Sega’s The House Of The Dead 4 was originally released in arcades in 2005. It was a fairly solid on-rails light-gun shooter, with plenty of undead creatures to shoot at as players progressed through each guided level, and support for up to two players simultaneously. Seven years later, the arcade game has now been made available to play in the comfort of your own home, as long as you have a PlayStation 3. The game can be played with either a Dualshock 3 controller, or with a PlayStation Move controller. What the Move does is simulate the arcade version’s light-gun accessory, and looking at the Move’s capabilities, it really is well suited to the job. The House Of The Dead 4 is a prequel to The House Of The Dead 3, bridging the gap between it and the second game in the series. Players can choose between two different characters to play as, either James Taylor, one of the playable characters from The House of the Dead 2, or a woman named Kate Green. Both come equipped with rapid firing sub-machine guns, which will be your primary weapon. Grenades are also available for use, but although they’re powerful, you only have a very limited supply.
While the game’s story is fairly simple, as is usually the case in action-focused light-gun games, it’s entertaining enough to keep players interested. It’s presented as more of a running commentary than anything, and it suits the game well. Don’t expect it to make a lot of sense though, especially if you haven’t played The House Of The Dead 2, since this game is essentially a continuation of its plot. It’s all full voiced, but unfortunately the quality of the voice work isn’t so great.
In terms of length, The House Of The Dead 4 features six levels to blast your way through, and after completing them all on any difficulty, you’ll unlock The House of The Dead 4 SP (Special). SP is a kind of epilogue to The House Of The Dead 4, which was released as its own attraction shortly after the game’s release, and contains two additional levels. Both games feature multiple endings, which can be earned by getting high scores and/or not losing any credits. Each stage features a branching path where you shoot at the screen to choose which way you want to go. Both paths will eventually meet up, but the scenery and enemies do change a little, depending on your choice. Your total playtime will vary a little depending on your chosen difficulty, but both games combined will last you around an hour to an hour and a half for a single run. So, it’s a pretty short game. Speaking of difficulty, The House Of The Dead 4 offers plenty of options, with each successive difficulty gradually adding more enemies to the game’s stages.
The House Of The Dead 4′s gameplay is all about head shots. Of course, you can still kill enemies by shooting any part of them, but the game’s score multiplier is tied directly to your aiming. Each time you kill an enemy solely with head-shots, the multiplier goes up by one level. This is represented on-screen by small icons that pop up immediately after each kill. The multiplier increases your score dramatically, but will be lost after a few seconds if you shoot any other part of any enemy, or take damage. Maintaining frequent, efficient head shots is the key to getting a high score, and it makes for a surprisingly enjoyable gameplay mechanic.
One thing that The House Of The Dead 4 doesn’t lack is enemy variety. Most enemies will fall into either one of two categories: undead or mutant. The undead are your more typical zombie-like monsters, often with some of their insides showing, while mutants can vary wildly. Some have bat-like wings, while others barely look human at all. Most undead are slow movers, while mutants tend to be more active. Other than their physical appearance, enemy strategy also varies greatly. While some will come forward and attack you up close, others prefer to throw weapons at you from the background, and there’s plenty of instances where you’ll have to deal with both simultaneously. This can make for some pretty challenging situations, and you’ll need to stay alert at all times if you want to avoid taking damage. These kinds of challenges make The House Of The Dead 4 a lot of fun to play.
At the end of each stage, you’ll be up against a powerful boss character. Each one is named after a particular Tarot card, and will have a unique weak point that you’ll need to exploit in order to take them down quickly. It might be their tongue, their head, or even a small opening in their chest. What makes the boss fights in The House Of The Dead 4 particularly interesting, though, is that you can also prevent their attacks from hitting you. As the fight goes on, bosses will move quickly and execute powerful attacks which will damage your character. However, if you’re able to blast the bosses’ weak point enough in the moments before you get hit, you can stop them dead in their tracks.
While the game is playable in its entirety with a Dualshock 3 controller, using a Move controller is definitely preferable. Firstly, when playing with a Dualshock 3, the on-screen crosshairs have a set maximum speed (no matter how hard you tilt the analogue stick). This means that they won’t jump around as much as they would if you were using a Move controller. It allows for slightly steadier aiming, but in a fast paced game such as this, you need to be able to react very quickly.
The Move simulates the arcade version’s light-gun accessory perfectly, with the crosshairs following your movements accurately, and allowing you to move the crosshairs faster. Not only is it more effective, but it feels more natural as well. There’s no noticeable input lag either, tracking is smooth. It’s possible to adjust the maximum speed of the crosshairs when using the controller though, but even on the fastest setting, it’s just not quite the same. Reloading your gun is a similar experience. While you can press the square button on the controller, being able to simply flick your wrist to reload with the Move feels quicker, and more natural. The Move is used as more than just a pointer, with the motion tracking functionality being used for both reloading and events during the game. Enemies will occasionally grab your character, or you’ll need to break free of something during the story, and you have to shake the Move in order to throw it off you. The Dualshock 3′s sixaxis motion sensor allows it to be used in a similar fashion, but once again the Move feels far more comfortable since its shape is better suited to this action. Regardless of which controller you’re using though, these events are a great addition to the game, and a clever secondary use for controller. They really add to the experience by contributing an extra sense of urgency, and physically involving the player just a little more.
Overall, The House Of The Dead 4 is a very competent, enjoyable rail-shooter. As a game that was originally released in 2005, the game’s graphics do look a bit dated now, with some slightly simplistic character models, and low-res textures. However, the head shot mechanics, face pace, good use of the controller, and excellent Move support combine to make this a great package. The game’s short length isn’t uncommon for a game that started life as an arcade machine, and as a $9.99 download from the PlayStation Store, it’s pretty decent value. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have any interest at all in light-gun games.