Ah, The House of the Dead series, how I love it. From the blocky polygonal arcade beginnings of the first House of the Dead, to the foul-mouthed shenanigans of The House of the Dead - Overkill: Extended Cut. Only one entry in the series has eluded me: The House of the Dead 4. It was originally released in arcades back in 2006, and really, who (in this country) has been to an arcade since 1998? No - Dave and Buster's doesn't count. HotD 4 has finally made its way to home consoles, thanks to the PSN and the PlayStation Move. Fair warning: I may be a little biased.
HotD 4 takes place between the events of HotD 2 and HotD 3, even though part 3 was released before part 4. If that's confusing, don't worry. You need to know only one thing, and that's the same damn thing you needed to know in the first HotD and every single game that followed: "Zombies! Shoot'em!" To be fair, sometimes the zombies are giant monsters, and in one game they were actually called mutants, but you get the idea. Just shoot everything that moves and you'll do a good job.
Let's get this out of the way now: the co-op works in the same fashion as in HotD 3. Drop-in/drop-out local play is supported. The first player can earn trophies; the second player is along for the ride.
Say it with me: "Zombies! Shoot'em!"
HotD 4 follows Kate Green and James Taylor as they attempt to escape a zombie apocalypse or prevent a nuclear attack, or something. As in most HotD games, the story is just an obstacle that gets in the way of shooting baddies. If you've played a PS3 version of a HotD game (or any on-rails shooter, for that matter), you know the drill: Kill waves of enemies with your controller of choice, either the regular Dual Shock (Gross), the PS Move (Bingo!), or the PS Sharp Shooter (Overcompensate, much?). Once a room is clear you're whisked away to the next hall of horrors. Keep riding those rails until the end of the level, face a boss, and move on.
HotD 4 changes up the control scheme from previous entries. Just like the 2006 arcade version, enemies now get in close and grab the player. You must shake the controller furiously to escape. This shake mechanic is also used in a few simple QTEs, which can impact your progress to varying degrees. Being forced to vigorously shake the controller was awkward with both the Dual Shock and the Move; I can only imagine how unwieldy it would be with a full-on Sharp Shooter peripheral.
"More zombies! Shoot'em, too!"
All of this controller shaking wouldn't be so bad in small doses, but for some god-forsaken reason you must rely on it to reload when using the PS Move- and there's a ridiculous amount of reloading in HotD 4. Your one and only weapon is a submachine gun which absolutely pukes ammo. I found I needed to reload every three to six seconds. The Dual Shock controller reloads with the tap of a face button, and the Sharp Shooter's pump action is supported (according to the in-game menu), but the PS Move must be waggled for every reload. This same reload method was apparently used in the arcade version, and it just doesn't feel right. Whatever happened to simply shooting off screen?
In previous PSN HotD ports you could press the "Move button" itself to reload. This technique doesn't work well with the normal PS Move Shooting attachment, but it was great for players who held the Move in a casual wand style, like me. The Move button now throws grenades, which are literally hit or miss. The Move button is no longer a reload option, and it can't be remapped. A quick flick of the wrist will suffice at times, but I really had to jerk the controller to be sure the reload was executed properly. My co-op partner called it quits after a few levels. My recent Diabolical Pitch review has made my right arm impervious to pain, so I valiantly soldiered on. Alone. Editor's note: Yup, I know how it sounds. Nope, I don't care.
Boss zombie! Shoot it harder!
Other than the fickle reload method, the game is very similar to HotD 3. Part 4 is missing its predecessors' rescue events, where you could save your partner from impending doom. Those have been replaced by enemy grapples. If you don't waggle your controller hard enough, you'll take damage. Sometimes you can even be pushed to the ground and have to shoot your way back to your feet. Getting knocked down by a herd of zombies can keep things interesting.
Boss fights are fun as always. Once again, you're shown their weak point at the beginning of the fight. The game is kind enough to highlight it for you during the actual battle. The "Cancel" meter returns from part 3. When a boss is charging up for a big attack, a meter appears below his health bar. Hit him in his weak spot before he can launch the attack to avoid taking damage. If you find that you're having a tough time you may increase your life meter and credits in the Free Play mode options, making yourself nigh invincible. If you want to be ranked on the online leader boards you'll have to play by the preset rules, which are three bars of health and three credits.
Question: Zombies? Answer: Shoot'em!
HotD 4's best quality is that it is graphically superior to other HotD games. It's even a marked improvement HotD: Overkill - Extended Cut. The game was one of the first light-gun arcade cabinets to use an HD display. You won't have those black bar bookends from HotD 3 or the underwhelming Wii graphics of Extended Cut. It's longer than HotD 3, but nowhere near as lengthy and fully realized as Extended Cut. Most of you will beat it in about an hour or two, depending on how your wrists hold up. If you want to see all the paths, unlock all the secrets, and like to chase high scores, you'll get several more hours of entertainment from the game.
The House of the Dead 4 is a great addition to any light-gun enthusiast's library. However, if you're not a fan of the franchise, this won't change your mind. The reload mechanic can be a little annoying at first, but it gets easier with practice. For $10 measly bucks, I highly recommend it.
CONTEST: We have one PSN code for the House of the Dead 4 to give away. Simply leave a comment below mentioning your favorite video game cannon fodder. Do you like shooting zombies? How about blasting aliens, or scrapping robots? Maybe you like squishing demonic little mushrooms? Let us know. We'll pick a winner at random on, oh, let's say April 30th.
The House of the Dead 4 is available exclusively from the PlayStation Network. A review code was provided by the publisher.