold of one of its colourful pistols. There’s even a DualShock 3 set up that works surprisingly well if you’re shy of a Move controller, but of course, it isn’t recommended.
The Free Play mode allows you to adjust gameplay options like difficulty and blood colour, as well as set the amount of lives and continues to your preference before heading off into the main game. While it's relatively short, as most games in this genre are, levels can be selected at leisure once unlocked, allowing for quick access to play through the many branching pathways and find the many hidden items and rooms that will significantly increase your score. If you think you’ve got skills to prove, Ranked mode brings online leaderboards into play but locks all the options except for level selection, and only allots you three lives and no continues to fight through the intense levels and massive boss fights with.
Extras don't end there either. Complete any mode and you’ll unlock a short developer commentary; a nice addition, but the real icing on the cake is when you realise that you also unlocked the House of the Dead 4 SP. This rare title was previously only found in a very select few locations around the world, as it was a full immersion experience where gamers walked into a small enclosed room, sat down and strapped in, and found themselves being revolved between two 100-inch screens, with speakers on all sides. This short two level extension picks up shortly after the events of HotD 4, and brings back series favourite Agent G alongside Kate Green. While the HD graphics look great in HotD 4, they’re simply incredible in SP. The final level radiates brilliant colours off the screen as you blast lead back into it, and concludes with one of the most intense and visually impressive boss battles of the entire series. Lastly, multiple endings and couch co-op ensure that you’ll be coming back to send the dead back to their grave once more time and again.
House of the Dead 4's crawl onto PSN brings the zombie-infested action of the arcades right into your house of the living. At about the same cost as a pocketful of quarters, you can grab a friend and Move controllers and relive the arcade experience from the relative safety of your home.