The House of the Dead 4 (HOTD4) was first released in arcades in late 2005, and while we’ve seen several House of the Dead ports this generation, none of them have included 4. Sega changed that earlier this week by launching it exclusively on the PSN for the very reasonable price of $10. Players can expect the full arcade experience, including the two additional chapters of HOTD4 Special, along with online leaderboards, HD-ified visuals, Trophies, and (most importantly) Move Support.
You don’t have to play HOTD4 with the Move, but you’d be silly not to. You can either use the Move by itself, or attach it to your favorite gun controller, including of course Sony’s own Sharp Shooter. With my Sharp Shooter on loan, I resorted to the Star Trek-like red and while pistol attachment for my Move controller which worked great. Each time you launch the game, you will need to go through a brief calibration for each controller that you will be using (max of two). This takes just a few seconds and you can redo it if you need to from the pause menu, although I never had to do so, even with moving my controller well out of view of the Eye on several non-playing related occasions. Move tracking is very smooth — no skips or weird issues whatsoever. You would expect perfection, or at least hope for it in a lightgun game port, and fortunately that’s precisely what you will get here.
There’s not much to controlling the action other than pointing and shooting, but a Help section off of the main menu tells you about the rest of the controls and gameplay mechanics. To reload, rather than go old school and shoot off screen, you actually just flick the controller in a brief downward motion. Other times, you have to rapidly shake the controller for three or four seconds to push a zombie off of you or activate some kind of environmental trigger like a switch or door. Other than that, keep your eyes peeled for shootable objects like crates, barrels, wall mounted boxes, and other objects that might be hiding a life bonus cube or a grenade. Each player can carry up to three grenades that are used by pressing the Move button. Grenades are of little to no use on bosses, but they will clear a room of all other zombies in short order. Unfortunately, there are no other weapons besides the default micro uzi, whose full auto is fun, but also makes “spraying and praying” shooting more feasible. However, serious players will still play for accuracy, and the game keeps track of head shots and things like that.
The main game includes six stages, the first three of which have one or two branching paths that you can take. Normally, these wrap you back to a common path within just a minute or two, but having the ability to take different routes adds to the replay value. Each stage is short, only lasting around twenty minutes or so, depending on factors like your skill, the difficulty setting, and number of players. Each stage ends with a massive boss that, true to the series, requires you hone in on a specific area to inflict damage. Most boss fights require that you land enough shots that you deplete a meter before they attack. Failure to deplete the meter in time will in turn make you take damage.
Overall, I found HOTD4 to be a pretty easy game with a good pace. Lightgun games are fun, but, they get repetitive, and it didn’t help that the story was more or less apocalyptic bullsh*t. It takes place in between HOTD2 and 3, and sees James, a returning character, and newcomer Kate, battling to reach Goldman. Goldman is a wealthy villain who believes that humans are breeding out of control and that order must be restored. Over a dozen cutscenes during and in between missions fill in bits and pieces of the plot as the duo races across the city to stop a nuclear launch. The dialogue is appropriately cheesy, and fortunately you can skip the cutscenes, although they’re worth watching (once). Players can also skip to the last chapter they unlocked and start a new game from there, which is great — having to replay the entire game each time would have been really annoying.
Playing through HOTD4 won’t take very long, especially if you enable additional Lives and Credits, which you can do from the game setup screen that appears just before you launch your game. You can also select your chapter and difficulty here, as well as the color of blood (red or brown) and level of violence (normal and mild). When the game is all over, a five minute HD behind the scenes video gets unlocked that features Director Takashi Oda and Producer Yasuhiro Nishiyama. This is from an interview that was also segmented on other PSN releases, including HOTD3. In it, Nishiyama describes the relationship of the two and what their individual goals are in making a new game. It’s an interesting, although brief interview that’s well worth a look. In addition to this video, HOTD4 SP, or Special, is unlocked, which features two additional stages. They take place immediately following the events of HOTD4, and see Kate teaming up with series veteran G to stomp out a few dozen more zombies, including the boss Justifier again. The first Special stage has an alternate route as well. Stage 2 revitalizes a formidable series boss, the Magician. There is also a quick time event at the end of this fight that determines whether you get the bad ending or good ending.
At the end of the day, HOTD4 on the PS3 is a faithful port that reminds me why I love lightgun games. It’s highly accessible, instantly fun, and the ability for a friend to drop in/out for co-op action is great. I’m not one to really care about the included online leaderboards, but hardcore fans will likely partake in those. I’m just happy that, after so many years, the “missing” House of the Dead has finally made its way home.