Review: The House of the Dead 4 (Sony PS3)

The House of the Dead 4
Developer: WoW Entertainment
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Light Gun/Rail Shooter
Release Date: 04/17/2012

I’ve always been a big fan of The House of the Dead series. For some time however, Sega has really only focused on The House of the Dead 2 and 3. Both games have seem multiple re-releases, with The House of the Dead 3 most recently hitting the PS3 and Nintendo Wii (Along with The House of the Dead 2 in a compilation package. Compare that to say, The House of the Dead, which hasn’t seen life outside arcades of the Sega Saturn, with both versions selling for an obscene amount of money. It’s even worse for fans of The House of the Dead 4, which up until a few days ago had NEVER seen release outside of the arcade. Hell, The House of the Dead SP has barely been played by ANYONE; it’s that rare. I personally love it and my friend Dan and I actually tracked down both versions to an arcade in Beaverton, OR last April and played the hell out of them. Good times.

Finally though, Sega has released a console version of The House of the Dead 4. Even better, it’s only $9.99 ($6.99 for Playstation Plus users) – a mere fraction of what it would cost to actually get through the game in the arcade. Further, it’s joystick and Move compatible to boot! Still, a lot can go wrong with the conversion of a light gun game into a console – especially with something like The House of the Dead 4 SP which is an experience that is all but impossible to re-create in a home. What was the end result of Sega’s latest experiment?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

It’s the year 2003 and the world has gone to hell. This is a prequel to The House of the Dead 3 which is a bit odd, but it helps to flesh out the story between 2 & 3. You play as Kate Green and James Taylor (from HoTD2) as they encounter Goldman’s final gift to the world – a zombie plague coupled with a nuclear strike. The two must clear six stages of undead filled chaos as they make their way back to where it all began.

Like most light gun games, there isn’t a lot of story and the experience is exceptionally short (less than an hour) but it’s also a lot of fun. The plot is mostly padding for the experience of shooting creatures, but what’s here is entertaining for anyone who is remotely a light gun game fan.

After you beat HotD4, you unlock a version of The House of the Dead 4 SP which is meant to take place immediately after HotD4. The gameplay is nothing like the arcade version, having been turned into a regular light gun game, but the plot and multiple endings are all still the same. This is a very short game (only two stages!), and it’s nowhere as good as the arcade experience, but it’s great that it is included, simply as 99.99% of HotD fans won’t have experienced it until now.

You’ll also unlock a few new difficulty settings and a documentary on the game. All in all, you’re getting a lot for your seven/ten dollar investment. I remember when light gun games ran thirty to fifty dollars just last generation, so this is a great deal even without all the extras. With them, it’s downright awesome.

Story & Modes Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

Although the game is seven years old, both versions of HotD 4 look amazing. It’s probably because these were the first ever light gun games to be made in high definition, so it makes sense that the visuals are still pretty nice after all these years. The character models and zombies are a bit blocky compared to what we can do in 2012, but they’re a lot of fun to blow away and there’s more detail in this than in any other light gun game in the series outside Overkill.

There’s no slowdown of any kind, even with extremely fast bosses or when there are over a dozen zombies on the screen. I never thought a console version of The House of the Dead 4 would look this good, but there you go. The game won’t win any awards for graphics, but pound for pound this seven year old game still looks better than a lot of full priced big budget titles for the PS3.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

This is definitely the weakest part of The House of the Dead 4, but that is probably true of all light gun games. The voice acting is wooden and corny, but that’s a cliché of the genre. It’s almost a requirement.

The music is okay. The main theme will stick in your head if you’re a fan of the franchise as it’s very familiar. However, the rest of the music in the game is almost unheard as you blow things away. You can’t really hear it over the gunfire and voice acting, and honestly, you’re concentrating too much on the action to care anyway. Music in a light gun game is almost a waste. Still, when you listen to what’s here, it’s basically elevator music anyway.

So with forgettable music and cheesy voice acting, you’d generally expect a low rating in this category. Instead, the cheesy voice acting is part of the genre’s charm and the sound effects are really enjoyable, be they dying zombies, Uzis shooting away or stuff blowing up. What’s here isn’t good by any means, but you don’t play a light gun game for an auditory experience anyway. Decent job all things considered.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control & Gameplay

Playing The House of the Dead 4 is extremely simple if you have Move. You just aim the controller like you would a light gun. With the Dual Shock 3, you use the left analog stick to aim, the left trigger to lob grenades, a button to fire and another button to reload. It actually works exceptionally well and it’s one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had trying to play a light gun with a joystick.

The House of the Dead 4 SP plays nothing like the arcade experience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing however. They basically took the story and put it into the HotD4 controls, complete with continues and /or credits. This alone should be a big shock to those that have played the arcade experience. For those unaware, SP used a life bar instead of the lives you’ll have in the game, it had no continues and most awesome of all, it involves two 100 inch monitors – one in front of the players and one behind you, to give the game a “zombies are everywhere” panoramic feel. If you were damaged, you’d take a blast of pneumatic air to the face. None of this is obviously available in the console version. It’s nowhere as crazy an experience, but I’m just happy to have it in my living room instead of having to go to Nevada, Illinois or Oregon to play the game (The known locations of the three SP games in North America. Only the latter was still available to the public as of last year. No idea if it still is).

