SEGA’s arcade pedigree speaks for itself, with the venerable Japanese game maker having pumped out a boatload of genre staples over the past couple of decades, from pioneering beat-‘em-up Virtua Fighter to adrenaline-fuelled racer Daytona USA. The House of the Dead, which debuted in 1998, quickly joined this roster of arcade classics, with its marriage of fast-paced zombie blasting and instant pick-up-and-play appeal resonating with horror aficionados’ and hardcore gamers alike. It proved a roaring success too, spawning multiple sequels and even a notoriously awful live-action film directed by Uwe Boll. House of the Dead 4 is the last core game to date (not counting spin-offs), and its PSN re-release marks the first time the game has seen the light of day on a home console.
Remastered in lush high-definition and boasting silky smooth frame rate, HotD 4 is actually a prequel to its Shotgun-happy predecessor, released on Sony’s online service earlier this year. The game stars James Taylor of HotD 2 fame alongside newcomer Kate Green, as the pair battle against lumbering undead and other genetically-created monstrosities across the city. Anyone who is even remotely acquainted with the concept of rail shooters will be instantly familiar here, and as such the game’s bread-and-butter mechanics need no introduction.
The relentless action translates incredibly well to PS3, be it with PlayStation Move or a bog-standard control pad. While the SixAxis can’t quite replicate the satisfaction of nailing a sweet headshot by actually aiming at the enemy’s rotting cranium, the on-screen cursor moves effortlessly and can be adjusted if it’s either too slow or too fast for your liking. For the best experience though, PS Move ticks all the boxes. Characters this time around are equipped with a sub-machine gun, and as such will eat through their ammo clip in a few seconds on full-auto. However, you can still tap the fire button to conserve ammo for those precision shots when required. Reloading is equally as intuitive, requiring a quick flick of PS Move or hitting square. Better keep on your toes though, as the action comes thick and fast; enemies frequently swam you in numbers of half a dozen or more, and come in all shapes and sizes.
Each foe is unique in its own right, not just aesthetically but in terms of its speed, strength and attack pattern. As such, you’ll need to adapt to each enemy, and there’s a surprising layer of strategy to the bread-and-butter shooting as you uncover the best way to deal with the slobbering Hordes of Hades. I found it pretty intense having to deal with a bunch of regular undead who were attacking me up close while their mates attempted to chuck axes at me from afar. Likewise, bosses require you to unleash lead into their weak point to damage them, which can only be done at certain intervals – miss the chance and you’ll quickly pay for it with your health.
House of the Dead 4 attempts to inject some variety into the proceedings with some fresh mechanics, however. Punctuating the fast-paced zombie blasting are various interactive scenes, such as multiple pathways where you’ll have a few seconds to decide where to head next. This not only encourages replay value, but some areas may be more forgiving than other in terms of its enemy occupants. Other times you may find yourself grappling with your decomposing enemies, forcing you to shake the pad/PS Move to throw them off; fail to do so, and they’ll knock you over and proceed to stomp all over your pretty face until you blast them away. Yes, these are hardly proper innovations, but nonetheless offer a nice distraction from the rudimentary linear corridor blasting. If anything, I found them to be a welcome addition that kept me extra vigilant.
Equally impressive is the combo system, where netting consecutive headshots gives you a Devil May Cry-style scoring system (ranging from “Good” to “Perfect”) that adds to your overall level score. Sure, you can simply blast your way through each stage, but if you fancy a challenge this offers a great way of proving your worth, and is incredibly satisfying when you manage to pull of those precision-based shots in the middle of a wave of hungry undead. Your end of stage rank isn’t just for show either, as the higher the score the more chance of you nabbing a bonus item. Speaking of bonus items, each level is strewn with health pick-ups and coins to add to your score, unearthed by blasting objects in the environment, adding yet further incentive to keep your eyes on more than just your rotting adversaries.
While HotD 4 is perfectly satisfying when played solo, the fact it’s a rail shooter means it is inherently best suited to couch co-op. This really ups the difficulty, and working together as a team to dispatch the incoming zombie hordes is just as manic and compelling as it was back in the late 90s. You can tweak the action to your liking too, adjusting difficulty, blood colour, lives and credits among others, and test your high-scoring might online to compete on scoreboards.
The game also boasts some nice unlockables, including high difficulty settings and a two-stage bonus game known as HotD 4 SP, which picks up after the events of the main game and reunites players with original series hero ‘G.’ It’s woefully short, but pretty challenging and features a new boss battle that will have fans of the original two games bathing in nostalgia. The main game itself is pretty short in itself, comprised of six levels, but this doesn’t detract from the fact it’s an incredibly tight, action-packed rollercoaster ripe with replay value and gloriously hammy dialogue. The addition of Trophies, behind-the-scenes material and customisable options is just the icing on the cake.
At just £6.49 ($14.99 in the U.S.), The House of the Dead 4 is a great investment and worth picking up for any self-respecting rail shooter fan. Likewise, franchise followers will also definitely want to snap it up to finally own a piece of history for the first time on a home console.