In 1997, Sega published a light gun game that proved so popular in arcades that it inspired an atrociously bad movie. Today The House of the Dead is considered an arcade and horror great. It might be cheesy, poorly scripted, and over-the-top, but aren’t those qualities what make the genre so irresistible? The series even led to a weird but fan-favorite typing game based on House of the Dead 2.
The House of the Dead 4, the last of the core games to be released, fills in the story between the second and third games. The game features Move support and local co-op play, and while even pointing-and-aiming can’t quite emulate the immersive feel of an arcade, it does come closer than a standard controller does. If you’re unwilling to spend the cash on the motion controller and the requisite PlayStation Eye (because let’s face it, if you haven’t already, you’re probably never going to), you can always play with a regular DualShock. In that case, I recommend the D-pad over the analog stick, which is faster but far too loose for the precision you’ll need, especially when you’re shooting for score.
If you’ve ever played a House of the Dead game, then you basically know what to expect: zombies and other mutant monsters, a few branching paths, and the occasional secret, which passes you by in mere seconds. Each of the six chapters concludes with a boss fight, and like in HoD III, you'll have to drain the Cancel bar to hold off a big attack. Contrary to the arcade version, gamers can alter the settings to their liking — changing the number of lives and credits and even the color of blood, for example (although the game is less creative with that option that other horror games, offering only red or brown). Players can shake the controller to throw off attackers, lob grenades into crowds, and reload the machine gun at a generously fast rate.
Killing zombies is undeniably fun; that’s why the more there are, the happier we’ll be, at least in fiction. The story, however, is totally ignorable, and considering how many times the characters reminisce on past events, not very important either. James Taylor and Kate Green (who wears a matted caramel mop for hair) are stereotypically one-dimensional and have little chemistry on screen. They’re just not fun to watch or listen to, so you won’t find much in the way of laughs.
Completing the main game does unlock the rare House of the Dead 4 Special, which is more entertaining but pitifully short-lived. Instead of partnering with the grim-faced James, Kate now teams up with G, who is in many ways his foil. G brings a little much-needed camp to the game, which now contains more variety: Players can pass or fail certain scenarios (the outcome only impacting score), and the stage designs appear much brighter and unique. The ranking system also seems more lenient in grading player skill… and I like to think that has to do with G’s sunny disposition than some unbalanced design.
The House of the Dead 4 certainly isn’t the best the series has to offer, and even worse, it’s missing what can only be truly experienced in the sensory-encompassing booth of an arcade. What you do get is made stronger by the addition of HoD4 Special, but even that leaves you disappointed with its fleeting length. It’s disappointing that the main course doesn’t prove the same thrills.
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