All that said, both versions are fast, frantic fun and the game is by far the best light gun game experience I’ve had on the PS3. Sure, there will be times where you swear you shot the monster attacking you and you end up taking damage instead, but that would happen with any game in the genre. If you’re a fan of light gun games at all, you will be thrilled to death with the fact you have these games and that they play wonderfully rather than grumble about not getting the full SP experience – which most gamers have never and will never experience anyway.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

Although both versions of The House of the Dead are very short, there is a lot of replay value to the games. HotD4 has four different endings, while HOTD4 SP has three. There are also quite a few hidden tricks, locations and even divergent paths to go through each time you play the game(s). Even without all of that, there are multiple difficulty settings, the ability to change your number of lives and/or credits, or just the option to simply try to beat your old high score. You’ll get a lot of use out of this game, especially for the very small price tag attached to it. Have friends over or just blow away zombies on your own; it doesn’t matter. The House of the Dead 4 is a game you’ll want to come back to regularly as it’s short, intense and fun.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

Although the arcade versions of HotD4 are designed to take as many quarters from you as they can, anyone should be able to get through the home version. There are multiple difficulty levels and you can set the numbers of credits and lives to however many you want, up to a maximum of nine. Nine of each gives you eighty-one tries to beat the game. NO ONE should need that many. This means you are guaranteed to get some kind of ending no matter how bad you are, so you can relax and just have fun. Then once you’ve beaten the game, you can make things harder for yourself and try to get a really high score and/or the best endings.

HOTD 4 SP is insanely easy compared to the arcade version as you actually get lives and continues here, along with only having to worry about a single screen. Still, if you want a more arcade accurate experience, just crank up the difficulty and set the credits to 0. All in all, The House of the Dead 4 is as difficult an experience as you want it to be. If you just want to play the last stage of the game with maxed out lives and credits, knock yourself out. If you want to see how far you can get on a single life – that option is open to you as well.

Balance Rating: Unparalleled

7. Originality

Pretty much every light gun game plays the same, especially on a console. The little gimmicks and tricks are all missing. With HotD3 for example, you held a shotgun controller. With HOTD4, you had an Uzi. Here it’s just a controller or a Move, so what little made the game stand out innovation wise is gone here. This is even more so for HotD4 SP, as what was once the most original and innovative light gun game ever has been reduced to a pretty generic and exceptionally short experience. It is what it is though. Would you rather not have the game at all, or at least have SOME kind of home version? I’ll take the latter.

Sure, HotD4 is pretty generic when looked at critically. It’s very similar to all the others, but with better graphics, and you could easily insert some other type of monster than zombies and people would neither care nor notice. Still, it’s a blast to play and that’s what matters.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

Light gun games are short but sweet. I have always found them hard to stop playing. I ended up playing through HotD4 twice in a row, then playing one game of HotD4 SP before taking a break. Now, all that playtime? Less than an hour and a half. My wife was unimpressed, but light gun games are a niche genre these days; I can’t deny that.

Most gamers will probably crank down the difficulty and crank up the lives and credits to at least get through the game once. Then they’ll probably monkey around until the find a nice challenge setting. That’s really how a console light gun game should work. People need to find what works best for them and just have fun with the crazy action hitting up their screen. I have a hard time putting games like this down, and if you purchase this, you’ll probably have a hard time too. At least until you’ve beaten both games once. The experience is very short, so saying “play straight through” sounds like a bigger deal than it actually is, but you’ll still have fun while it lasts.

Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable

9. Appeal Factor

Light gun games are a dying genre. We’ve seen attempts at new versions like The House of the Dead: Overkill and Dead Space: Extraction, but full priced disk versions of these games seem to sell horribly in 2012. Of course, those are fifty dollars and a lot longer than light gun games probably should be, but HotD4 and HotD4 SP hit that sweet spot of being very cheap and short enough not to wear out their welcome, and for only a few bucks, you’re getting two full light gun games. That’s enough impetus for a lot of gamers to bite the bullet and pick this up, even if they have never played a light gun game before. Those that pick this up will find both games to be a lot of fun and very different from other kinds of shooters, but well worth the money spent. Now the only problem is actually getting people to purchase this…

Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable

10. Miscellaneous

I’ll admit that I never thought we were going to get a console version of this game. It had been bandied about but I never thought Sega would pull the trigger – much like new Sakura Taisen titles or actual good Shining Force games (preferably made by Camelot). But here it is, and I won’t deny that I marked out like a little kid when it was announced. After having played through both games repeatedly, I can honestly say it’s not as fun as the arcade experience, but arcades are all but extinct these days and I’d rather have SOME version of these games available to me in my home than not to have them at all, much like the old Sega Spider-Man arcade game or Carnevil, both of which will probably have to join my Captain American & The Avengers amd Dungeons & Dragons Capcom arcade cabinets. I’d rather have this on a console that try to fit either HotD4 cabinet in my home. That would be insane.

With a price tag between seven and ten dollars, you’re getting two exceptional light gun titles, one of which has only been played by a handful of people in North America. The games are a lot of fun, short enough to be beaten in one sitting and are a wonderful reminder of why we used to spend so much time in arcades as tots. Thank you, Sega, for bringing this over. From the bottom of my heart, this is one of those things I never thought I’d be playing from the comfort of my own living room.
Now localize all the different versions of Shining Force 3 and put them onto a collection for all to enjoy. SATE MY NEEDS, DAMN YOU!

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Unparalleled
Graphics: Good
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Good
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
FINALLY, The House of the Dead 4 comes to consoles. No longer will light gun game fans have to engage in futile searches for an arcade near them that might possibly have this. Even better, Sega has also thrown in The House of the Dead 4 SP as an unlockable, which has long been a Holy Grail for light gun game fans to find in North America. Now for less than ten dollars, you get both games. The graphics and gameplay still holds up, although the SP experience has been changed dramatically to work as a console game (The original experience simply can’t be duplicated outside the cabinet). Both games are a lot of fun and it’s wonderful to finally have these to play at home – and for crazy cheap to boot! Now we just need Sega to re-release the first House of the Dead and the entire series will finally be available for a single system instead of spread out across multiple cabinets and consoles. Get to it Sega!



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